Finley: Inclusion gets big role on Mackinac

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

After an absence of a decade, the issue of racial equity will reappear in a major role at next weeks Mackinac Policy Conference. The reason: Business leaders fear their financial and emotional investment in Detroit could go up in smoke if the uprisings that have erupted in other places come here.

"It could take 30 years to get back to where we are today if Detroit becomes Baltimore," says conference chair Mark Davidoff, referring to the rioting that broke out after Freddie Gray, a black Maryland man, died while in police custody.

"The ingredients for such an event come together in a lot of ways and without much notice. How do we get ahead of it?"

The issue was not on the table when planning began last fall for the Detroit Regional Chamber's annual get together on Mackinac Island, which begins Tuesday evening.

But, says Davidoff, managing partner of Deloitte, "after watching what is happening across the country, we asked if this is a pertinent topic for Mackinac. The answer is 100 percent yes. If we don't talk about it, we might find ourselves in a place we don't want to be."

The Mackinac confab last addressed race in a major way in 2004, with a conversation that focused on improving understanding to close the region's racial divide.

This time, the focus is less on bettering individual relations and more on finding practical solutions to create an inclusive community.

Thursday, the Kellogg Foundation will unveil an updated version of its two-year-old report, The Business Case for Racial Equity.

The report contends "if the average incomes of minorities were raised to the average incomes of whites, total U.S. earnings would increase by 12 percent, representing nearly $1 trillion today."

That would translate to an additional $180 billion in corporate profits and $290 billion in federal tax revenues, the report finds.

Also Thursday, WDIV-TV anchor Devin Scillian and I will continue a discussion started at the chamber's February policy session on how to avoid the emergence of two Detroits, one white and prosperous and the other black and poor.

The town hall session will encourage conference attendees to offer their own ideas for increasing African-American participation in Detroit's comeback.

Friday morning, the conference will wrap-up with a session specifically focused on addressing the core issues that are causing racial resentment to bubble up nationally, and how Detroit can confront them.

"We are reliving the summer of 1967 in some ways," says Sandy Baruah, chief executive of the chamber, referring to riots in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore. "It got our attention, and accelerated the conversation onto the agenda. Think about how hard it will be to redo all of the wonderful things that have happened in Detroit over the last several years if there were to be a major Baltimore-style unrest."

Detroit is a different city in almost every way, good and bad, than it was in 1967 when rioters took to the streets.

But even in a community that is overwhelmingly majority African-American and whose institutions are mostly run by blacks, minority and poor residents can feel powerless.

Baruah says it is important for business leaders to recognize their role in promoting racial equity, and the economic benefits that can be derived from expanding opportunity and inclusion.

"We are dealing in our country with a group of the population who sees the American dream and opportunity as a foreign concept," he says. "Until we all start to understand that, particularly those who have the ability to do something about it, we can't solve it."


Follow Nolan Finley at, on Twitter at @nolanfinleydn, on Facebook at nolanfinleydetnews and watch him at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays on "MiWeek" on Detroit Public TV, Channel 56.