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Detroit 67 Panel: The Test for Detroit’s Viability is Inclusiveness

As the 50th anniversary of Detroit’s 1967 civil unrest approaches, business and community leaders must be willing to have tough conversations in order to better understand that moment in time and the underlying issues of opportunity in order to move forward inclusively.

Building on dialogue from the Mackinac and Detroit policy conferences, panelists on the Detroit: An Opportunity for Inclusion and Economic Prosperity said that while some progress has been made to create an inclusive city where all business and residents can thrive, more work is needed in the neighborhoods.

“There are some great things going on in Detroit, no question about it,” Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of NACCP-Detroit said. “However, the real test of the viability of our city is the inclusiveness of all its citizens. You can’t build a moat around downtown or midtown. You have to build a bridge,” Anthony added. “I am in the trenches every day. I hear it from the business people. I hear it from the community.”

Anthony acknowledged community programs and ongoing work to rehabilitate the city’s neighborhoods led by Mayor Mike Duggan, while also challenging larger corporate organizations to offer more business development programs for small businesses who lack access to “best practice” resources.

“The question is, ‘Do we have the will to implement the things that are talked about at this Conference?’” Anthony asked. “If we have the will to make a difference, we can make a difference.”

Xavier de Souza Briggs, vice president of economic opportunity and markets for the Ford Foundation, agreed with Anthony.

“It is one thing to talk about inclusion or to say you care about inequality as a philanthropic proposition, it’s another to talk about it as a business proposition,” he said. “Ask yourself, ‘Who do you buy from?’ ‘Who do you employ?’ ‘What talent do you develop locally’ and ‘Where do you invest?’” de Souza Briggs said.

The panel also featured Sheila Cockrel, president of Crossroads Consulting and Communications Group; and Sebastian Jackson, founder of The Social Club Grooming Co.

In terms of policy, the panel said education reform, inclusive economic growth, viable transit and access to capital are key to the city’s ongoing revitalization.

In responding to a question by panel moderator Soledad O’Brien, CEO of Starfish Media Group and award-winning journalist, about the willingness to acknowledge inequality, Cockrel said more leaders at the state and national level recognize that Detroit will either succeed or fail together.

“We’re seeing real conversation on white privilege. What does white privilege mean? That’s a topic that is not addressed often. I think that conversation is part of looking back to move forward,” Cockrel said.

Panelists also said that while Detroiters should not be encumbered by the city’s past, it is equally important to understand the different narratives about the issues leading up to the summer of ’67 and take a hard look at how to address similar issues in 2016.

In light of the historic event, Detroit Historical Society’s “Detroit 67: Looking Back to Move Forward” project highlighted at this year’s Conference completing a task from the 2015 To-Do List.

“It’s important that everyone in America have a basic understanding of prejudice and privilege because they aren’t the same thing. You have to understand both and what they do to create the world we live in in order to create change,” de Souza Briggs said.

“Can you do all that but also look at the problems right now in 2016—not just policing but also issues that aren’t sexy like transit? Poor folk in Detroit cannot get to work or hospitals. That is appalling. That is criminal.”