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2021 Mackinac Policy Conference Focuses on Reimagining a Healthy Michigan

While the pandemic is far from over, charting a path to recover, heal, and thrive as a state is critical – and the 2021 Mackinac Policy Conference serves as a platform to hear from national thought-leaders on the significant issues that Michigan and the nation is facing at this critical time in history. This year’s theme “Reimagining a Healthy Michigan” highlights what should be a top priority for the state in 2022.

The Conference conversations are focused around three pillars that will be vital in accomplishing that goal:

  1. Accelerating our COVID-19 economic recovery and sustainability.
  2. Advancing racial justice and equity for all.
  3. Investing in the health of our people and our communities.

Lassiter: Charting a Path for Michigan’s Recovery Requires Authentic Foundational Change

“Reimagining a Healthy Michigan” highlights what should be a top priority for the state in 2022, according to Conference Chairman, Wright L. Lassiter III, president and chief executive officer of Henry Ford Health System who kicked off the event challenging attendees to see themselves as part of the solution to the major problems the state is facing.

He also said that we need to think broadly about what health means and begin to focus on the role that social and economic conditions play in the health of our communities. Opportunity is key for communities to thrive – opportunities to access healthy food, clean water, safe neighborhoods, equal employment, affordable housing, reliable transportation, and voting.

“We need to move beyond band-aid solutions and toward authentic foundational, scalable change. It has to be an intentional strategy and requires a long-term commitment,” Lassiter said.

With communities at the heart, people will be key to improving the health of Michigan as everyone plays a role in improving the lives of others. This year’s Conference lineup features speakers that share the common mission of uplifting all communities, with uniquely diverse viewpoints.

Added Lassiter, “When we ignore basic challenges faced by people who have been historically left behind, we all experience negative and lasting effects on economic growth, prosperity, and health. And the reverse is true: when we lift up the underserved, we all can experience that success.”

In closing, Lassiter said that as we continue to live through the impact of COVID-19 for years to come, we can use our experiences to create a more resilient society with a focus on equity and quality of life for all.

Baruah: America’s Continuum of ‘We the People’ and ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ Making Collective Action Difficult

As the Detroit Regional Chamber planned this year’s Conference experience, there was a strong focus on retaining and regaining economic and social normality, while prioritizing health, safety, and increased vaccination rates. The Conference returns as Michigan faces critical challenges during a pandemic where polarization has made collective action more difficult.

“This is the first large event in Michigan that has this level of safety protocols and we really feel we are setting an example for others in terms of how to do this right,” said Sandy K. Baruah, president and chief executive officer of the Detroit Regional Chamber. “We were either going to do this event right or not at all.”

Today’s political dynamic and society’s current state were key drivers for the Chamber to proceed with this year’s Conference. America consists on a continuum of two ideas: ‘We the People’ and ‘Don’t Tread on Me.’ And while both elements are key to the success of our nation, collective action becomes difficult when our society leans more to the individualistic side.

As always, civility is key for compromise and comprise is a driving factor in getting anything done in America. With that in mind, the Conference has and continues to serve as a place where civility thrives.

“Let’s face it our political system is not working as well as it needs to be, and it’s up to those of us who influence the political system to step up to help the political system make some of these big decisions that we need to make as Americans,” said Baruah.

Conference Remembers Champion of Civility: U.S. Senator Carl Levin

Few lawmakers championed civility and the art of compromise quite like former U.S. Senator Carl Levin. It was only fitting for the Conference to open with a tribute to the late senator on Michigan’s Center Stage.

Paul W. Smith, host of WJR NewsTalk 760 AM sat down with Dennis W. Archer Sr., chairman of Emeritus, Dickinson Wright PLLC, and former mayor of Detroit, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, and Mariam Noland, president of the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan, to discuss the life and career of Michigan’s longest serving senator.

Sen. Levin had a love for learning and a strong passion for knowledge, truth, and facts. While she currently serves as Secretary of State, Benson didn’t meet Sen. Levin through politics, instead through academia, when she served as dean of Wayne State University Law School, where she co-taught a class with Senator Levin.

“Every day, he gave every moment his best. It was such a privilege to work alongside him in that role and that capacity because he pushed us all as leaders to be better, to do better, and even in the academic world he pushed me every day to read more, to prepare more, to study more, and to always think more on how we can do better as leaders,” Benson said.

Former Mayor Archer retold a story about former President Bill Clinton calling him to implore Sen. Levin to run for another a term because the country needed his leadership in Congress as an example of how special he was.

“[As a senator] Carl Levin took it a step above. Because of his belief in civility and how he respected people and the issues of the state of Michigan, he bent over backwards to make sure that everyone understood his position and he listened to others,” said friend and colleague, Archer Sr. “You always learned from Carl Levin, you learned how to treat people and he encouraged all of us to be respectful of each other.”

The Levin Center at Wayne State University Law School was created to preserve the legacy of Carl Levin in Michigan and train another generation of leaders to exhibit the same thoughtful bipartisan oversight that Levin exemplified throughout his career.

Added Smith, “I may be the only person on stage who may have had disagreements with Carl Levin. But he knew how to disagree without being disagreeable. I never felt that he didn’t respect me…we need more of that in politics today, we don’t have it at all.”

Sen. Levin would always acknowledge the complexity of problems and the fact that there aren’t always easy answers, explained Benson. “And that is a real humility and honesty in leadership that we don’t see too often today,” Benson said.

Added Noland, “He always told the truth, he knew what he believed and if he said he was going to do something or support it, he did.”