Detroit Regional Chamber > Racial Justice & Economic Equity > Pancakes and Politics Forum II: ‘People, Projects, and Community’

Pancakes and Politics Forum II: ‘People, Projects, and Community’

April 17, 2024

Michigan Chronicle
Ebony JJ Curry

April 12, 2024

Friday morning, an eclectic mix of Detroit’s business leaders converged to indulge in pancakes and great conversation in the heart of downtown, filling the 16th floor of Campus Martius One with a palpable sense of anticipation and unity. They were drawn together for the second installment of the Michigan Chronicle’s 19th annual Pancakes & Politics Speaker Series. The audience, a melting pot of Southeast Michigan’s vibrant community, was primed to dive into the day’s pressing topic—the significant projects shaping Detroit. Celebrating the city’s remarkable strides over the past decade, they also cast an enthusiastic eye toward a promising and expansive future. This gathering, a dynamic cross-section of the region’s diverse fabric, stood as a testament to the transformative power of communal foresight and cooperation.

The Pancakes and Politics dialogue is a space for all who’s in attendance to engage in a conversation that has, over the years, become a cornerstone event for tackling the region’s and, more specifically, Detroit’s Black community’s pressing issues. The forum’s reputation as a catalyst for meaningful discourse on Detroit’s socio-economic landscape was fully displayed.

Pancakes & Politics consistently catalyzes propelling Detroit towards growth, be it in economic or social spheres, and the latest edition was no exception. At the heart of the discussion hosted a dynamic three-person panel that included, Ryan Maibach President and CEO of Barton Marlow Holdings, Joi Harris President and CEO DTE Energy, along with Matthew Moroun owner Ambassador Bridge, all of which delved into a comprehensive exploration of Detroit’s ever-growing projects, emphasizing a holistic approach that extends beyond the confines of downtown to encompass the entire city. This initiative is more than just a series of discussions; it represents a sustained movement, a commitment to the city’s future, underpinned by the CEO of Real Times Media and Publisher of Michigan Chronicle, Hiram Jackson’s long-term vision for Detroit’s prosperity.

As it will continue to do so throughout this series, the event kicked off with a live stream partnered with WDIV channel 4, part of a new chapter in the ‘Pancakes and Politics’ forum. The dialogue between the panelist and host Dennis Archer, Jr. was seasoned with intuitive questions that took a deep dive into the mission at hand, “people, projects, and communities,” as Maibach shared.

This year’s edition was particularly poignant, aptly titled ‘Big Projects. Big Future.’ The focus was clear: addressing the projects that highlight critical challenges and opportunities here in Detroit, with an eye towards a holistic approach for a growing and profitable population for generations to come.

The forum’s discussions ventured into diverse territories, from mentorship, generational wealth and responsibilities, aiding the youth, socio and economic growth, prominent projects, to the broader narrative of youth retention in Michigan. The emphasis was on creating an environment where Detroiters and young individuals have opportunities to seek and can envision a brighter future through projects that are being undertaken today.

“We have underestimated the true implication of what the pandemic did on our kids. They need more than an example and more than their family members to wrap their arms around them,” Harris said. “They need hope, they need tangible support, they need guidance. We have to help them. In my profession and as I make my way across the community, that’s what I believe my role is.”

Archer asked the million-dollar question to the panel, “What are the contributions you all are making for the community?”

“We have lot of big projects that we must partake in, and we can’t do all that work on our own,” said Harris. “We try to open doors for industry partners to create prosperity. And we are making a strong commitment to diversifiers. The way we can continue to drive economic development is to make sure that they have a place. We spend billions of dollars year over year with local Michigan companies. That’s how we drive prosperity in our community.”

“Oftentimes people may look at blue collar jobs and pass them up, but here with opportunities that we have created, over 100 hundred jobs that range from $30 an hour, you can make a great living and go home to your family,” said Maroun. He touched on the year of community engagements with residences around the Ambassador Bridge during its multiple phases of expansion, which is ultimately how Riverside Park was born.

Two out of the three panelists hold a generational duty, to propel their company, both Barton Marlow and the Ambassador Bridge. Archer posed the question of inevitable generational pressure especially for fourth generation leader Maroun. “You don’t always enjoy the pressure, but the pressure is on me, my daughter, my son, my whole family, and for the most part I feel very blessed. It gives me the motivation to keep pushing for the many generations that are yet to be born.”

Following in a joking tone Maibach shared, “The stats were high that I’d do a bad job, so that actually takes a little pressure off.”

However, when it comes to the Black community generational wealth isn’t as common. At 15-years-old Harris was at DTE shadowing and unlike Moroun and Maibach, she has paved her own path and because of that, the pressure of paving the way can be a reality. “Shout out to my parents who celebrated their 60th anniversary, I am who I am today, because of them. So, I don’t consider this pressure,” shared Harris. “What my parents did for me is what I’m trying to do for other students, to know intimately what they want to do when they grow up. There was no one in my family that did what I’m doing but I knew that I liked math and I like to put things back together, so I use my time, my presence, and my expertise to help the generations behind me.”

The vitality of Detroit, a city on the rise, hinges significantly on its ability to retain and attract young talent. “We continue to engage young people to make sure that they are ready and equipped to take on the next big projects in the future,” said Harris.

The city’s ongoing growth and revitalization provides fertile ground for innovation, entrepreneurship, and creative endeavors. By fostering an environment that supports and nurtures new developments, lasting and impactful projects, and community engagement. This, in turn, fuels the city’s continuous evolution as a vibrant, forward-thinking metropolis capable of competing nationally and globally. Keeping young people in Michigan and drawing in new talent are crucial strategies for maintaining the momentum of Detroit’s resurgence.

Moreover, the forum was open to addressing the needs of the small business community, recognizing its vital contribution to the fabric of Detroit’s economy and culture. The dialogue underscored the necessity of nurturing an ecosystem that supports projects to propel the city in such a greater trajectory with an agenda to curate a brighter future.

Pancakes and Politics stands out not merely for its influence but for its authenticity and effortless embodiment of Black excellence. The dialogue covered a spectrum of vital topics. This year marked a departure from tradition in terms of venue, yet with the second forum of the year, Campus Martius One continues to rise to the occasion. As the forum concluded, the resonance of the discussions lingered, leaving attendees with a renewed sense of commitment toward Detroit’s transformation journey.

Once again, the Michigan Chronicle’s Pancakes & Politics proved a beacon of hope and action, uniting diverse voices in a shared vision for a thriving Detroit. The narrative that unfolded at this second installment, ‘Big Projects. Big Future,’ was not just about reflection. Still, a call to action, echoing Maroun’s sentiment, “stay in Michigan, stay in Detroit, there is opportunity here.”

The third forum is set for May 23, 2024.