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A STATE of Confusion: Challenges that threaten Detroit & Urban America

United Apart
United ApartAtlanta Journal Constitution

Recently invited to sit on a radio roundtable discussion, on the popular Mildred Gaddis Show (WCHB-1200 AM), concerning recent headlines of politics, bankruptcy, the rash of home invasions, poverty and the like, I found myself a little out of position. The other two members, a pastor/activist and a political consultant, both with history of activism and fighting against injustices, political takeovers, and union busting efforts. Me, an adult educator & motivational speaker who has been working to inspire people to build, to establish themselves and to pursue whatever they desire to. Admittedly, even though I watch the news, read online news stories and occasionally check out the headlines of our local newspaper, I am not as up-to-speed on all of the undercurrents that might exist. In fact, I know just enough to have an opinion, as everyone else does.

So throughout the 2 hours of conversation, I found myself sharing thoughts that focused more on the human being and less on the underhanded attempts by politicians and bullying tactics that my fellow panelists commented on. As I reflected on that session, thoughts of what I want to share next time ran through my mind. Here’s a sneak peek of the general direction:

If Detroit and Detroiters (code word for the African American population of Detroit) are to be successful in getting beyond its woes, then the rhetoric, reflective of the civil rights movement, must include content that includes personal responsibility. Yes, I understand and agree with not being able to pull yourself up by the bootstraps when you don’t have the laces or the boots. I do know that progressively speaking there is a way to get an education in this country, albeit owing the federal government thousands of dollars in student loans. The gamble of this process is that people will inevitably become gainfully employed, creative enough to invent something for mass consumption or innovative enough to provide a product or service via an entrepreneurial venture.

Detroit is 82% African American, a statistic that is quickly changing, yet in some respects it currently resembles the likes of Black Wall Street, prior to June 1, 1921. Home of the Motown Museum, there are hotels owned by African Americans (Hotel St. Regis, the Downtown Doubletree & Robert’s Riverwalk), Movie Theaters & Cafés (Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson), Clothiers ( Hot Sam’s, The Runway, & Simply Casual), Restaurants (Detroit Seafood Market, Steve’s Soul Food, and 1917 American Bistro) and a Bank (First Independence Bank). So what’s the point? While it is extremely important to continuously fight against injustices in the criminal justice system, politics, higher education, and employment, the concept of using what we have to get where we want to be must be reinserted into the consciousness of Urban Americans. If Detroit is the testing ground, based on its current climate, for what will be accepted in predominately black communities across the nation, then it must lead in areas like education & entrepreneurship over illiteracy & asking for jobs. Church leaders will have to finally come together and become better community leaders, all in an effort to address declining moral values, along with comprehensive think tanks and mastermind groups that are designed to increase economic growth in poor and dilapidating neighborhoods.

When does this happen? Currently, there are several popular organizations like the NAACP, the Detroit Urban League, New Detroit, and the Skillman Foundation, working to address various issues. Overall however, the bottom rung of the population is waiting for the top to start and the educated religious, political and civic leaders, in many instances, are waiting for the people to express their voice.

Why is this going on? Because there are typically questions like: Who will call the meeting? Who will be in charge? What building will we use to meet? and What priorities should top the list? that often cloud the attempts to get started. In the meantime, others take the lead and promote their will.