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Crain’s Detroit Business Publisher Keith Crain recently opined that the Detroit Regional Chamber should move its annual Mackinac Policy Conference to Detroit. What?!?? It was something I wrote about as a columnist for The Michigan Chronicle several years and a couple of mayoral administrations ago.
My piece came at a time when the discussion on the island all centered on the issues of Detroit and the seemingly sincere but disconnected effort to resolve the problems of a city in which none of these decision makers visited, less only resided. I proposed hosting the conference in Detroit—on Belle Isle, actually, and give attendees a real taste of Detroit; allowing them to see the city for what it really was, and not just what they thought. Certainly Mr. Crain has a large and influential voice, so perhaps the now suggestion will be heard.
But, it reminded me of what I have been mentally noting for some time; that there are quite a few things and ideas making a second debut, all to a better, more positive and welcoming reception as though it were some groundbreaking idea or discovery.
Charging for Belle Isle, commissioned graffiti, artwork on buildings downtown, privatizing departments that would increase operational efficiency, a dedicated bus route to Eastern Market and bike lanes (championed by Al Fields) are just a few ideas that were presented over the years, but met with blatant opposition or reasons–internally and externally—as to why it couldn’t or would not succeed, lack of reception and support notwithstanding. The list is pretty long, actually.
I sometimes shake my head at the excitement that is now shown towards the very things that many of the same folks discouraged, disliked and even disrespected; like they once did the city itself. Short political memories also prevent many of these new celebrants from remembering the beginning of (and those behind) much of today’s enjoyment—the Detroit Riverwalk, the Dequinder Cut, a remodeled Eastern Market and Dan Gilberts arrival. Oh, and throw in the “new” streetlights, emergency vehicles, new busses and the corporate support for the parks and recreation centers, too. Not new. Seeds planted prior.
Much can be said and guessed as to why things are…different now. But, as someone who worked in two mayoral administrations and one of many who unapologetically cheered for a city we loved and stayed with and in while others did everything short of calling us crazy for doing so, I find the oversight disappointing.
While I understand that each administration builds on the accomplishments (and challenges) of the past and that both growth and progress are processes, and I am happy that the rest of the world (or at least the surrounding ‘burbs) are finally catching up, it would be nice for everyone to stop pretending that these things are new or somehow popped out of nowhere. They aren’t, and they didn’t. But, this practice is becoming nothing new either.
I guess they just weren’t ready then.
Welcome to the party that is now #NewDetroit.
Every year for Black History Month, we dust off the books and stories about what is supposed to be an effort to increase awareness and respect for the contributions of black folks to America. Ideally, knowing that they were not limited to or by slavery and oppression would encourage and uplift a people seemingly mired in struggle. That’s great, but I have another suggestions: change the conversation.
Imagery is a strong and influential tool that has long shaped the reality of a people. What we see, too, has been embraced and duplicated by many. The negative images and imagery for too long have defined and been accepted as normal and ok; neither is accurate, but is accepted as a reality that must be abandoned.
Words are the second biggest influencer; we repeat what we believe to be true, and it serves as a reminder to ourselves and others of what we have been told we are or are not. Yet, much of what we see is no different or worse than that of other races and while that is no justification, it is also not our sole identify. We must stop embracing it as such. We must also stop saying that we are what we may not actually be, or more importantly what we don’t want to duplicated.
We don’t work together. We don’t trust each other. Black men don’t take care of their children. Blah, blah, blah. Every time we repeat these or any of the other numerous negative descriptions (and excuses), we etch them into our lives and into the minds of others. Stop.
Stop saying there are more black men in prison than in college. Stop repeating what you see and hear about black on black crime. Stop saying all the negative things you hear about black people, simply because that is what “they” say. The legacy of excellence, peace and community are there, and need to be embraced and elevated as truth.
And, after you commit to stop embracing and absorbing the image and repeating and becoming the message, then dedicate your efforts to erasing them both by better practices with your people. Speak. Be kind. Be supportive. Take, but give back. Be determined to change the reality that has been created for you and about you to one that is a more accurate reflection of who you are, who we are and all that we are capable of being. From medicine to music, together we’ve done and overcome a lot. We can change this, too.
Start now, and never stop. We are not as bad as they say we are; and only as bad as you believe.