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Gov. Snyder can end discrimination at MDOT

Billions of dollars will flow into Michigan transportation projects in the next few years and Black contractors will, again, be left out. Gov. Rick Snyder’s announcement of dollars for transportation will undoubtedly be met with cheers. Yet, his pronouncement will be meaningless for most African Americans.

Reading the story of Dr. Bellandra Foster, in this Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. issue, will make one cry out and question the notion of progress. How do African Americans continue to fight for equality? How could such egregious discrimination persist in 2013?

How do you solve the issue? Is the solution political or economic in nature? Or within some other space we have not yet imagined?

Dr. Foster could be the test case for creating equity in government contracting. Like Rosa Parks and the other test cases of the Civil Rights movement, Foster appears to be the best person to bring this lawsuit and demand institutional change at MDOT. However, she has done this at great personal and professional cost.

Foster, for all practical purposes, appears to be a model citizen. She is the first Black women licensed professional engineer. She is professionally and personally accomplished. She has worked for MDOT and for Mayor Maynard Jackson of Atlanta. She has worked for over 20 years in engineering services and transportation administration. Foster grew her company from a home-based business to a Detroit-based company with $2 million a year in revenue. She is a mother and wife who wrote the book “For Love and Money: Seven Guidelines for Achieving Success in your Home and Business.” She has spoke at commencement addresses for engineering schools.

Dr. Foster is an outstanding individual who was brought down by what appears to be a subjective contract selection process at MDOT that allowed state employees — white men — to thwart her professional rise.

It appears at least two men actively worked to discredit her and ruin her business. Foster, who has been able to hire other disadvantaged businesses and people of color, was forced out of business in Michigan.

Fortunately, Dr. Foster had the tools to fight back. Organized and thoughtful, Foster kept records of most of what happened to her and was able to file a federal complaint against MDOT that was supported by a federal report that found MDOT’s process and employees at fault. Dr. Foster only filed this complaint after years of trying to reason with MDOT.

As we consider the work of Dr. King and thousands or others, we are thankful for the work that brought us the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which gave us Title VI, the basis for Foster’s discrimination complaint and lawsuit.

There are many aspects to equity in the United States for African Americasn and economic justice is a critical next step.

We must begin to demand economic justice.

Gov. Snyder can help end discrimination at MDOT. His urban policy, to this point, has meant emergency management. This is an opportunity to create real systematic changes within MDOT and foster the growth of disadvantaged businesses in the state of Michigan. He could create a legacy by pushing for changes within MDOT that extend to other agencies. The changes could create equity and great Black business representation in government contracting.

 

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