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State of Black Detroit focus: Economic and political power

By T. Kelly
The Michigan Citizen

DETROIT— Hundreds braved the bitter cold and sudden early morning snow shower to hear city leaders discuss the State of Black Detroit, Feb. 27 at the first Michigan Citizen Grits, Politics and the Hard Truth breakfast.

A panel discussion with former councilwoman Joann Watson, political veteran Art Blackwell, businessman Rufus Bartell, city lawyer Krystal Crittendon and community organizer Keith Williams discussed politics, the economy and opportunities.

Grow Black businesses, control communication and education, do “Jehovah Witness style politics,” stop begging, use the resources at hand, reach out to the youth, take care of your household and love yourself — and one another. The messages of empowerment were greeted with applause and enthusiasm by Detroiters weary of state imposed emergency management and the bleak future promised by bankruptcy and asset stripping state policies.

“No one is stopping us from doing what we want. If you can’t play downtown, if you can’t play in Midtown, you can play in your neighborhood,” said Bartell. “Most of our ills are financial. We have gone to great heights politically, but we need strong business development.”

 “If the organizations we have created are not conscious, they should go out of business,” said Watson. “Economic empowerment is the frontier we need to develop.”

She urged citizens to organize and make collective decisions about selective patronage. “We aid in our own oppression if we don’t selectively spend… We still have control over the money coming through our hands….We are everybody’s cash cow.”

 “There are a million dollars a day exchanged on Livernois and Seven Mile not going in our pockets,” Bartell said. He described how his family members have pooled their resources to purchase property on the Seven Mile and Livernois shopping strip — known as the Avenue of Fashion —  with an eye on developing more businesses than the retail shop and restaurant he currently owns.

Noting that the strip is surrounded by three solid neighborhoods demanding local business development, Bartell said. “We are tilling the soil now and when it bears fruit, it is going to be beautiful.”

Blackwell urged the crowd to at the minimum spend “at least 30 percent of your income on Black businesses.”

Former county commissioner Keith Williams sees the half billion dollars the Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr plans to spend on blight removal as a business opportunity for the community.  He named Black businesses with the capacity to take on the work.

Communication and the power it has over people was a recurring topic in the discussions. The panelists all urged community control of communications.

“Quit talking about us the way mainstream media talks about us,” said former mayoral candidate and city attorney Krystal Crittendon. “I want to talk about Chokwe Lumumba; I want to talk about Angelo Henderson; I don’t’ want to talk about people who did things they weren’t supposed to do and are now paying a high price for it.”

 “Don’t get caught up in the diminution of the Black institutions, stop tearing each other down,” Blackwell said.

On the political front, Crittendon said the community had been too passive in the emergency manager fight. “We should be rioting in the street. In a democracy, the majority rules and the majority voted to repeal emergency management.”

She said candidates for office need to tell the truth. She talked about the city land giveaway to billionaire Mike Illitch for a new hockey stadium and said citizens must show up at council meetings and put pressure on the elected officials. Crittendon urged voters to “call out those who sell us out.”

To get more Detroiters engaged in voting, Williams said “we need to do Jehovah Witness style politics — go door to door.”

Throughout the discussion, panelists urged citizens to reach out to the youth in the neighborhoods, get engaged with them; take back the schools, control their education.

Watson urged listeners to connect with people connected to prisoners. Bartell said people should be protesting the bad education children are receiving, noting that “we get crime when we produce uneducated children.”

Williams said the community must tend to “the least of these,” the children, because if we don’t “they give us trouble.”

He added, “the city is talking about the blight removal and dedicating money to carry it out. Let’s put some young people together to do it.”


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