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State of Black Detroit: Where do we go from here?

state of black detroitIn 1973, a more hopeful time for African Americans, Coleman Young became the city’s first Black mayor and the outlook for Black political and economic empowerment appeared to be sure.

Forty years later, Detroit is in the process of an emergency manager-led bankruptcy — the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. Under emergency management, democratic values and practices are gone. The mostly Black city, has lost any ability to control local dollars for public resources.

  • Expect $3 billion in public/private projects going on in Detroit and no significant minority or Black participation, according to the Michigan Black Chamber.
  • This month, Detroit City Council approved a $650 million stadium project built with no Community Benefits Agreement.
  • At least 125 Detroit Public Schools have closed since 2008, drastically altering the geography neighborhoods, communities and the cultural and traditions of families. The district has been under state control for 13 of the past 15 years.
  • Official Michigan stats put Detroit’s unemployment rate at 16 percent. The unemployment figures do not account for people who are no longer looking for work. Some city officials have put unofficial unemployment and underemployment rates at over 50 percent.
  • Nearly 60 percent of Detroit children live in poverty. More than one in every three Detroit births are to mothers who did not graduate high school and 20 percent are to teen-age mothers, according to Data Driven Detroit.
  • Detroit has an infant mortality rate of many Third World countries and outpaces any other big city across the nation. Infant mortality is the number one killer of children outside of violence in the city.
  • The Michigan Chapter of National Action Network has issued a Northland Mall “Travel Advisory.” The organization “cannot give anyone a degree of comfort that their children are safe” at the Southfield mall where 24-year-old Mckenzie Cochran died in the custody of security guards. This is not the only case of security guard violence in the area.
  • Detroit has the most teens, between ages 16 and 19 years of age, that are neither in school nor working. And the criminal justice system largely views these young people as adults.
  • Detroit’s median income fell by 38 percent from 2007 to 2011 and is less than half that of the state’s. In 2011, Detroit’s median income was  $25,193 which fell from $30,415, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In contrast, the state’s median income is $56,068.
  • Public sector work, a particularly effective path the to middle class for African Americans, is being decimated by emergency management and financial strain from policy priorities, recession and financial crisis. Detroit city worker’s pension average is approximately $19,000 per year. Police and firefighters average about $30,000. All groups may be left in poverty after Detroit’s bankruptcy.
  • This represents a partial list of the context in which African Americans live in the city of Detroit. The list does not address the public policy rollbacks that have impacted the city in the last 15 years: cuts in revenue sharing, the end of affirmative action and drastic cuts in welfare and other social programs.
  • Increasing poverty, disenfranchisement and overall lack of accountability in local and state government contribute to the crisis of our time.

Considering the current state of affairs, the goal is to find the opportunities. The Michigan Citizen will hold its first in a series of monthly forums — a gathering of voices with the common goal of taking a defining stand — where grassroots, faith and labor communities come together to create an agenda that will help us control the dollars in our community, rebuild our institutions and regain our political power.

The Michigan Citizen presents “Grits, Politics and the Hard Truth: State of Black Detroit” on Thursday Feb. 27 at TULC (8679 Grand River Ave., Detroit) beginning at 7:30 a.m.Panelists include Art Blackwell, JoAnn Watson, Keith Williams, Krystal Crittendon and Rufus Bartell. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased in advance by calling 313.963.8282.

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