Who is benefiting in revitalization efforts?

Alex B. Hill
Alex B. Hill

In October 2014, a provocative headline caused a stir in Detroit media. It read: “Detroit revitalization: Black problems, white solutions.”

What followed was data that Wayne State graduate student Alex Hill compiled through months of research that showed that the dollars directed to efforts to revitalize Detroit seem to disproportionately be given to or managed by white people.

Of the programs he studied, which included media-based programs, fellowship programs, and entrepreneur programs among others, just under 70 percent of people who led or were directly supported by the programs were white. Just 24 percent were African American.

Gionni Crawford
Gionni Crawford

The data is not perfect – Hill did not interview the organizations directly to get the cleanest data possible. Still, what he reported contributed to the growing conversation about inclusivity in Detroit’s comeback story. In a city that is more than 80 percent African American, Hill said he thought this seemed rather important to unpack and understand.

Hill sat down to discuss his findings with Gionni Crawford, a young Detroiter who is an aspiring journalist. Here’s a portion of their conversation.

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Race and Revitalization

In Detroit


Detroit's recovery, while exciting, is also deeply unequal. A good indicator of the racial inequality can be seen in who gets accepted to incubators, who is selected for fellowships, and who is running the various programs and organizations working to revitalize Detroit.

Inequality is rising in America's cities and the effects of gentrification are disproportionately found in minority communities. In Detroit, this is often talked about as two Detroits.

In the 2010 Census, Detroit had a population of 713,777 people of which a majority 82.7% were black or African-American. These numbers are not reflected in Detroit's revitalization efforts.

— Alex B. Hill




Discussion of Findings with Gionni Crawford

CRAWFORD: What did you hope to do with the data you collected about investments in Detroit's revitalization?

HILL: I think the follow-up for outcomes is difficult because obviously I'm one person and I can't drive this discussion. But also this isn’t a discussion that I started. The data I collected was largely based on conversations I was having with families in Detroit, different community organizations across the city where they were seeing these things. They'd say, you know, the white people run the nonprofits and we don't have a nonprofit so they don't want to fund our community group and the things that we're trying to do. But they said, there is no other community group where we are, so if anything is going to happen here, we have to make it happen.

CRAWFORD: I read that you worked with families in Detroit for a few years. Can you tell me about that and how it influenced your thinking about these issues?

HILL: I was working as a community health worker for a childhood obesity study. It was homebased, so we went two times a week and met with families and talked to them about skills. It was very eye-opening work and definitely gave me a good perspective on how Detroit families were dealing with all the changes that were happening in Detroit.

CRAWFORD: Sometimes you hear people say (black people) just don't work hard enough. Did that concept come up as you were doing this research?

HILL: Yes. That was a lot of the response I got. That, well, there just aren't enough black Detroiters who are qualified. I think that only really highlights the problem further. You can go back and look at the racial discrimination school funding policies and how that has affected things.

CRAWFORD: What do you think is the first step to fixing this or at least starting the conversation?

HILL: That’s really difficult because there are so many issues. I think it's important to note that in my piece I use the word deliberate. I don't necessarily think people are being deliberately excluded, but I do think people are being deliberately included. And who is being included and why? The other side of that is that, well, exclusion is happening. I know a lot of programs need to think about if they are inadvertently excluding people who would really add value to their goal or their mission, which for many is about revitalizing Detroit, making Detroit better. So if people aren't qualified, then maybe we need different programs.

CRAWFORD: So start all over?

HILL: No, I don’t think so. But one fellowship model I’ve seen overseas in global health places a fellow from a Western country with an in-country fellow, someone who is geographically specific to the area. That's one idea... Having someone who is geographically specific to Detroit who has been in Detroit and experienced it would be a really great way to make sure you have an even class of people that you're bringing into your program.

CRAWFORD: What should be the goal? Is it to be equal? Or more inclusive?

HILL: That's something that a lot of people have talked about - if we're just racing toward equality, then everyone gets the same thing. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about racial equity. Specifically, Detroit’s black population has been set behind. They're starting from a way different spot then say the kid from the suburbs who is going to go work downtown. It's already an unequal playing field. So we need equity, not necessarily equality.