Time to Double Down on Equity
This post was originally published by Crain’s Detroit Business.
It is easy to roll your eyes and dismiss hateful comments by L. Brooks Patterson as Brooks being Brooks. Yet, his most recent rant about the Detroit-based CEO group’s efforts to improve our regional economic competitiveness should not be dismissed. The inflammatory remarks should catalyze two commitments. First, we should agree that our region cannot continue to suffer from leadership that incites racial and religious divisions and conjures images of hate-mongering organizations like the “Klan.” Second, it should ignite a commitment to social equity in our city and region’s recovery.
After seeing the impact of the Itasca Project in Minneapolis, an employer-led civic alliance focused on improving the Twin Cities, DTE Chairman Gerry Anderson assembled 23 of the most prominent CEOs in the region to address similar problems here. The Minneapolis CEOs have been credited for their significant influence on making their metropolitan region one of the wealthiest and most livable in the country. The group recognized that for everyone to prosper, they needed to move beyond their self-interest around taxes and business climate, which led to a bold commitment to make their region more inclusive by narrowing racial disparities and welcoming everyone, including immigrants and refugees. To have a real impact often requires moving beyond self-preoccupations to focus on significant societal problems. In Minneapolis, that meant a sharp focus on economic, social and educational gaps between Whites and people of color.
Detroit has the same opportunity to have a laser-like focus on equity. Are we going to really be inclusive or are we going to just offer lip service to the notion? For a region that is as racially segregated as southeast Michigan and a city like Detroit, which is majority Black, a commitment to inclusion is not a proposition; it is an imperative.
We love Detroit and its children, and believe their futures are intertwined.
Our city and region is recovering, yet it will be stunted if we don’t take a long view. SEMCOG predicts that people of color will comprise a larger share of the total population, growing by 425,000 people over the next two decades. Black workers are predicted to increase by nearly 100,000, whereas white workers are expected to decrease by 45,000.
We need to fan the flame of inclusion and equity in southeast Michigan. At the Skillman Foundation, we know this is necessary in order for us to expand opportunities for Detroit children so that they benefit from the city’s recovery too. We love Detroit and its children, and believe their futures are intertwined. Thus, an inclusive Detroit is a better Detroit for all.
That is why I am pleased that the Detroit CEO group has acknowledged that reducing and eliminating social and racial disparities is paramount to our region’s success. I have felt the passion of these leaders and their commitment to creating an inclusive, diverse region through their advocacy for regional transit, improving schools, and technical education.
It is all of our responsibility to champion and live these ideas of diversity, equity and inclusion every single day. We can’t stay silent when situations like this arise. While a few strong voices like Shirley Stancato and Rev. Wendell Anthony denouncing Patterson’s statements was encouraging, there was a missed opportunity for our region to make a collective statement condemning his rhetoric.
This can be remedied. Our region must make a declaration to learn and work together so that we can correct and advance social equity and inclusion for minority populations in southeast Michigan. In Cleveland and New Orleans, nearly 2,000 business, elected and civic leaders have publicly united to advance racial equity and dismantle structural racism by participating in daylong sessions to better understand racial disparities. The sessions provide real studies, data and policy analysis to identify concrete ways to make racial equity explicit in actions. And it is already paying dividends by helping communities build inclusion, solidarity and trust, and policy and practice changes, which is required for a truly thriving region.
We can do the same in Detroit. In the spirit of action, the Skillman Foundation will join this effort and finance our coming together. However, real impact requires a coordinated commitment. So I challenge the entire community, and particularly business leaders, let’s defang Patterson’s words by doubling down on equity.