February 05, 2020
Blog post by Alicia McClendon
Progress and big investments are hollow without including longtime residents and people of color in Detroit’s revitalization – a major takeaway for me following the 2020 Detroit Policy Conference, hosted by the Detroit Regional Chamber at MotorCity Casino’s Soundboard on Jan. 29.
“Do not call it a comeback. It’s an evolution,” declared Dennis W. Archer, Jr., the conference’s returning chair, while speaking on Detroit’s continued resurgence.
This year’s conference set out to define the city’s next decade through the perspectives, insights and current work of startups, entrepreneurs, real estate investors, corporations, politicians, and philanthropists in the city – all of whom are making notable impact on Detroit’s renewal.
Two dozen speakers took to the conference’s stage often accompanied by images of Detroit’s past, present and (possible) future depicted on a large video screen. The day was teeming with new information for conference goers.
I also took it all in, quickly noticing a new theme of “inclusion” emerging prominently over the conference’s title theme. The speakers either explicitly stated the word or expounded on its definition in relation to closing Detroit’s equity gap, particularly among its African American population. Pathos was used: “Remember those who were here first” and logos: “There is no resurgent without a resurgent black middle-class”, all garnering applause.
At the heart of the speakers’ appeals for a more inclusive, invested city is of course the “tale of two Detroits,” the either “valid” or “not valid” narrative on how the city’s resurgence has mostly shined on the greater downtown’s 2.7 square miles, while the remaining 139 square miles, resided by disadvantaged people of color, has been largely left in the dark.
The contrast between the downtown and the inner city is an everyday observation for me – as I work in the former and drive home into the latter daily. More work within the city’s “neighborhoods” is needed but will take time to achieve.
Inclusion is a word, and method, I welcome as an African American, a woman, Detroit native, and optimist. I enjoyed the insights and commitment exhibited by several of the conference’s speakers. Like them, I also believe more inclusive investment is necessary for Detroit’s future.
Here are five moments when the 2020 Detroit Policy Conference shined a light on the importance to include all Detroiters in the ongoing build toward a more prosperous city:
DUG SONG, DUOSECURITY,INC. :
“I’m a big fan of the Detroit Future City…The report they had last year basically included there is no resurgent Detroit without a resurgent black middle class. I think it’s a very clear call to action and agenda for us to think about.”
CLIFF BROWN, WOODBORN PARTNERS:
“We often talk about the two Detroits – the downtown versus the neighborhood. That is certainly valid, and we have to be sensitive to that narrative…And we have to find a way to meet those unique needs while being sensitive to each other.”
DAVID ALADE, CENTURY PARTNERS:
“Detroit is an incredibly unique city, it’s not a Chicago, it’s not a San Francisco, it’s not a New York. There’s still significant opportunity for folks to really get involved, who’ve lived here, who’ve been through some challenging times to acquire strong assets to start building wealth in areas they’re obviously going to appreciate.”
MAYOR MIKE DUGGAN, CITY OF DETROIT:
“The people who stayed, they never lost that grit, that determination, and that belief that they loved their city. They didn’t always like what was about it in their neighborhood. But, the people who stayed, stayed because they believed in the future.”
HILL HARPER, ACTOR/ AUTHOR/ PHILANTHROPIST:
“The people of Detroit are its greatest assets, and one thing I’ve started to notice having been here and working with different people, from businesses, to nonprofit sector, philanthropists, entrepreneurs – is that often times, Detroit’s greatest asset is ignored in its investment. We focus on this building, this area, this core – but it’s about the people.”