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The Detroit Branch of the NAACP and UAW-Ford met on Saturday, Jan. 25 to share the findings of the Voices for Action Committee study on race relations in Southeast Michigan. A panel of noted Detroit journalists and civic leaders engaged in a robust conversation regarding the state of race in the State of Michigan. Following opening comments from Detroit NAACP President, Rev. Dr. Wendell Anthony. Devin Scillian of WDIV introduced panelists and set the frame work for the discussion centered on advancing Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream of equality.
Scillian asked panelists to begin the discussion by responding to the comments of Oakland County executive L Brook’s Patterson’s in the New Yorker magazine. Brooks said in an interview w with the New Yorker’s Paige Williams: “I used to say to my kids, ‘First of all, there’s no reason for you to go to Detroit. We’ve got restaurants out here.’ They don’t even have movie theatres in Detroit—not one.” He went on, “I can’t imagine finding something in Detroit that we don’t have in spades here. Except for live sports. We don’t have baseball, football. For that, fine—get in and get out. But park right next to the venue—spend the extra twenty or thirty bucks. And, before you go to Detroit, you get your gas out here. You do not, do not, under any circumstances, stop in Detroit at a gas station! That’s just a call for a carjacking.”
But that was not the most scathing of the derogatory nature of Brooks; comments. He continued: “I made a prediction a long time ago, and it’s come to pass,” Patterson says in the article. “I said, ‘What we’re gonna do is turn Detroit into an Indian reservation, where we herd all the Indians into the city, build a fence around it, and then throw in the blankets and the corn.’”
Shirley Stancato, President and CEO of New Detroit said she was appalled by the Indian reference. “The implication of throwing in the blankets relates to the fact that when American Indians were forced onto reservations, the blankets that were thrown into them were deliberately infected with Small Pox … the objective being to kill the Indian population … Brooks was aware of the inference and if he wasn’ he should have been,” said Stancato.
Southfield mayor Brenda Lawrence reminded audience members that as a black mayor in Oakland County the race issue was bigger than Brooks Patterson and his insensitive comment. “Oakland Count is an island in Brooks Patterson’s mind … we are fighting a battle for economy, not just equality,” she added noting much of the prestigious county’s wealth has been derived from middle and upper class black Detroiters who left Detroit for an improved quality of life in Oakland County.
The Detroit Free Press’ Rochelle Riley shored up Lawrence’s point. “Race is not a negative. It is a positive. MLK did not ask for a colorblind society … post-racial is a heinous concept; the point is not to hate anyone based on color.
The Michigan Chronicle’s senior editor, Bankole Thompson suggested that the discussion on race be moved to core centers of racial tension. “We should be having this discussion in Oakland County.”
Panelists Nolan Finley of the Detroit News and Detroit city councilwoman Brenda Jones agreed that racism is more a result of ignorance than it is malice or hatred.
“Take a white family to dinner and have an honest conversation,” said Riley with a nod to Finley. “It may mean a lot of dinners, but it fosters understanding.”
Rev. Anthony added that the work of Voices for Action is an on-going process. “We endeavor to build a conduit that offed knowledge and inspiration from inspired thinkers and doers, with input from our community to engage and inspire each other.”
L. Brooks Patterson was invited to participate in the Voices for Action panel discussion but was not available for the schedule discussion.