Melissa Walsh

Diverse perspectives in looking forward

Grosse Pointe News | January 25th, 2018 | News section


Diverse perspectives in looking forward By Melissa Walsh

Talk of renaissance and renewal for a new Detroit has appeared and faded since the uprising of July 1967.

Each wave of come-back discourse over the past 50 years involves a discussion of interracial healing. Furthering that dialogue, the Detroit Historical Society presented an interactive forum “Detroit: Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going” at The War Memorial Thursday, Jan. 11.

Detroit Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley facilitated a panel discussion featuring Graig Donnelly, assistant vice president for economic development at Wayne State University and chief strategy officer at TechTown Detroit; Joe Hudson, former CEO of J.L. Hudson Co. and co-founder of New Detroit; and Marlowe Stoudamire, project director of the “Detroit 67: Perspectives” exhibit at the Detroit Historical Museum.

“In one way or another, each of us has been dealing with diversity all our lives,” Hudson said, launching panel remarks.

He summarized experience facing diversity, from a teen hosting an interracial youth event in Buffalo, N.Y., to ROTC service in Germany following World War II leading a diverse group of enlisted soldiers, and from his Hudson’s Detroit diversity training to co-founding New Detroit in 1967.

While serving on New Detroit, Hudson said he recalled the analysis and predictions made by Episcopal Diocese of Michigan Bishop Richard S.M. Emrich, who warned city leaders early on that Detroit’s black population was being underserved and overlooked in the labor market.

“(Emrich) was well ahead of the curve,” Hudson said.

Donnelly, who grew up in the Woodbridge district of Detroit, remarked on his experience living in the west end of Grosse Pointe Park the past four years, where he and his young family moved for a “walkable and friendly” community.

“Pretty soon after moving here is when the city of Grosse Pointe Park decided to close its border with Detroit through a variety of methods,” Donnelly said. “And that’s when I got involved very quickly as a new Grosse Pointer.”

Referencing the closure of through-traffic on Kercheval at Alter Road, Donnelly said it’s time for Pointers to welcome diversity.

“Diversity is a fact, but inclusion is a choice,” he concluded. “When I think about the possible paths forward that I want to be a part of, it’s about crossing those borders.”

Stoudamire closed panel remarks describing the rationale and scope of the Detroit 67 exhibit.

“We were trying to create a model of how you bring diverse voices and communities together around the historic effects of a crisis that happened 50 years ago in order for people to find their role in the present to inspire the future,” he explained.

Examining mistakes of the past from all perspectives, Stoudamire said, facilitates “learning from our collective and shared history to make a difference.

“We were very intentional about the looking forward piece,” Stoudamire added, calling the exhibit, which collected more than 500 Detroit stories from the past century, “a call to action.”

Stoudamire said his take-away from the project was seeing 1967 in context historically and identifying three community gaps to bridge — generational, racial and geographic.

“And there’s no better example of that anywhere in America than the border of Detroit and Grosse Pointe,” he said.

An audience member posed the question, “Are any of the Grosse Pointe mayors present here tonight?” None were. But Harper Woods Mayor Kenneth Poynter was and made a brief statement on the diversity in his city, which he said is “about 50/50 (black and Caucasian) right now.”

During the question-and-answer portion, Hudson said of his work with New Detroit, “Diversity is, not a challenge so much, but a great benefit.”

Rochelle Riley facilitates the panel discussion for “Detroit: Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going” at The War Memorial.

Riley asked Donnelly, who is Caucasian, of Stoudamire, who is black, “When you see Marlowe, do you see a black man?”

“When I look at Marlowe, I see Marlowe,” Donnelly said. “One way I would describe Marlowe is that he is black. But that doesn’t define Marlowe.”

Hudson encouraged schools, churches and other community institutions to engage young people in diversity dialogue.

Several Albion College students attended the event as part of a leadership program with the school.

Sunny Kim, 20, who grew up outside Michigan, said, “What I first perceived when I first came (to Michigan) was that Detroit wasn’t doing well economically and that there was a great divide between race, between income.”

Grace Forrester, 18, from Holland, said her grandmother, who grew up in Grosse Pointe spoke fondly of Detroit.

“(My grandma) told me how amazing going into the city was,” Forrester said. “So I’m really excited the city is coming back.”

Alexandria Adle, 19, Howell, said she’s familiar with Detroit and observes a parallel with the city of Albion in that it “crashed and is coming back up.”

All three students said visiting Detroit and learning what its leaders are doing to improve the community is opening their perspective and bringing them fresh ideas for contributing to Albion.

Grosse Pointe Farms residents Ron and Mary Lamparter, 78 and 71, respectively, shared their perspectives.

Ron Lamparter, who grew up in Detroit and witnessed the uprising in July 1967 firsthand, said, “I’m here because I obviously care about the subject. That said, I don’t necessarily agree with some of the things I’m hearing.”

Calling the uprising an excuse to steal, he added, “It was not a race riot at all. It was an insurrection. … There were white kids stealing along with the black kids.”

Mary Lamparter, who came to live in Detroit in 1969, said, “What I think is happening now though is absolutely spectacular. We have to start respecting each other as individuals.”

Priscilia Rodriguez, 66, of Detroit found the event useful for racial healing.

“You plant the seed,” she said. “Maybe you talk to five people and you plant five more seeds. Maybe only two of them will come out. But those two will eventually spread the seed.”

Farms resident Rosi Triano, 57, who grew up in Harper Woods, said, “I wish more Grosse Pointers understood white privilege.” Going forward, she recommended meeting people from different backgrounds.

“It takes away your fear,” she said. “The trick is to be in situations where there are connections.”