WARREN, Mich. – When you enter the Warren City Hall building, an orange, protruding wall reads “Warren City Leaders.” Beneath those 17 silver letters are 10 portraits of the mayor, the city treasurer, the city clerk, and seven council members, all whom are white.
The city has held a Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration for the last six years, as the only city in Macomb County to do so. Yet, there is no black leadership in the city of Warren at the executive level, elected by the people. Something Dr. King would have certainly spoken out against if he were alive today.
Michigan Chronicle publisher Hiram E. Jackson subtly addressed the issue as the keynote speaker of the program. He was supposed to be soaking up the sun in Florida on MLK Day, but could not pass up the opportunity to speak to black residents and children in a city that is only 17 percent African-American, and has had its fair share of racial tension and incidents, especially involving current mayor Jim Fouts. One of the ministers from the Life Application Ministries Church (LAM), a predominately black church in Warren, said Jackson’s presence and speech was just what the program and black community in the third largest city in Michigan needed.
“I couldn’t think of a better place to be,” said Jackson, as he addressed the crowd. “I love black people and I love talking about black people. And I say that unapologetically. I see all of these children and they need to know that we love black people. It’s important that they hear it, they believe it, they embrace that, and that somebody is willing to stand up and say it.”
Jackson said he had not delivered a speech on MLK Day in 30 years. But in those three decades, he has learned a lot as a businessman, family man, and a black man. Jackson admitted, at 23, he did not have the “urge or the interest” in being a part of the community. Now, at 53, he operates the largest black newspaper in Michigan, prides himself on telling positive stories within the community, and being a supporter of economic inclusion. Something Dr. King did prior to his assassination.
“Dr. King represented the least of us,” said Jackson. “He thought it was horrific that 40 million people in America, the richest country in the world, lived in abject poverty. It was 40 million then, it’s almost 40 million now. In the city of Detroit, 35 percent of all residents live in poverty. In the city of Warren, with 135,000 people, just under 25,000 people live in poverty. We should not have this.”
Jackson said one way to alleviate poverty in Warren is to hold the elected officials accountable. But, with no black executive officials, and a city of budget of roughly $250 million, are blacks in Warren benefiting fairly within their communities and being spoken up for? Who knows? But, voting, entrepreneurship, and serving the community are ways that the black community in Warren will become stronger.
“The political system is the distribution system for the economic system,” said Jackson. “We have to participate in the political process. We have to be present and have our voices heard in the seats of power, City Council, Zoning Board, and Planning Commission, and we can’t lose our voice or power.”
Mayor Fouts, who was present at the Warren MLK Day program, has been linked to a string of racist, sexist, and controversial slurs and comments over the years. The latest report being released by the Detroit News today that Fouts called former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick the N-word on election night 2007. He denied that accusation in the report, instead, choosing to mention what his staff has done to provide diversity and inclusion among officials in the city of Warren at the program, including appointing blacks to positions of diversity coordinator (George N. Anthony Jr.), city attorney (Ethan Vinson), communications director (Clarissa Cayton), and fire commissioner (Skip McAdams).
“I believe, in Warren, we have followed Dr. King when it comes to equality and employment. That has been one of my goals as mayor for the last 11 years,” said Fouts. “We talk about being inclusive and not exclusive, and we welcome everybody to the city of Warren. We can only be a great city if we encourage diversity, immigration, and opening our doors to anyone and everyone.”
At the city of Warren MLK Day event, LAM Church senior pastor Bishop Adolphus Cast spoke about the purpose of the occasion and offered prayer. His youth choir also gave a selection. Cast is one of the prominent black community leaders in the city of Warren, having dealt with racial discrimination and practices in Warren for over 50 years, working at the General Motors Tech plant and leading LAM Church since 1996. Fouts even called Cast’s church an “unofficial” church of Warren.
But, last March, Cast and is congregation were in a heated battle with Warren officials and the surrounding community over an unfinished youth activity center the city deemed a nuisance that should be razed and one that neighbors called an eyesore. LAM Church had already paid $1.2 million for the addition. Cast told the Michigan Chronicle that race, and politics played a large part in that ordeal.
He went on to say the reason he kept his congregation in Warren was to make change and to not run from the racial practices and discrimination the city is known for. Something Dr. King would have done.
“Blacks, as well as whites have a reason to honor Dr. King,” said Cast. “He articulated a philosophy of non-violence that remains a model for us today. He inspired us with his vision of a truly, just society. As an activist, he showed us how to match our deeds with our words. So, we must celebrate his life and legacy.”