By Donald James, Special to the Chronicle
On Friday morning, Nov. 20, The Michigan Chronicle will hold its final Pancakes & Politics event for the season. It will mark the 15th anniversary of the epic forum, which has been called the premier platform for deep and provocative discussions of issues that impact African Americans in Detroit and the region.
The season finale’s theme for the virtual platform, which begins at 7:50 a.m., is “The State of Black Leadership in Detroit.” The panelists are Solomon Kinloch Jr. (senior pastor, Triumph Church), Tonya Allen (President & CEO, The Skillman Foundation), Rory Gamble (President, UAW), and Nicole Small (member, Detroit Charter Commission).
Since its inception, Pancakes & Politics has been front and center in tackling hot button issues, as they pertain to the economy, education, political policies, city government, race relations, jobs and workforce, and an array of other topics. And it’s not just discussions and opinions being bantered about, Pancakes & Politics presents strong panelists who are considered the movers and shakers, policymakers, elected and appointed officials, corporate and other organizational executives, and content experts across broad spectrums of the city, region, and state.
“It doesn’t seem like we’ve been doing Pancakes & Politics for 15 years, but it speaks to the relevancy and the significance of the forum,” said Hiram Jackson, publisher of the Michigan Chronicle and founder of Pancakes & Politics. “The event speaks to the need to have Black voices at the table when the region is considering big political matters.”
Jackson said before Pancakes & Politics was formed, he was disenchanted that he didn’t see a large Black presence and hear large blocks of Black voices at the table when the region stakeholders were considering and making big public policy decisions on such matters as transportation, education, economic development, workforce development, and other issues that had a direct impact on Detroiters and others citizens in southeastern Michigan.
“I thought it would be interesting to establish a townhall meeting type forum with the leaders in the community, where there would be significant participation and feedback from Black people in the city and region,” Jackson explained. “And the Michigan Chronicle wanted to host it, set the agenda, ask the tough questions, attract the panelists, and we wanted it held at the Detroit Athletic Club in downtown Detroit.”
Over the years, dozens of the area’s leaders and decision-makers have been panelists, to include, but not limited to, Dave Bing (former Detroit mayor), Mike Duggan (current Detroit mayor), Carla Walker-Miller (founder and CEO, Walker-Miller Energy Services), David E. Meador (vice chairman and chief administrative officer, DTE Energy), Ric DeVore (PNC regional president for Detroit and Southeast Michigan), Warren Evans (Wayne County Executive), the late L. Brooks Patterson (Oakland County Executive), Dan Gilbert (Chairman, Quicken Loans), Roy Roberts (former Detroit Public Schools emergency manager), Jennifer Granholm (then-governor of Michigan), and Daniel Loepp (President & CEO, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan).
“I usually attend Pancakes & Politics events with high expectations, and the events always deliver,” said David E. Meador, vice president and chief administrative officer, DTE Energy, who has served as a panelist several times, including one on workforce development. “I’ve been going to them for so long it’s hard to pull out a favorite forum. However, this summer’s event on social injustice stands out because of the COVID pandemic, the economy, and Black Lives Matter, all of which made this Pancakes & Politics a classic.”
Speaking of classics, the first Pancakes & Politics forum is still talked about in many circles. The forum featured then-mayor of Detroit, Kwame Kilpatrick and then-Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, as the only two panelists.
“The two had big personalities,” said Jackson. “At the time, many people thought that they hated each other because they both represented racially different communities and ideologies. Both were straight talkers. There was a lot of energy, a lot of excitement, and a lot of anticipation. It was a great way to kickoff Pancakes & Politics.”
Bishop Edgar Vann, senior pastor of Second Ebenezer Church in Detroit, also remembers the inaugural forum, which featured Kilpatrick and Patterson, but chose to reflect on other Pancakes & Politics events.
“I really have enjoyed the corporate and business forums in terms of discussions on diversity and inclusion,” Vann said. “I have also enjoyed the forums that speak on investing in Detroit and building and redeveloping in the city.”
Through the years, there have been many highlight events and moments for different people for various reasons.
“My favorite moment was earlier this year,” said Carla Walker-Miller, president & CEO of Walker-Miller Energy Services, who has been on two panels: Educating Detroit’s Workforce, and Social Justice and Corporate Accountability. “Tonya Allen was on the panel and so boldly and unabashedly made the case for the urgency of racial equity and inclusion. I could not hold back tears. It was one of many reminders of how rarely we talk about race with people of different races. Now, we do!”
According to Jackson, Pancakes & Politics forums were held four times per year for the first 14 years. In year 15 (2020), a total of six will be held, five of which consist of virtual platforms due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Every event, said Jackson, has been sold out. Jackson adds that the panelists are never chosen until 30 to 35 days before the event because the idea is to have the hottest people discussing the most current and hottest topics at Pancakes & Politics.
Jackson said the tough questions are never provided to the panelists in advance – only the topics. Two years ago, entrepreneur Dennis Archer, Jr. and radio journalist Vickie Thomas stepped in as co-hosts of the events. And yes, pancakes are really served as part of a full and elite breakfast for attendees and panelists.
“The panels and events that Hiram and his team have put together over the years are of quality and pretty amazing,” said Ric DeVore, PNC regional president for Detroit and Southeast Michigan. “ I do miss the comradery with the attendees and panelists before and after each event that wasn’t possible this year because of the pandemic. But Hiram has pivoted Pancakes to reach more people through virtual platforms.”
DeVore said he has been a panelist twice, and PNC has been a presenting sponsor of Pancakes & Politics for eight of the events 15 years.
“Pancakes & Politics is a great convener,” said DeVore. “The event will be around for many years to come. And we at PNC are proud to be a part of its future.”
Bishop Vann agrees that the future of Pancakes & Politics is tremendous, calling it a “must go to and must see and hear event in Detroit.”
“Pancakes & Politics brings together folks from throughout the region to discuss key community issues,” said Faye Nelson, director of Michigan Programs at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. “The value it provides includes the topics, the panelists and the ability to connect with colleagues in a pre-panel discussion. Hiram’s Pancakes & Politics’ vision has provided real value to the community.”
“We are proud of what we’ve accomplished with Pancakes & Politics for 15 years,” said Jackson. “And we are really excited about the next 15 years. We start back in March of 2021 and we already have companies lined up to be a part of the forum. We will continue to have high-quality panels, including one or two with national panelists. We are looking to get back into the Detroit Athletic Club, but still have a virtual component, and we want to continue building our audience and following.“
To register for the Friday, Nov. 20 Pancakes & Politics forum, to be held virtual, go to the Michigan Chronicle’s Facebook page.