What does good Black leadership in Detroit look like? What happens when Black people [with ties to those in power and also those at the grassroots level] collaborate and get things done?
These thought-provoking questions and other conversations took place during the Michigan Chronicle Pancakes & Politics forum 15th anniversary season finale on Nov. 20. The virtual event was hosted by Dennis Archer Jr., CEO of Ignition Media Group, and co-hosted by WWJ’s Vickie Thomas. The theme was “The State of Black Leadership in Detroit.”
The three panelists were: Nicole Small, president of the Detroit City Charter Commission, the Rev. Steve Bland, senior pastor of Liberty Temple Baptist Church of Detroit, and Tonya Allen, president and CEO of the Skillman Foundation.
Archer said that it’s “befitting that the last topic of this year given these times is Black leadership.”
“It’s been a very interesting year,” Real Times Media [RTM] CEO Hiram Jackson said. “We started off in March with Mayor [Mike] Duggan and County Executive Warren Evans and eight months later we’re in a studio on the eastside of Detroit bringing this to you virtually.”
Jackson added that the event is typically held at the Detroit Athletic Club with about 300 people in attendance; this virtual platform allows 30,000 o 40,000 to watch along.
“This is a moment in demand for Black leadership. With all that is going on in the country … now I think it is time for us to focus locally on how we can empower our residents … as a Black community we can pull together our talents, our education, our experience and help to move this city forward,” he said.
Small said that moving the city forward looks like centralizing the Black agenda after Archer asked the panelists what the Black agenda is and if there is a single agenda.
“A centralized Black agenda doesn’t exist so that’s the problem,” she said, adding that presently a lot of people are entering this space, creating policy and being afforded a “seat at the table” with policy leaders but they didn’t put in the work like those on the ground fighting for change.
“That is why we have so many disparities in 2020,” Small said.
Bland said that the Black community is not so much divided as it is disconnected.
“We’re on different ships but we’re on the same boat,” Bland said, adding that Black people are treated differently [regardless of their station in life] and while this ethnic group is not a monolith “we’re treated and defined [by our] Blackness like biblical leprosy. … they want to define you by your Blackness.”
Bland said that during slavery, Black people [whether in the big house or in the field] had a common language and they sang freedom messages so the enslaved could get to where they needed to go: out of bondage.
“We lost our ability to be able to communicate,” Bland said, adding that there needs to be a “Black-inaw” conference [in reference to the Mackinaw Conference] not as a statement of separatism, but for a greater cause. “You cannot know your worth at the table if you have not identified yourself as whole; we cannot be fractioned and come to the table.”
When it comes to moving the city forward, Allen said that it’s important to continue making Detroit a better place, and she believes it’s Detroit’s children, the successors, who need help, especially Black children.
“They are going to inherit this place; if we’re not investing in them to be able to lead and learn and advocate for them we are basically falling down on our job,” Allen said adding that with structural racism and inequities “baked in these systems” she’s not trying to get Black children the same as what white children have, but something else. “I want Black children to have more because they deserve more because they’ve had experiences that pushed them back. I want to make sure they get more than enough that will push them forward.”