From a National Black History Month Proclamation being signed and issued by President Joe Biden that recognizes Black America’s achievements and challenges through a historic bill marking “Juneteenth,” a federal holiday, 2021 was marked with purpose and potential and a greater sense of what’s next in 2022 for Black Americans.
It’s undoubtedly true that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has left a huge bequest for Black Americans with a task to do — finish what he started while not resting on the promises of yesterday.
Before readying for progress that comes with a new year, how have we come through 2021 and what’s left to do this year when it comes to Black rights for the people especially making our work amplified despite the pandemic?
Here’s a collection of some recaps locally and nationally from 2021.
Looking Back and Ahead
So many advancements were made last year to push along the progress a little farther for Black America with some celebrities in on the movement including Michael Jordan who announced last year a $1 million donation to support journalism and sports-based studies at Morehouse College, Black Enterprise reported.
Jordan’s financial assistance will massively benefit scholarship, technology and educational programming initiatives for students schooling the Atlanta HBCU, according to the article.
“Education is crucial for understanding the Black experience today,” said Jordan in a Morehouse news release. “We want to help people understand the truth of our past, and help tell the stories that will shape our future.”
Melissa Harville-Lebron is a first.
Harville-Lebron is the first Black woman to own her own NASCAR team — something the good sis made happen through her hard work, dedication and entrepreneurial spirit, Black Enterprise reported.
Harville-Lebron is a 47-year-old single mother raising her three children plus her siblings’ four kids, according to the article. She started her career in the entertainment industry as an intern at Sony Music — and in 2005, she began her own music label while working for New York City’s Department of Correction office. Nearly 10 years later, she suffered from a severe asthma attack that forced her into early retirement and inspired her to take a chance creating a multifaceted entertainment company, W.M. Stone Enterprises Inc., in 2014.
Harville-Lebron told the magazine that her path into auto racing was not expected — but it started when she took her sons to a NASCAR experience event at Charlotte Super Speedway to deter them from taking up such a dangerous hobby. Instead, the moment spurred her sons’ interests and eventually led to her investing hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop her own team, according to the article. Her win is a win for all.
Even locally, strides were made (and are still being made) when it comes to facing health concerns with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The best way to handle fear is through faith.”
That’s what the Rev. Dr. Steve Bland of Liberty Temple Baptist Church said in 2020 during a Michigan Chronicle interview about the hesitant who aren’t ready to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
Bland, president of the Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit and the Vicinity, addressed this segment of people and he and other pastors have helped guide many through a local campaign through the COVID-19 vaccination process by praying for them and even standing by their side as some received their first shot.
Bland told the Michigan Chronicle that the “key message” of getting the community vaccinated is still important today.
Bland said that the campaign, with the help of the Michigan National Guard, was a “tremendous help” to track every vaccine, test and beyond through 66 churches working together in total, 50 of which are in Detroit proper.
“We provided them resources to help keep them going and moving and have the successful capacity to do that.”
Locally again, the youth-based Midnight Golf Program Leader Renee Fluker sees a vision for young people and growing them for the world of higher education is no small feat.
The Metro Detroit leader holds onto her vision from two decades ago to help the young thrive beyond their circumstances.
Fluker told the Michigan Chronicle that she started the organization after being inspired by her son who played golf in high school.
“He would complain that no Black kids know how to play golf,” she said, adding that he asked her once in college to come up with a way to help Black kids learn to play golf.
“The goal now is to teach them golf and get them in college.”
When it comes to the political landscape in Detroit, local movers and shakers, including a Coalition of Detroit Caucus members, Council of Baptist Pastors, union leaders and community activists spoke boldly last December during a press conference on behalf of what Black Detroiters want.
Citizens in Michigan voted in 2018 to rid gerrymandering, a referendum led by the group Voter, Not Politicians. Starting in 2022, Michigan’s Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (MICRC), a bipartisan group, took on the role of drawing up new boundaries statewide.
The outspoken groups disapproved of MICRC’s plans to vote to finalize voting districts last December. The vote, made in early January, introduced a newly drawn-up map that the groups feel doesn’t represent Detroit and unfairly represents Black Detroiters politically where the city is split up and parts lumped in with the suburbs.
Sen. Adam Hollier (D-Detroit) said at a press conference that the MICRC commission drafted maps that have cut up Detroit in a disadvantageous way for Black residents where their representation would be swallowed up by primarily white suburban areas and politicians who have little interest in representing their Detroit-based constituents.
Still Not Divided
On a positive note, Black Developers in Detroit like Chase Cantrell, founder and executive director of Building Community Value (BCV), and Jason Headen, development partner on building projects with Cantrell, face Detroit head-on when it comes to Black-led redeveloping initiatives.
In 2018, The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards’ records lists over 113,000 licensed architects across the country; of those, Michigan has 5,300. According to the Directory of African American Architects, which keeps a record of a growing list of Black architects in the U.S., just 2,300 Black architectural designers are identified in the white, male-dominated industry.
Described as the hottest, most happening place in Detroit currently is the commercial boom on McNichols (just west of Livernois) with several new spaces under construction.
“Detroit’s Black architects are creating major works and exciting spaces around the city and elsewhere. We are thrilled to showcase their work,” said Dr. Geneva Williams, executive director of Live6 Alliance. “We hope by exposing their designs and ideas plus some history of Detroit’s groundbreaking Black architects we will inspire more younger Detroiters to pursue work in this dynamic field.”
The work is supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and is the first of a series of design and arts events hosted by Live6 and DCDC.
Cantrell, founder and executive director of Building Community Value (BCV), is a big part of the Black revitalization movement in Detroit, helping Detroiters bring economic growth to neighborhoods in the city.
The Ypsilanti-based business is expanding to Detroit to a location built for more room to go around.
“The brewery [owners] we’re working with … are Black and currently looking for other tenants to fill the restaurant spaces. [There will be] two restaurants and two kitchens,” Cantrell said, adding that there is space available.
“These are vacant storefronts along McNichols operated by Black developers,” Cantrell said, adding that he practices what he preaches.
“The philosophy is trying to have a development for and by Black people… that’s the goal.”