The impossible is always possible in Detroit especially when inclusivity is prioritized and Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) businesses and communities remain as part of the center of development and redevelopment conversations.
On Tuesday, January 10 at the 2023 Detroit Policy Conference: The Future of Our Downtown such conversations were had to bolster movement and remind others that there’s a lot to be inspired by in their city they call home.
Hosted by the Detroit Regional Chamber, the annual conference gathered local and area movers and shakers including business leaders to share what keeps them up at night.
The Conference featured keynote addresses from Garlin Gilchrist II, Lieutenant Governor for the State of Michigan, Mike Duggan, Mayor of Detroit, and Richard Florida, Co-founder of the Creative Class Group.
The Conference will also include Power Perspectives from speakers like Charity Dean, president and Chief Executive Officer of Metro-Detroit Black Business Alliance; panels with business leaders like Cindy Pasky, President and Chief Executive Officer of Strategic Staffing Solutions; and a reception featuring the Detroit City Council.
The event was held at the MotorCity Casino Hotel in Detroit.
Dean, who once described the MDBBA as the “Black Chamber of Commerce,” spoke in-depth during the event’s Power Perspective: Empowering Black-Owned Businesses segment about many aspects of an empowered and intentional Detroit doing what makes them unstoppable.
“For only the one that attempts the absurd can achieve the impossible,” Dean said during her roughly 11-minute speech. “When I heard that quote I immediately thought about Detroit.”
“That’s what we do in Detroit, right? We attempt the absurd,” Dean said.
From the largest municipal city filing for bankruptcy to only turn around and be named as Time Magazine’s one of the 50 Greatest Places in the World can simply be described as “absurd” and “impossible.”
“But what might seem absurd to others is not to Detroiters,” Dean said, adding that Big Sean is one of the many prime examples of that. “We are used to that.”
Dean rattled off many examples of intentionality coming from Detroit in the business sector as “announcement after announcement” continues to crop up of companies and corporations opening their doors in the city.
“We see the Little Caesars Arena, which brought millions of dollars of revenue to the city of Detroit along with thousands of jobs,” she said adding from corporate headquarters moving to the downtown to many other developments coming online, it’s a new day.
This new dawn for the sprawling metropolitan includes a reimagined city where it’s being recognized not only at home but across the nation with accolades like USA Today announcing the Detroit Riverwalk as the Best Riverwalk in America for its aesthetic and more.
(Detroit) doesn’t look like it looked 10 years ago. … We’ve seen all of this happen in 10 years. Since bankruptcy. Impossible, right? No. Intentional, intentional partners intentional government coming together to make this habit. And yet throughout all of these announcements, something was missing.”
Dean said that with a majority Black population less than 10 percent of the businesses downtown are Black.
“So to understand why we kind of have to understand the systemic issue that is at play. And this systemic issue plagues our country. It plagues our state. It plagues our city … downtown,” Dean said adding that a racial wealth gap is critical to the conversation, too.
For example, if a white family and a Black family have the same income and same education level, the Black family is going to have nine times less the white wealth of the white family.
“We have a racial wealth gap in our country, in our state, in our city,” she said adding that policies from redlining and other policies of legal discrimination prohibited Black people from acquiring land. “ In the ‘50s and ‘60s, our government policies continued to widen this wealth gap.”
Redlining is a practice that has been used for many generations and has hurt many Black families. The act began in 1933 under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, even though the phrase was not coined until the 1960s. The House Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) was established during the New Deal era following the Great Depression in order to assist in reviving the economy and offer home loans to Americans. However, African Americans were purposefully denied access to these loans.
“If you drive around and look at our neighborhoods, you can see blatant redlining. Things have gotten better, but you have to understand the history of redlining. If they drew red though this map, it meant hazardous. If Black folks lived there or minorities or had lower income, they would automatically tag it as hazardous. Those are still prevalent issues that we deal with today,” Anthony Kellum, president of Kellum Mortgage, told the Michigan Chronicle previously.
The past continues to impact the present of Detroit and the people, however, are being intentional about its future especially for disenfranchised Black business owners.
“When it comes to entrepreneurship, we have to do the impossible. We need access to capital for minority entrepreneurs. And I stand to do today and say, We need access to capital for those minority entrepreneurs, Black entrepreneurs, Black businesses, in our state, in our city in downtown,” Dean said.
We all know that cash is king but capital is high up on the hierarchy for such businesses, too.
Pre-pandemic, Black-owned enterprises have already faced numerous, severe financial disparities and obstacles while launching and maintaining their different service- or product-oriented entities – not to mention post-pandemic.
The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which helped small businesses owned by White people, had a success rate of 60% for White applicants whereas it was just 29% for African American business owners. Lack of finance and credit is at the heart of some of the country’s major issues for Black-owned businesses.
There is no doubt that Black-owned companies encounter challenges that their White colleagues do not, or do, but manage to overcome them in order to continue operating.
According to an article from the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), shortly after the CARES Act was passed by Congress in March 2020, business registrations increased by 60 percent. This comes at a cost, though, because the pandemic-related economic hardships are “likely to damage entrepreneurship and put many small businesses in a financial hole” the article stated, adding that “there are signs that many have turned to creating businesses after losing employment elsewhere.”
That concept is not lost on Dean, which developed the MDBBA to boost Black-owned businesses and champion their causes.
That day, she asked audience members if they could do something to “make a tangible change” to close the wealth gap what would they do?
Dean said that there is an opportunity to “do something about it.”
From asking developers to contribute to a racial equity fund to help close his wealth gap, ask organizations to donate a zero-percent loan interest for Black businesses to be in Detroit, or give Black Bottom descendants (homeowners and entreprenuers) a first opportunity to purchase land or to occupy spaces or operate businesses.
It’s all possible she said.
“Would you do something absurd?”
Dean told the Michigan Chronicle afterward that part of the work of closing that gap includes intentionality, funding and purpose.
“We have to really take bold action, to help to help fix some of the wrongs of the past. And so my hope is that people left the policy conference really, really taking a serious look at (what they could do),” Dean said.
Taking action will not happen in a silo.
Devon O’Reily, senior director of community engagement and leadership development, told the Michigan Chronicle previously that the one-day conference hopes to inspire and effect change.
“This year (we have the) same spirit focusing on the greater Downtown and with the pandemic and the whole shift in work and the entertainment scene and hospitality downtown we saw a huge downswing during COVID – now we’re seeing an upswing with different development projects,” he said. “It’s something that needs to be talked about when we talk about the future of downtown, the future of Detroit,” he said adding that that means including a more diverse perspective. “We want to make sure we have a diverse set of perspectives on what is the future of Downtown. There is no one answer to that – we are trying to collectively answer that through the conference.”
Senior Staff Writer Donald James contributed to this report.
For more information visit detroitchamber.com/detroit-policy-conference.