Posted on October 13, 2004

African Town Debate Grows Hotter

Judy Lin, The Detroit News, Oct. 12

DETROIT — An African-American professor called for a boycott of non-black minority businesses in Detroit after several ethnic groups urged the City Council to withdraw resolutions related to the so-called African Town project.

Lyn Lewis, a sociology professor at the University of Detroit Mercy, urged blacks to protect themselves economically.

“If African-Americans were today to stop doing business . . . with all those that have come against African Town, they will not only (go) bankrupt, they will lose everything they have,” Lewis said.

Her remarks were made during a three-hour-long racially heated discussion Monday before the City Council about two resolutions aimed at creating a black economic development district.

Groups led by Coalition for One Detroit asked the city to apologize for endorsing a report that they say blames immigrants for stealing opportunities from blacks.

Dozens of African-Americans and some Hispanics filled the council’s chamber to capacity and forced the meeting to move to an auditorium across the hall. The meeting was often interrupted by applause and heckling from both sides.

Council members and black community leaders immediately downplayed the boycott suggestion, saying that all minorities needed to work together. “We don’t need to fight one another,” said Councilwoman Alberta Tinsley-Talabi.

Hoping to placate the group’s concerns, Tinsley-Talabi has crafted an alternative resolution with Councilman Ken Cockrel Jr. It is expected to go before the council for a vote Wednesday or Monday.

The resolution will ask the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. to develop a plan for African Town, while acknowledging that the language used by Claud Anderson in his “Powernomics” report “offended a great number of Detroit residents.”

Juan Jose Martinez, a former Detroit school board member, said the groups simply want the council to change two resolutions adopted in July because they give public money to one race.

One resolution expressed the intent to establish an economic corporation that would lend $30 million of already earmarked casino money to blacks.

The second declared black Detroiters the “majority underserved population.”

Councilwoman Kay Everett has called for the council to rescind both resolutions. She was one of two council members to vote against them.

On Monday, representatives from the Asian Pacific American Chamber of Commerce, the American Arab Chamber of Commerce and Black Chamber of Commerce asked the council for an apology and to rescind both resolutions.

“We are here today to express our concern for the divisive language for the misinformation that was contained in a report by Dr. Claud Anderson,” said Angie Reyes, executive director of the Detroit Hispanic Development Corp. “It was very anti-immigrant regardless of what the intent of that report was.”

Mary Luevanos of the Latino social services agency La Sed said she was frustrated by the council’s actions.

“If you believe in civil rights, you cannot believe in these proposals,” Luevanos said. “This is discriminatory, it’s racist.”

The groups said it’s illegal to earmark public funds for one minority group. They noted that Mexican Town in southwest Detroit sprang up as a result of the community’s desire for ethnic foods, not with government funding.

Civil rights leader the Rev. C.T. Vivian urged the council to move forward with plans for a black business district. He said the plan could make the city a role model for the country.

“Our future depends on our economic advancement,” Vivian said. “We, too, can share in the economic dream, and we cannot do it without money.”