Niraj Warikoo, Detroit Free Press, March 28, 2014
With studies showing widening economic gaps between whites and African Americans, civil rights leaders in metro Detroit are concerned.
“We’re going in the wrong direction,” said Freda Sampson, a leader with the nonprofit group Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion. “We’re getting further and further divided.”
To help close that racial and class divide, her group is holding an all-day conference, called the Equity Action Summit, on Saturday at Cobo Center in Detroit.
Saturday’s conference, supported by the NAACP and Fair Housing Center of Metro Detroit, is to feature talks by President Barack Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright of Chicago, as well as Detroit activists Ron Scott and Grace Lee Boggs. The conference is part of an ongoing effort by the Race2Equity Project, which is part of the Michigan Roundtable.
In recent months, the project has held three public hearings about the racial divide in transit, criminal justice and housing, featuring the stories of metro Detroiters who face discrimination. At the hearing on housing, held earlier this month at Marygrove College in Detroit, an African-American woman talked about the racism she faced while trying to rent an apartment in the suburbs, Sampson recalled.
Saturday’s forum comes after a report released two weeks ago by a separate civil rights group, New Detroit, that showed significant racial and economic gaps in metro Detroit, with Latinos and African Americans trailing whites and Asian Americans in income and education levels.
Started in 1941, the Michigan Roundtable is a nonprofit civil rights group that tries to overcome discrimination and racism in metro Detroit. The current project on race developed amid concern over the 2006 voter ban on affirmative action.
Steve Spreitzer, the interim CEO and president of the Roundtable, says there is “structural racism foisted upon residents of color in this region, manifesting itself in hyper segregation, opportunity deprivation.”
Sampson said closing the racial divide would help all in metro Detroit, not just minorities.
“We’re all impacted by inequality,” she said. “We all do better when we do better together.”