By Dr. Chad Audi
These are challenging times for those who love and claim Detroit as their home. Businesses find themselves having to defend the reputation and prospects of the City and its leadership. People who live and work in the area find themselves the focus of concerned inquiries or derisive jests from friends and relatives in other parts of the state or country. Despite this negativity, many of us are proud to be residents of this great metropolitan community. These are the same people who are committed to making our businesses succeed and grateful for the many wonderful assets in this region.
What are our assets? We have the brains, as evidenced by our tremendous medical, educational, technological and research resources. We have the muscle, as evidenced by the determination of our people to tackle everything from recession to Michigan winters to manufacturing and industrial challenges. We have the beauty, as evidenced by our natural resources, scenery and abundant world-class arts and cultural institutions. We have the infrastructure to serve America’s businesses, as evidenced by our pivotal waterway, air, land and rail connections linking us to all parts of the United States and Canada. We have the spirit, as evidenced by the many dynamic people of faith who demonstrate their love for God and their neighbors. With all of the negative national attention focused on Detroit right now, we would do well to focus our own attention on the thousands of positive partnerships that are quietly taking place between industries, companies and organizations, as well as on the hundreds of thousands of people who are making a positive difference in the lives of others every day. We need to celebrate what a wonderful place this region is for work and as a home.
That being said, we do have serious issues in this region too. Some are a result of our own failure to come together as one to confront big issues such as the need to dramatically improve the quality of education for all young people; build a new infrastructure for regional transportation, employment and governance; and break down artificially maintained walls of division between our central city and surrounding communities. We need a society where each person is able to move freely to jobs, housing and resources that meet family needs and allow dreams to be achieved.
However, the most serious problem we face occurs when we make decisions as though any one jurisdiction or community can tackle these issues alone or remain unaffected by the well-being and actions of its neighbors. It simply isn’t true. Our residents live, work, commute, visit, have relatives in, hail from, pay taxes to, and shop in each other’s communities. Anything that negatively — or positively — affects one community affects the rest.
It was for this reason that non-profit organizations such as the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries (DRMM) appealed when Detroit City Council voted to restrict city funding to non-profits that did not have a majority of Board members living in the City of Detroit. That decision and the ensuing publicity surrounding which non-profits would lose much-needed funding galvanized a prolonged and heated discussion among people inside and outside the boundaries of the City of Detroit. Some of the conversations demonstrated just how deep the layers of hurt, misinformation and division went that still need to be addressed.
We can be grateful that the Detroit City Council voted to take another year to deliberate on the issue. We can be even more grateful that many of the City Council members made efforts to acknowledge that they appreciate the compassion possessed by metropolitan Detroiters who donate their time and money to city-based non-profits that serve the poor. However, the discussion needs to continue on this issue and others such as regional transportation, jobs creation, relief for businesses, promotion of entrepreneurship and the importance of advanced training and education. Not only should the conversation continue, but we need to also adopt a commitment to unifying this region.
For every person who wants to be an isolationist and keep our communities apart, there are scores of others who recognize that we are one body, however imperfectly joined. We are joined by necessity and can be gloriously and productively joined by choice. Together, we possess every asset, resource and skill this region needs to provide for our citizens. The change will start when we begin to stretch our hands, minds, voices and hearts out across the jurisdictional and cultural lines that now separate us. We are in this together. Let’s be determined to use these stormy times as our greatest opportunity and catalyst for change.