Published in the Detroit News | June 2, 2016
Detroit and Michigan at a crossroads
By Xavier de Souza Briggs
This is not the first time Detroit has risen from the proverbial ashes. But in July of 1967, the ashes were all too real: 1,400 buildings burned to the ground, 7,000 National Guard Troops stationed in the city, and 43 people dead in the wake of convulsive race riots.
In the wake of the riots, it was plain to see the exclusion so long endured — in housing, schools, labor markets, small business, and other sectors — not in the Deep South, but in America’s industrial Northeast and Midwest, supposedly the land of opportunity for African-Americans and other people of color in the 20th century.
Coalitions eager to construct the “New Detroit” tried to bridge those longstanding divides — not just disparities in wealth or life chances, but deficits of trust and shared commitment. Civic capacity — the capacity of a broad cross-section of state and local players to identify shared agendas and mobilize the resources needed to advance them significantly — is critical to expanding those other finite resources, of money and political will, and then deploying them in the most effective ways.
But, in spite of best intentions, the new Detroit resembled the old one. As people left the city en masse, the burden of blight and debt continued to weigh heavily on the city’s families, companies, community organizations, and public coffers until the bankruptcy.