Town hall meeting addresses job opportunities, public funding

(left to right) Nolan Finley, Aaron Foley, Mary Sheffield, Eric Means and Darrell Dawsey talk at the “Diversity in the D” Town Hall at City Theater during the 2018 National Association of Black Journalists Convention and Career Fair on Tuesday, July 31, 2018, in Detroit, MI. Photo by Chilee Agunanna.

By SIERRA PORTER
NABJ Monitor

The topic of a “New Detroit,” job opportunities, inclusiveness and the issue of the city’s use of public funds to rebuild downtown were boiling points for attendants of a town hall meeting hosted by the Detroit Chapter of the National Association of Black Journalist at the City Theater on Tuesday.

The two-hour discussion, moderated by Wayne State University’s Associate Director of Communications Darrell Dawsey, became tense and even erupted in uproar at times as people voiced their opinions on the investment of public dollars.

Many Detroit residents in the town hall meeting said the issue is compounding racial tension between whites and blacks. They claim that many of the entrepreneurs and business owners benefitting from the city’s redevelopment are largely white.

NABJ Detroit Chapter President Vince McCraw said racial tensions boils down to respect for the Detroit residents who have been here.

“People are moving in thinking that they’ve got a better idea than what was there before and doing your thing without respecting what was built here and there are some tensions,” McCraw said. “If you’re in the neighborhoods in some spaces downtown and midtown or if you’re just with your friends, you’ll hear that discussion. And we need to be cognizant of the city as a whole and with government and developers and all that so that it doesn’t become something that it shouldn’t be.”

According to the 2010 U.S. Census report, 673,104 people live in Detroit. Eighty percent of Detroit’s population is black, while 14 percent of residents are white.  

Dawsey oversaw a panel discussion that included City of Detroit City Council Pro Tem Mary Sheffield, City of Detroit’s chief storyteller Aaron Foley, real estate developer Eric Means and Detroit News columnist Nolan Finley.

One of Dawsey’s questions to the panel included one directed to Sheffield about public money being used to build stadiums and other facilities.

“I don’t agree with it, but I do know, in most projects, some type of funding is needed to make the project feasible,” Sheffield said. “If you’re talking about the arena, most arenas have some type of public finance attached to it. The issue for me is whether the development is equitable and if the community is actually benefiting from the project.”

Sheffield said that as an advocate, she is committed to make sure “any program or policy that comes before me, that we’re ensuring that Detroiters are hired on those particular jobs and included in programs,” when developers come to the city of Detroit.

Sheffield’s desire to get more of the city residents jobs is not too far from Mayor Mike Duggan’s Detroit At Work plan.

According to Jeff Donofrio, executive director of the mayor’s Workforce Development Team, the mission of the program is to get 40,000 more city residents jobs in the five years.

With programs, opportunities could possibly arise. Creating access and opportunities aligned with the topic on inclusion and diversity for people of color.

For Means, opportunities must go to the root of keeping parents in the household to set a positive example for their children. Means’ company, which is black-owned and military-owned, is one of the largest minority developers in the city.

“We need to keep papas out of prison, mamas focus on raising these kids,” Means said. “These kids are like sponges mimicking everything we do. We have to work strengthening that up.”

As Detroit continues to progress in inclusion and diversity in jobs and homes, Finley stands firm on efforts of the residents and politicians for inclusion to thrive and end the tale of two cities.

“If not we’re going to have the same sort of divisions and feeling that there is a black Detroit and a white Detroit,” Finley said. “I believe that we have an obligation that the people in this city take advantage of opportunities with inclusion in skill training and investments.”

While money and programs are being poured into and implemented in the Motor City, Detroit has many ways to go to deal with the city’s issues.

Foley, against Detroit being called a comeback, said work is being done for a full recovery.  

“Detroit has always been here,” he said. “We’re up against a lot of systemic things, and we have to take care of all these people and work day by day to implement these programs to make sure that people have paying jobs.”

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