The Women of Color ‘Solutionaries’ Who Are Taking On Detroit’s Deep Divisions

“Nobody asked us if we wanted a new hockey stadium in the middle of the city,” said community activist Sajeda Ahmed, in an interview for a new report on the role of women of color on the future of Detroit. “Nobody asked our opinion, and we’re the ones who have to live around it and deal with everything that comes along with it.”

It’s hardly surprising that Ahmed, a Bangladeshi-American woman, isn’t much of a Red Wings fan. White men completely dominate hockey. As a community activist in a city ravaged by poverty and joblessness, she can think of many needs more pressing than an ice rink.

So who exactly was behind the new Detroit hockey arena that opened last month? That would be Mike Ilitch, the billionaire owner of the Red Wings and Little Caesars Pizza. Although he died in February of this year, Ilitch is credited with selling the arena plan to local officials and obtaining about $ 324 million in public subsidies for the project.

This is only one example of billionaire-driven development in Detroit. Dan Gilbert, who made a fortune as the founder of Quicken Loans, now runs a venture capital company that has bought more than 90 buildings in Detroit’s urban core – enough to earn the area the nickname “Gilbertville.”

Asked how she would handle Detroit’s re-development efforts, Ahmed said, “Definitely the first thing I’d do is make sure that women’s voices are heard. That’s something that we have not seen so far in this revitalization. It’s been big businessmen and policymakers making all these decisions.”

The importance of giving women of color a seat at the table is a major theme of “I Dream Detroit: The Voice and Vision of Women of Color on Detroit’s Future,” a new Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) report based on in-depth interviews, focus groups, and surveys with Black, Latina, Arab, and Asian women across the city.

Women of color make up 47 percent of Detroit’s population and yet more than 70 percent of those that participated in an IPS survey said they do not feel included in city’s economic development plans.

Linda Campbell, one of the 20 women of color profiled in the report, has played a leadership role in several coalition efforts to steer economic resources towards low-income residents. She’s contributed to efforts to increase the local minimum wage, ensure access to affordable housing, and leverage public investments in economic development for jobs and education.

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Detroit’s Revival Can’t Happen Without Women of Color

Detroit is full of what the late, legendary Detroit civil rights activist, Grace Lee Boggs, called solutionaries— women who have a revolutionary fervor for solving the city’s deep-rooted, chronic problems that threaten true, long-lasting revival of the city. The Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Policy Studies spent a year surveying 500 women of color solutionairies through focus groups and a citywide survey in response to their near absence from the story about Detroit’s comeback. What we found is relayed in our new report, “I Dream Detroit: The Voice and Vision of Women of Color on Detroit’s Future.”

Solutionary women of color across the city work tirelessly to address problems like the fact that 33 percent of African-American and Latino boys do not graduate from high school. They support families caught in the crisis caused by the water department shutting off 30,000 delinquent residential accounts in 2016. And they help Detroiters who want to work, but are challenged by the fact that only 16 percent of the region’s jobs are within city limits and regional transportation is limited.

Detroit’s solutionaries are anchors within their communities; architects who build badly needed infrastructure that meet basic human needs; entrepreneurs who create jobs for people that the labor market overlooks; and advocates who represent the interests of those at the margins, as elected officials and leaders of community-based organizations. Most of the realities they confront are inextricably linked to poverty, a condition plaguing 40 percent of Detroiters, including a whopping 57 percent of the city’s children.

Read the full article in the Detroit News.

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