Downtown Detroit’s Corporate calls for diversity and inclusion are diversionary and dismissive 

June 4, 2020

Detroit People’s Platform NEWS - June 3, 2020 

We demand Quicken/Bedrock and other Corporates do away with the discredited language and positioning of diversity and inclusion” and substitute racial justice and racial equity as the goal.   

On June 1, 2020 Crains Business Detroit gave a platform for corporate leaders to comment on the protests in Detroit in reaction to the latest violence upon black bodies by police, most recently as visited upon George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. Some of the corporate leaders called for greater inclusion and diversity. On June 3rd many of the corporate leaders attended a downtown press conference coordinated by Rev Wendell Anthony and we assume Mayor Duggan where similar sentiments were expressed. 

The Black community is all too familiar with this type of response in the face of tragedy.   Another status-quo corporate response, committing to doing things differently. But,it rarely is the case that the actions taken result in systemic change in a system which enshrines white privilege and power. 

Quicken and the Bedrock "family" of companies along with many other corporate leaders, like the Ilitch’s featured in the Crain’s article and the Mayor’s press conference, have reaped incredible profits and benefits for their personal business interest. Through massive public subsidies in the form of tax abatements otherwise known as corporate give aways awarded by the city of Detroit. For years we have watched proceedings where many of our elected officials are complicit in the undermining and oppression of Black Detroit. They do this through their neglect and inaction to advocate on behalf of their constituency in the presence of white male corporate power.  

Failing to raise the slightest objections or make demands on behalf of Detroiters, many of the electeds usually defer to the white corporate class while at the same time paying little to no attention to the concerns of residents who show up asking for a fair deal. They are given a minute or two to state their case. We experience the harmful impact of these decisions in our daily lives. This is the unspoken form of economic and political violence perpetrated against Black Detroiters.  

Tax abatements during the past five (5) years total close to a billion dollars. All of this awarded at a time when Detroit, the nation’s largest and poorest majority Black city, was reeling from a recent bankruptcy, high rates of childhood poverty, mass water shutoffs, historic housing foreclosures and failing public services. The city’s general fund foregoes the taxes that otherwise should accompany these types of economic development projects, sometimes for up to fifteen years. Downtown/midtown booms while neighborhoods suffer from years of neglect and disinvestment.  

This is what revitalization looks like in Detroit led by the white corporate elite and their philanthropic and nonprofit enablers. Black Detroiters who raise concerns and reject this model of exploitation are labeled as “anti-development.”  We lift up the following illustration of how the corporates sidestep anything that resembles equitable and community led solutions offered by Black Detroit.  

As part of the city’s mandated Community Benefit Agreement (CBA) process, several grassroots groups reached out to more than one of these corporations with the hope of negotiating benefits for the communityThe CBA process known to have been successful in many other cities has been reduced to a mockery here in Detroit; where certain city council members organized to undercut the more progressive CBA ordinance proposed by community. The harsh and racist rhetoric directed towards local organizers fighting for equitable development during the CBA ballot campaign is indicative of how those with power choose to wield their power over Detroiters.  

Some local media described the organizers and residents as “shake-down artist” and some groups in organized labor and other insiders accused them of scaring away development with their demands (code for construction jobs for suburban white males would be threatened). And, Mayor Duggan scoffed at the notion of allowing Black Detroiters to sit at the table with developers to negotiate a community benefit agreement, citing the tendency of Detroit residents to argue and bicker among themselves therefore incapable of getting anything done. 

Portraying Detroiters as incapable, unreasonable and therefore unworthy has become sport in Detroit’s civic landscape. 

Here we lift up just one example of the type of ask proposed by a group of Detroiters to Bedrock as part of a proposed community benefit process. 

  • As Bedrock received hundreds of millions of dollars in tax support to build luxury high rise apartments and housing, the community ask was that Bedrock donate (no specified amount was specified) to the Housing Trust Fund which is managed by the city’s Department of Housing and Revitalization. Established as the result of a three-year advocacy and organizing campaign by organizers and local residents, the Housing Trust is intended to support affordable housing for those who have an annual income of $35K or less. 
  • Support for the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network’s Cooperative Grocery Store, a project long in the making intended to not only benefit Black Detroiters but open to serving all Detroiters interested in supporting this model of food justice and community self determination.
  • Establish a computer lab at an emergency food pantry to increase internet access for children and adults in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

These are relatively moderate asks in comparison to the public tax support provided to Quicken/Bedrock. Yet, in spite of several meetings the asks were not implemented. Many of us believe the ask were never seriously considered by Quicken/Bedrock staff to begin with.

If Quicken/Bedrock and other corporate players are sincerely ready to commit to improving and reducing the social, health and economic disparities of Black Detroit here are a few recommendations on how to show up in a tangible way RIGHT NOW.  

(a) Forego tax abatements on your development projects and PAY YOUR FAIR SHARE here in the nation’s largest and poorest majority Black city; OR, 

(b) Commit to a real community benefit agreement process with community. It is not too late for Ford Motor Company, Fiat Chrysler, Illitch Holdings, or TCF*.  As a first step towards living into their statements of commitment, these corporate leaders can immediately move to amend their existing Community Benefit Agreement with the city of Detroit, engage with community representatives and center racial equity and the needs of everyday Detroiters in these agreements.  

(c.) Corporate and other developers from the business class can set aside opposition to the proposed amendments to the current Community Benefit Agreement Ordinance now before city council. Then perhaps the process can move forward and city council can pass a REAL CBA ordinance. Adopting equitable development practices will go a long way towards demonstrating to Detroiters that the corporates and their development partners are serious about taking action to address issues of systemic racism in the way they do business in and with Black Detroit.   

In the coming weeks Detroit People’s Platform will continue with our allEquitable Detroit, the citywide CBA coalition, to organize with Detroiters and call for corporate accountabilityWe will also mobilize Detroiters to demand elected officials move forward and pass the necessary amendments the Community Benefits Ordinance in this year’s legislative session. This will create a CBA ordinance that gives Detroiters voice and power.  

In closing, we offer for reflection words appearing in Rev Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famous work, Where Do We Go From Here, Chaos or Community  

Social Justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention. There is no other answer. Constructive social change will bring tranquility; evasions will merely encourage turmoil.” 

*Note: TCF declined to enter into the usual CBA process outlined in the Community Reinvestment Act when bank mergers occur that may have a negative impact on low and moderate income communities as a result. In a bizarre twist TCF actually received a community benefit from taxpayers in the amount of $35 million dollar tax giveaway.