Thursday, September 6, 2007

"When the Levees Broke" - an American tragedy

With the recent commemoration of the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I decided to finally rent the highly-praised documentary "When the Levees Broke", directed by Spike Lee. If you haven't seen this DVD yet, then you don't know half of the story that led to the devastation in New Orleans, and the aftermath of one of the most horrific natural disasters in American history.

One thing that you'll learn after watching the film is that the hurricane and subsequent flooding weren't the worst thing that happened to the residents of New Orleans, especially in the mostly black Lower Ninth Ward. It was the paltry response by various government agencies at all levels that was the real tragedy.

People going without food or water for days. Thousands who were unable to escape the hurricane stuck in the Superdome and the Morial Convention Center in deteriorating conditions. Evacuees being put on planes, being separated from their families, and not knowing where they were being sent. Insurance companies not paying out homeowner claims because (allegedly) damage to homes was caused by floods, and not by the hurricane itself.

After watching "When the Levees Broke", it is hard to imagine that had these people not been mostly black and largely poor and working class, that such indignities would have taken place. That taxpaying American citizens were treated the way that they were during this time of crisis is beyond belief. This film will sadden you immensely. And then, it will drive you to anger.

This DVD should be required viewing for all Americans, but especially for those who believe in the myth that everyone in this country is treated fairly.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Black businesses in Detroit - why are they so hard to find?

One of the strangest ironies of being in the Detroit area, particularly in the city, is that can be difficult to find a black-owned business. In a city with an population that is at least 80% African-American, one would think that locating a black-owned business would be a breeze.

Yet, with the exception of barbershops and beauty salons, there are very few types of business establishments that blacks control in any significant measure. It's even difficult for us to find black hair care products from a black-owned business; more often than not, such products are now sold by Korean merchants.

This is not to say that black businesses don't exist in Detroit. According to federal government statistics, there are an estimated 25,000 black-owned businesses in the Detroit area. So, where in the world are they, you may wonder?

Many of these businesses are not the traditional retail businesses that consumers are used to shopping at, like hardware stores, gas stations, and grocery stores. Some of our businesses tend to be those that are geared towards supplying products and services to corporations and government institutions; there are numerous examples of successful black-owned businesses in the Detroit area that fit this profile, including many of the Black Enterprise 100 businesses.

And then there are many smaller, home-based businesses that provide everything from gift baskets and catering services to cosmetics, Tahitian Noni juice, and Melaleuca. These businesses are obviously less visible because of their lack of retail presence.

It's not as if black Detroiters have never known the retail market. Up until the 1950s, black businesses were quite visible, particularly in what were known as the Paradise Valley and Black Bottom districts. However, these areas were demolished as new federally-funded highways were constructed directly through these neighborhoods in the name of "urban renewal". Detroit hasn't had a significant black retail business presence since.

Slowly, though, things are changing. Just a few days ago, Detroit-based black real estate developer Herb Strather announced the re-opening of the Hotel St. Regis, after purchasing the hotel with a group of black investors and spending several millions of dollars in renovations. And black restauranteur Frank Taylor has been leading the way with his acclaimed dining establishments Seldom Blues and the Detroit Breakfast House and Grill. However, in a city like Detroit, there should be many, many more examples of these types of businesses.

I would love to spend more of my hard-earned money with people from my own community for a change. It just shouldn't be so hard for me to do so.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Detroit Public Schools - Time to put the focus back on academics

Is it just me, or does it seem as if when it comes to Detroit Public Schools, we seem to hear about everything else but academics these days? After all, I thought the primary purpose of a public school system was to educate students to prepare them for higher education or for the world of work, not to manage (or mismanage) millions of dollars and employ thousands of people.

Recently, there have been a number of stories in the press addressing alleged financial improprieties within the Detroit Public Schools district. The most recent instance involves several so-called "contract schools" that were established by mostly by pastors and community organizations specifically to recruit the thousands of school-age Detroiters who have dropped out of DPS and are not enrolled in any school. The State of Michigan Department of Education recently ordered DPS to repay $6 million, citing legal issues in the way that the contract schools hired instructors.

And then, there's the on-going and well-publicized investigation into the millions of dollars of questionable wire transfers made from the district's Risk Management office to Long Insurance, a long-time DPS vendor.

Yet, when is the last time you heard anything about academic progress, programs to improve student achievement, or recent notable accomplishments by DPS students?

I'm sure that in a district as large as Detroit, with approximately 110,000 students, great things must be happening on a daily basis. Unfortunately, DPS needs a much better marketing and public relations effort to showcase the academic achievements of its students.

One could argue that the local mainstream press is the problem. Rather than seeking out positive stories about DPS, some say that the media chooses to only focus on controversial topics, such as the above-mentioned stories.

However, I checked out the district's own web site, and I was disappointed to see how little DPS toots its own horn. There are a few accomplishments noted, most notably the strong showing of a combined team from Murray-Wright and Western High School students who competed in an international robotics competition. However, the list of student accomplishments is scant compared to the list of non-academic awards and accomplishments achieved by the district, including, ironcially, the 2006 Award of Financial Reporting Achievement.

Makes you wonder what matters most at DPS these days.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

It's on! The civil trial of former DPD officers vs.Kwame Kilpatrick

Four years after salacious rumors and allegations of a wild party and marital infidelity, the civil trial of two former Detroit police officers vs. Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick began earlier this week. Only in its third day, the trial has already gotten tongues wagging, keeping those following the trial waiting for what promises to be a series of juicy details and outrageous tales.

If you're not already aware, Gary Brown, a former deputy police chief, and Harold Nelthrope, a former member of the mayor's security detail, filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit again Kilpatrick and the City of Detroit. In the suit, Brown and Nelthrope allege that they were both unfairly dismissed from the Detroit Police Department for investigating allegations regarding a supposedly wild party at the mayor's official residence, Manoogian Mansion, that ultimately led to the death of a stripper, Tamara Green, who supposedly performed at the party.

Frankly, I'm surprised this case even made it all the way to trial. Surely, I thought, there would have been a settlement at this point to avoid a public and embarrassing trial that the media would otherwise cover like white on rice. Nevertheless, here we are.

Perhaps Kilpatrick feels as if he has nothing to lose, no matter how this case turns out. Here's how I see it. Obviously, if he is victorious in his defense, he will be able to put the allegations that have hounded him for years behind him once and for all.

On the other hand, the jury may rule in favor of the plaintiffs, which could very well happen. Since this is a civil trial, after all, the burden of proof for the plaintiffs is lower than it would be for a criminal trial. Unlike a criminal trial, where a unanimous verdict is required to convict, only a minimum of eight jurors out of twelve are needed to successfully rule in favor of the plaintiff. And perhaps, most interestingly, only one of the twelve jurors is an African-American, which may not bode in Kilpatrick's favor.

If Kilpatrick loses the trial, he still may win in the court of public opinion, at least among African-American Detroiters. After all, he was elected to a second term just less than two years ago by a comfortable margin. The mayor and his supporters may try to portray him as the victim of a biased jury that's not exactly comprised of his peers, garnering sympathy from his constituents.

This isn't unprecedented; just look at what happened with Marion Barry, former Washington, D.C. mayor, when he was caught on tape smoking crack, and subsequently served a prison sentence. Barry presented himself as a victim of a federal government setup, gained much of the black community's sympathy, and was later elected to City Council, and then ultimately, to another term as mayor of D.C. Kilpatrick could employ a similar strategy should the jury rule against him and the city.

Win or lose, Kilpatrick could still come out on top when all is said and done.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

One Road, Two Events, Worlds Apart

On one end of Woodward Avenue, starting in Ferndale and extending north all the way through Pontiac, the annual rolling street party officially known as the Woodward Dream Cruise is taking place today. An estimated one million people line up along the Dream Cruise route to spend all day admiring thousands of vintage cars, mostly American-made models from the 50's and 60's, evoking memories of the times when cruising up and down Woodward was practically a rite of passage for many suburbanites.

At the southern-most point of Woodward, where the avenue intersects with Jefferson Avenue in the city of Detroit, another annual event that attracts at least 100,000 mostly African-American visitors is also taking place, the African World Fest, presented by the Museum of African American History (MAAH). African World Fest is a three-day long showcase of the diverse diaspora of African culture, including fraternity and sorority stepshows, artists, and vendors selling all things Afrocentric.

One road, two events, worlds apart.

The Dream Cruise has received extensive coverage from local media during the week that leads up to the event, even though the actual cruise didn't officially begin until today. Significant portions of local television newscasts are dedicated just to covering this event, which has grown significantly from what was supposed to be a modest fundraiser just a few years ago.

Meanwhile, the African World Fest, despite its 25-year existence, barely even registers on the media's radar screen. And in the one article that I saw in today's Detroit News that covered the event, the news was not good. Apparently, this year's event was at the risk of being scaled back and relocated to the grounds of the MAAH, because the event's organizers (the MAAH) were not initially able to raise the $400,000 required to put on the event. The City of Detroit provided the event organizers $200,000 this year to help cover the expenses, but this funding is not promised for next year.

Personally, I don't even pretend to be a classic car buff, and could care less about the Dream Cruise. And I believe that the attention that the media gives to this event, which has very little positive economic impact for Michigan, is excessive. However, I wouldn't be as bothered with this if the African World Fest wasn't treated like a stepchild, year in and year out, having to always unsuccessfully compete with the Dream Cruise for attention. How is it that, in a metropolitan area with a significant African-American presence, an event such as the African World Fest get almost completely ignored by mainstream media?

One would think that an event like African World Fest would be a magnet for corporate sponsors trying to reach black consumers. But for whatever reason, the organizers have not attracted the necessary amount of sponsorship dollars needed to keep the event financially viable. To me, it seems appears that changes are needed at the MAAH's fundraising office, as well as its board of directors. Board members of non-profit organizations are usually highly-influential and well-connected members of the community who are supposed to have the muscle to generate donations for the institutions they serve.

In contrast, the Dream Cruise has consistently been able to raise sponsorship dollars, even in Michigan's troubled economy.

I just hope that by this time next year, both ends of Woodward Avenue, from Oakland County to the Detroit riverfront will be bustling with activity, whether it be the roaring of engines or the beating of African drums.

One road, two events, worlds apart.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

A real Detroit evening at Chene Park

Last night, my wife and I enjoyed a wonderful evening at Detroit's Chene Park (not to be confused with Shain Park in Birmingham). Detroit's own R&B sensation Kem was the headliner of a concert that included an opening act by Eric Roberson, and a high-energy performance by R&B diva Chaka Khan.

If you ever want to experience the true flavor of African-American culture in Detroit, then a concert at Chene Park is just the place to witness it first hand. Situated right on the Detroit river just a mile or so east of the Ren Cen, Chene Park is a covered outdoor venue that has been one of the hottest spots for R&B and contemporary jazz concerts for the last several years, attracting mostly African-American audiences.

Folks were definitely dressed to impress last night, getting about as dressed up as you possibly can without putting on suits and formal evening gowns. Brothers were sporting their best silk or linen outfits, often with a matching pair of gators. In true Detroit player fashion, fedoras, complete with a feather on the side, were definitely not uncommon amongst the gentlemen. And the sisters were not to be outdone as well, as it was clearly evident that more than a few had spent some time earlier in the day at the local beautician.

At Chene Park, you don't even really need a ticket to enjoy the shows. However, having a boat can certainly come in handy. We saw no less than two dozen boats bobbing in the waters directly behind the stage (a very cool sight to see!), and everyone that we could see on board appeared to having the time of their lives. Heck, I didn't realize so many of my people were into boating. I figured that after that last big boat ride a couple of hundred years ago, we would have given that a rest.

As for the action inside Chene Park, there were the typical trappings of a Detroit concert geared towards blacks: the photographers offering to take pictures of concert goers against cheesy airbrushed backdrops (e.g., the Renaissance Center, a Bentley, Biggie and Tupac, and other icons of ghetto-fabulousness), the brother selling single roses wrapped in plastic (giving the fellas with their ladies major guilt trips!), unusually long lines at the bar full of folks waiting to get their drink on.

Oh, yeah, and there was a concert too! Eric Roberson was actually pretty nice, though not a whole lot of people were paying much attention (heck, half the audience wasn't even there yet when the show started). Chaka Khan actually was better than I expected, though at times she appeared to be a little disoriented. Nevertheless, her voice was amazingly strong.

And then there was our homeboy Kem, who the crowd was really there to see. Along with his six-piece band, Kemistry (all Detroit musicians, by the way), Kem put on a strong, inspiring, and emotional show, and the audience was all in. Detroit love was clearly flowing in all directions last night, as the audience sang many of his songs word-for-word, including "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "Find Your Way". But it was his raw and emotional performance of the highly-personal "Heaven" that was clearly the highlight of the evening.

Nevertheless, when it comes to going to a concert at Chene Park, the show isn't just on the stage. Just being there is half the fun.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Reflections on Cass Tech

If you haven't figured it out already based on my screen name, CT4Life, I am a proud graduate of one of Detroit's great institutions, Cass Technical High School. Legions of its alumni, some famous (musician Jack White, violinist Regina Carter, Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick), a few infamous (auto executive John DeLorean, Kwame Kilpatrick), and many others less known, have made their mark locally, nationally, and even internationally.

An alumni group is holding a series of events this weekend to mark the 100th anniversary of Cass Tech, which will likely resemble an "all-years" reunion. Scheduled events include a tour of the new school building constructed in 2005 (don't get me started on that!), a gala at the Detroit Historical Museum, and even a concert performance by Morris Day and the Time. Unfortunately, I just became aware of these events recently, and cannot attend.

The memories of my four years at Cass Tech are mostly fond and certainly ever-lasting. I knew that I was at a special place starting with my first day of ninth grade. Walking towards the school building, which rose nearly eight stories high, I couldn't believe this was even a school at all, but more like a grand office building not much different from the ones located further downtown. Entering high school was already an intimidating enough experience for me. I was a year younger than most of my freshman classmates, making everyone else seem gigantic to me in comparison. I had to take two city buses to travel miles away from my familiar northwest Detroit neighborhood to this strange, run down area called Cass Corridor a world away. And despite an incoming class of about 900, I knew virtually no one. Nevertheless, I knew that this is where I was supposed to be.

As one of the two most selective schools within the Detroit Public School system, Cass Tech wasn't just for anybody, and I knew it. Heck, I felt privileged to be there, even though I felt I deserved it, thanks to my strong academic background and entrance exam scores. For once, I finally felt as if I was in an environment where there were so many others just like me, people who had a willingness to learn and a desire to accomplish great things in their lives. I no longer had to be afraid of what people would think of me because of my interest in academics.

Years later, I'm even more confident that I made the right decision to attend Cass Tech. The solid foundation that I received there prepared me well for college, graduate school, and a successful technology career.

And I don't mean to sound like a snob, but in the circles that my wife and I tend to navigate in, when we meet other African-American professionals in their 30s and 40s who were raised in the Detroit area, more likely than not, they attended Cass Tech, or perhaps a few other schools, such as Renaissance, M.L. King, Southfield, Southfield-Lathrup, or University of Detroit High School. I find it odd that I hardly meet people who attended other DPS schools these days. And I can't even remember the last time I ran into one of my classmates from middle school who didn't attend Cass Tech. I sometimes wonder if my life would have been different had I not attended Cass Tech.

I will always have a soft spot in my heart for my beloved high school. I hope that today's Technicians have an appreciation of the legacy that they have inherited, and that they will continue to uphold the standards of excellence that are required of all who accept the challenge of attending Cass Technical High School.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The renaissance of Detroit - am I missing something?

With the exception of about 12 months, I've spent my entire life in the Detroit area, and spent my formative years in the city proper. I've seen the city at its worst, and I try to remain hopeful that Detroit's best days are ahead.

Nevertheless, I am beginning to grow weary of all of this talk of Detroit's so-called "renaissance". I'm well aware of the various projects that have been occurring over the last several years, especially the residential developments in Midtown and the on-going transformation of the riverfront area.

However, I just can't see how the vast majority of Detroiters will benefit from these developments. It seems that the revitalization of Detroit really refers to the revitalization of a few select areas south of Grand Blvd. near the city's downtown that have all of a sudden been designated as "hip".

Look, I'm not saying these projects shouldn't happen, as the city sorely needs any type of positive development that it can attract. At the same time, city leaders need to pay attention to what's happening in Detroit's various neighborhoods, where virtually no significant development has occurred in recent history, save for the occasional strip mall here and there, as well as a few megachurches (the topic of a future post).

Where's the development on Seven Mile and Greenfield? How about Linwood and Puritan? Schoolcraft and Evergreen? (Sorry, I don't mean to ignore my east-siders, I just don't know the intersections over there that well.) Don't the people who live in these neighborhoods, the ones who stuck it out when others left years ago, deserve the same opportunities as those who are fortunate enough to be able to buy $200K lofts in Midtown?

The renaissance of Detroit will not begin in full until more of its residents, from 8 Mile to Belle Isle, from Telegraph to Alter Road, begin to see improvements in their own backyards, and not just in select pockets.

Monday, August 6, 2007


"Self-destruction, we're headed for self-destruction..."

Anybody remember this rap song from the late '80s, in which popular East Coast rappers collaborated to call for an end to black-on-black crime? Based upon what just happened in Newark, New Jersey over the weekend, it appears that today's youth could stand to give this song another listen.

In case you haven't heard, this past Saturday night, four African-Americans in their late teens and early 20s were shot execution style in Newark; three of them are now deceased. They were made to kneel facing a brick wall of an elementary school when they were shot.

What makes this crime even more shocking is that there is no obvious motive for this senseless act. All four of the victims were getting ready to attend Delaware State University in the fall, and none had criminal records.

Will this event finally be the straw that breaks the camel's back, as the old saying goes? What is it going to take for us as black people to wake up and realize that we are literally destroying ourselves?

What 300 hundred years of slavery, lynch mobs, Jim Crow, the KKK, and police dogs couldn't do, we are doing to ourselves! And the worst thing about it is, we have come to accept this as a reality that we can do nothing about. The silence is deafening.

In the city of Detroit, there were over 400 homicides last year in a city of about 850,000 citizens, giving the city one of the highest murder rates in the U.S. Yet, where is the response from the city's leadership, including the mayor and the chief of police? On more than one occasion, our city's leadership has told citizens that most of these killings are drug-related or involve those engaging in criminal activity. Is this really supposed to make Detroiters feel better?

As long as we don't demand more from our elected officials, their appointees, and from ourselves as a people to stop the violence, we will continue to lose too many of our promising young people.
To Terrance Aeriel, 18, Iofemi Hightower, 20, and Dashon Harvey, 20, all of Newark. Rest in peace.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Barbershops - a black institution

My wife has a friend whose boyfriend, "K", an African-American male like me, just moved to Detroit from down south. My wife's friend sent me an e-mail today asking me to help "K" with a task that all brothers who relocate to a new area ask about as soon as possible: where to find a good barbershop.

Unless he's trying to rock the chrome dome look, most black men leave the cutting of their hair to the skilled hands of a barber. Not a hair stylist. Not a hairdresser. A real barber.

And not just any old barber, either. Most brothers wouldn't dare trust their hair to BoRics, Fantastic Sams, Supercuts, or any other chain. No, we would much rather patronize a barbershop located in the 'hood, regardless of our socioeconomic class. And the barbers will certainly be other brothers.

The typical neighborhood black barbershop is a modest place, to say the least. The city of Detroit has no shortage of such establishments. More likely than not, you're bound to see a few missing or cracked floor tiles. And if by chance, all the floor tiles are actually in place and intact, there will certainly be a few that appear to be mismatched. Peeling paint and worn surfaces are hardly uncommon. In other words, brothers don't necessarily patronize barbershops for their ambiance.

As for making appointments for a haircut, yeah, most barbers will take them. Actually having the barber honor the appointment is a whole 'nother story. Invariably, there'll be somebody already in the chair at the time of your appointment who isn't even halfway done when you arrive.

But, then again, this may not be so bad. Sitting around at the barbershop is an integral part of the black male experience in America. There's always likely to be some lively conversation going on regarding the events of the day, especially when it comes to sports, entertainment, or the latest political scandal.

And if you don't feel like participating in barbershop banter while you're waiting for your "appointment", then there's always ample reading material to be found to pass the time. Granted, that dusty and slightly yellowed copy of Jet magazine might be about eight years old, but hey, there's nothing wrong with reading some history lessons.

And despite the fact that the reading material isn't up to date, at the right shops, you may be able to pick up the latest DVDs. And I'm talking about for movies that haven't even come out yet (don't ask me how!).

As black people, we've let go of too many institutions that we used to have ownership in, including party stores, gas stations, and even nail salons. But barbershops that service black people are an institution that we still own and control, and I hope that this never changes. The barbershop is one of the few institutions where brothers can freely congregate with each other and be themselves. I wouldn't even think twice of going anywhere else for a haircut.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Did Coleman Young really hate white people?

This past week, Detroiters reflected on the 40th anniversary of the "riots", "uprising", "insurrection", or whatever else you want to call it, depending on your point of view. The series of events that transpired at the corner of 12th Street and Clairemont had a devastating effect on the city of Detroit. Forty years later, relations between both black and white Detroiters are still somewhat strained, with whites fearing blacks, and blacks distrusting whites (yes, I'm overgeneralizing, but I believe I'm fundamentally right).

(As an aside, 12th Street was later renamed Rosa Parks Blvd. Why did poor Ms. Parks have to get such a jacked up street named after her? But, I digress).

While many have blamed the riots for accelerating the "white flight" that had already been taking place in the city since the 1950s, many whites also point to the 1974 election of Coleman Young, Detroit's first black mayor, as a catalyst for driving whites out of Detroit once and for all. Here's a letter that was printed in today's Detroit Free Press as evidence:

The Free Press correctly identified the devastating white flight and white avoidance of Detroit, which accelerated following the 1967 riots. You ignored, however, the subsequent, even more disastrous, influence of Mayor Coleman Young after he took over in 1974. He overtly turned Detroit into a black city, essential putting up a "keep out" sign for whites. How ironic these days, when so much effort is now going into the cause of diversity.

To hear some whites tell it, one would think that Mayor Young was the black equivalent of the famed segregationist George Wallace, and that he wished for nothing more than to drive out every single blue-eyed devil from the city limits. Where on earth this perception of Coleman Young comes from is beyond me, but I'll take a crack at it.

As the city of Detroit's black population grew, Coleman Young simply sought equality and fairness for blacks in government and in business. He made bold moves to integrate the police department, put blacks into leadership positions in city government, and paved the way for black businessmen to get a piece of the economic pie by making city-funded contracts available to them. Young simply wanted to provide access to those who had been largely shut out of opportunities long enjoyed by whites. What irritated whites was that he wasn't afraid to say so.

There's also an urban legend that's been floating around since 1974 claiming that Young told whites to "hit 8 Mile", a myth with absolutely no teeth to it. In fact, in his inaugural address, the newly-elected Young told criminals and thugs, whether they were black or white, to hit 8 Mile Road. Here's the exact quote:

I issue a warning to all those pushers, to all rip-off artists, to all muggers: It’s time to leave Detroit; hit Eight Mile Road! And I don’t give a damn if they are black or white, or if they wear Superfly suits or blue uniforms with silver badges. Hit the road.

Simply put, he wanted the criminals, not the white folks, to get out of Detroit. How anyone could interpret what he said to mean something else is puzzling.

Far from hating whites, Young actively kept ties with influential whites in the business community. In fact, two of Young's closest associates were the late Henry Ford II, aka "Hank the Deuce", and businessman Max Fisher, two white men. What Young did hate, however, was the power structure that was controlled by whites that was boldly determined to relegate blacks to second-class citizenship.

This is not to say that Coleman Young was a perfect mayor by any means. While in many African-American circles, he is revered, if not deified, he certainly had his fair share of faults. He probably stayed in office two terms too many. As he continued to serve, he became more cantankerous and insular. Calling former president Ronald Reagan "old pruneface" probably didn't help Detroit win any points in Washington at that time, either. Yet, the city continued to crumble around him, and in his last few terms, he seemed incapable of reversing Detroit's decline, as whites (and increasingly, blacks) continued to take their resources out of the city limits.

So no, I don't believe that Coleman Young hated whites. If anything, I think it was the other way around, based upon the comments that I hear even to this day.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

College education - is it for everybody?

As big of a fan that I am of obtaining a good education, I'm going to say something that I'm sure a lot of folks will find controversial. I don't think that everyone needs to obtain a four-year college education. That's right! In fact, I think that our country's emphasis on pursing a college education actually does a disservice to millions of American children.

Now, before you think that I've lost my mind, hear me out.

A college education is a great thing to have, and I can speak from experience. I personally hold both bachelor's and master's degrees from respected universities, and there's no doubt that the education I received opened many doors for me in my information technology career.

However, I'm just not convinced that a college degree is the right path for everyone, especially those high school students who may not be adequately prepared to go on to that next step, or may not have the desire to do so. Too many kids end up going to college unprepared, racking up thousands of dollars in debt, and still don't graduate. This is demonstrated by the fact that some of the universities in the state of Michigan, including Eastern Michigan University and Wayne State University, have six-year graduation rates below 40%.

The problem is that too many of our public schools perform a good job of preparing students for the rigors of a university education, at the expense of those students who may have their sights set on going into a career that doesn't require a four-year degree. This is especially true within the Detroit Public School (DPS) system.

If you're at all familiar with DPS, then you must be aware that, of the district's schools, only three are really considered college-preparatory (no need for me to mention the names). This is great if you or your kids are fortunate enough to attend one of these schools. But what about the other twenty or so high schools within DPS? I'm not convinced that these schools are adequately preparing their students for the world of work or vocational training, much less college.

This is really unfortunate, because, contrary to popular convention, there are well-paying respectable vocations available that don't require a four-year degree. However, they certainly require some formal training beyond high school, such as an apprenticeship or a two-year degree. Below are the median salaries in the Detroit area of some blue-collar occupations, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics:
  • Electricians - $62,040
  • Plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters - $56,930
  • Air traffic controllers - $111,780
  • Welders - $43,950
  • Machinists - $41,840
  • Numerical tool and process control programmers - $48,350
  • Production supervisor - $62,100
  • HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) technicians - $47,850
In comparison, here are the median salaries for occupations that typically require a four-year degree:
  • Librarians - $53,790
  • Archivists - $42,660
  • Mental health counselors - $38,030
  • Chemists - $58,020
  • Zoologists and wildlife biologists - $51,440
I hope my point is getting across. As a society, we need to make sure to take just as much care of those high school students that are college-bound, as well as those who may have other ambitions. With the right training, students can go into a variety of careers that will allow them to sufficiently support themselves.

Besides, think about how much the plumber charged you the last time he came out to fix a problem at your house. I'm sure he wasn't cheap.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Does crime only come in one color?

A recently-added regular feature of Fox 2's nightly newscast is its Crime Stoppers profiles. This is a segment in which, each night, four wanted criminals from the Detroit area are briefly profiled, showing the face of each criminal, and describing why each is being sought after by law enforcement.

Unfortunately (you probably already know where I'm going), an overwhelming majority of the criminals profiled look like me, night in and night out.

Maybe I'm just being hypersensitive, but I find it hard to believe that the only people in the metro Detroit area who are "doin' dirt" are black males.

PLEASE do not get me wrong! I am as hard on crime as they come. I believe that all of the individuals profiled by the Crime Stoppers have probably performed some dastardly acts, and should be apprehended and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. As someone who spent his formative years growing up in the city of Detroit, I realize the impact that crime has had in our communities.

However, by showcasing black men almost exclusively, the Crime Stoppers profiles only serve to perpetuate the negative stereotypes that our society (including some of us) already have of young black men in general. I just find it hard to believe that people of other ethnic backgrounds are not also wanted for criminal activity. Last time I checked, black folks hadn't secured the exclusive rights to criminality.

Furthermore, the perpetuation of black male stereotypes places an especially heavy burden on young brothers that are doing the right thing on a daily basis, causing us to have to prove that we're not like "the rest of them". When you're young, black, and male, too often you're assumed to be suspect, until or unless you can demonstrate otherwise.

I wonder what brother Huel Perkins must be thinking as he reads these profiles every night?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Connie Calloway - the right choice to lead Detroit Public Schools?

I was listening to Frankie Darcell's "Talk of the Town" program on Mix 92.3 FM today, and she was interviewing Dr. Connie Calloway, the new superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools. This reminded me that July 1 marked the first day of the administration of Dr. Calloway, who was selected by the Detroit School Board to lead the troubled school district. To this day, I am baffled as to how, despite a national search, the majority of the board members decided that Dr. Calloway would be the best person to manage the Detroit Public Schools, receiving a salary (not including other perks) of $280,000 per year.

Now, I know that there are those who would say that she's only been in office for a few weeks, and that we should give her a chance. But ask yourselves, do we really have the luxury of giving her a "chance" when Detroit's schools are in the shape that they're in?

Consider Dr. Calloway's "credentials":
  • Prior to Detroit, the largest district she had ever run had a total of 5,700 students (that being the Normandy School District in Missouri). This is about the population of 2 or 3 large high schools in Detroit.
  • For 2006, the average ACT score in the district was 16.8, compared with the Missouri state average of 21.6.
  • In 2006, only 8.9% of Normandy's students who took the ACT met or exceeded the state average.
  • In 2006, only 10.5% of 11th graders received a ranking of "Proficient" or above on the state of Missouri's standardized tests in communications arts (reading and writing).
  • In 2006, only 8.5% of 10th grades received a ranking of "Proficient" or above on the state of Missouri's standardized tests in mathematics.
  • In 2003, she was fired by the Trottwood-Madison (Ohio) district as the superintendent of that district after teachers and others complained about her management style and low morale among staff.
Should I go on?

When Ford Motor Company last year decided that it needed a leader to turn it around from its declining market share and loss of profitability, the company didn't just choose anyone. Ford chose Alan Mulally, a seasoned Boeing executive who is widely credited for saving the airline after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 crippled Boeing's sales and nearly brought the company to its knees. While the jury is still out on whether or not Mulally will succeed in his efforts to save Ford, he at least brings a track record of success with him.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about Connie Calloway.

This is not meant to be a personal attack against Dr. Calloway. However, Detroit's public school students and their parents deserve someone who is more capable of improving large, troubled urban school districts, and there is simply nothing in Dr. Calloway's background to suggest that she is the right person for the formidable task for turning around the district. The district needs someone who doesn't require on the job training to run a district such as Detroit. Does anyone really think that the Detroit school board chose the very best person for this job?

Nevertheless, I wish Dr. Calloway well in her task. I guess we don't have much of a choice.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Black TV news personalities - a unique Detroit phenomenon

Whenever we vacation domestically, my wife and I can't help but to notice that, compared to Detroit, there seem to be far fewer African-American TV news personalities in major local markets.

In Detroit, we take it for granted whenever we see folks that look like us on the air, such as Huel Perkins on Fox 2, the legendary Detroit native Carmen Harlan on Channel 4, and Carolyn Clifford on WXYZ, all of whom are in anchor roles during weekday evening broadcasts.

Even more noticeable is the fact that it's not uncommon to see two or more blacks in the same newscast on a regular basis. The most obvious examples of this include Fox 2's morning lineup, anchored by Alan Lee and Fanchon Stinger, as well as Channel 4's weekend morning lineup, which includes Kori Chambers (anchor), Andrew Humprey (weather), and Gail Anderson (traffic).

In contrast, we were just in Atlanta last weekend, and I don't recall seeing one African American in the newscasts that I saw. I'm sure they're around somewhere, but not in the numbers that I would have expected in the so-called black Mecca. Same goes for other major cities we've been to recently, including Chicago, New York City, Washington DC, Phoenix, and San Francisco.

Maybe I'm just being hypersensitive, but I find it refreshing to come back home after an out-of-state trip, turn on the tube, and see people that look like me reporting the news of the day, realizing just how unusual of a phenomenon this is.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

In 2008, we need to come together for Obama

This morning, I was listening to one of my favorite talk shows, Inside Detroit, on WCHB 1200 AM. The substitute host, Angelo Henderson, was leading a spirited discussion on whether or not blacks were going to support Sen. Barack Obama for president.

I was disturbed and dismayed by the number of people (nearly all black) who were calling in to say that either they were going to support another candidate (typically Hillary Clinton or John Edwards), or that they needed to review Obama's stances on the "issues".

While I know that folks have the freedom to support whomever they please, I think that for this race, we just need to get behind the brother this time! Obama should be receiving universal support from African-Americans in his campaign, because he is black. And while I'm the first to acknowledge that all our skinfolk ain't our kinfolk (think Clarence Thomas), I have no doubt that Obama has the best interests of African-Americans, as well as the rest of America in mind.

My goodness, what else does Obama have to do to gain black folks' support? He's earned degrees from top-notch schools, moved to the South Side of Chicago earning relatively meager wages when he could have been making substantially more money as a Harvard-trained lawyer, and is married to an elegant and intelligent black woman. He speaks well, has charisma, and seems to be on the right side of the issues that black folks seem to be concerned about these days.

I believe there are couple of things going on that are making some of us ambivalent about Obama. First, there's the "crabs in a barrel" syndrome that's clearly evident in this case. Too often, we don't want to see one of us get ahead, or to be in charge of something. In other words, playa' hatin'.

Then there are those of us who are enamored with Hillary Clinton simply because of her husband, the former president and the so-called first "black" president. Do people really think that Hillary is a carbon-copy of Bill Clinton? I'm just not sure what the appeal is, at least when compared to Obama.

Then there's the whole "blackness" issue, i.e., is Obama "black" enough? Funny, none of the other candidates are asked if they're white enough or Hispanic enough? What does Obama have to do to earn his "ghetto pass"? Learn how to do the hustle? Spit a few rhymes from his favorite hip-hop artist? Flash his NAACP lifetime membership card?

I just think that, just this once, if we could all come together on Obama, and if enough folks from other communities also come on board, the complexion of the White House could be just a little darker starting on January 20, 2009.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Cautiously pessimistic for the future of Detroit Public Schools

From K through 12th grade, I attended Detroit Public Schools, graduating in the late 80s, and was able to go on to bigger and better things as a result, including earning a bachelor's and master's degree, and securing a well-paying career in technology.

That's why it pains me to see what's been happening to the district over the last several years. Student enrollment is in freefall, as anyone who follows DPS knows well, and currently stands at about 110,000 students, a sharp decline from just a few years earlier.

However, I can certainly understand the reasons for parents taking their kids out of DPS schools. Most well-meaning parents recognize the value of a good education, and Detroit parents are no exception. Many of them have come to the realization that, by and large, DPS schools simply are not providing the kind of education that students need to succeed in the real world anymore. They've decided to vote with their feet, either by moving out of the city entirely, or staying in the city but sending their kids to other districts, such as Inkster and Highland Park, which accept kids from outside of their own districts. And of course, many more parents are sending their kids to charter schools, which seem to be almost as prevalent as check cashing stores and gas stations these days.

While I can't say that any of these alternatives are the answer, the message is clear: DPS is not convincing parents to keep their kids enrolled in its schools. Unfortunately, there are those who seem more concerned about the survival of the district rather than the education of our city's children.

Personally, at the end of the day, I really don't care where kids are being educated, so long as they're receiving the best education that they can get. So while I'm a supporter of free public schools (a magnificent concept not shared in many other countries), I'm all for any options that give students and parents alternatives to what they feel is an educational system that's not working for them.

I want to see DPS get better (and not just at a few select schools), but I don't think parents can afford to wait until that happens.

My first blog entry

Welcome, everyone, to Ramblings from the Motor City!

I decided to start this blog to create a forum where I can express my thoughts and opinions on topics that I find interesting, and that I hope you will too.

I can remember back in the early days of my corporate career (early to mid 1990s), when e-mail was really beginning to grow in popularity, and my colleagues would spend our downtime at work exchanging messages regarding the issues of the day, such as affirmative action, the appointment of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, the state of hip-hop music, etc. I recall how much fun we used to have with these exchanges. With this blog, I hope to re-capture the spirit of those e-mail exchanges with a wider audience in mind.

As for the topics I'll cover in this blog, pretty much anything goes! However, as an African-American male, I have a particular interest in what's going on in my particular community, especially in the Detroit area. Nevertheless, my interests are as wide as the day is long, and I'm sure that over time, this forum will find its voice.