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.