Corporate Detroit: Less Talk, More Action

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    Three weeks ago I wrote a column headlined “Emergency Manager and the Deafening Silence of Civic Leadership,” pricking the conscience of Detroit’s civic leaders to rise up to the challenge of doing something meaningful and lasting that will uplift the standard of living in Detroit, because many people remain hopeless in these challenging times.

    That beyond the vocal opposition of an emergency manager and the political structure must lie a clear and constructive plan to revitalize Detroit.

    That in this transition period for Detroit we need a Whitney Young leadership, embodied in the work of the former influential leader of the National Urban League whose brilliance, advocacy and understanding of the intersection of politics, business and activism led to significant gains during the Civil Rights Movement. His push for the Great Society and his writings greatly informed the Lyndon Johnson’s administration and subsequent embrace of the Great Society in addressing the urban crisis.

    I received a lot of feedback with many agreeing that our leaders should not only be available to raise hell when it is necessary, but must also show us something concrete that they are doing to make life better in Detroit.

    Too many babies have been maimed or killed in this town and we saw very few outbursts to the genocidal acts committed against some of our Black children. The outrage over the killings of so many babies, whether shot or found burned in an abandoned building, did not rise to the level that we are seeing with the appointment of an emergency financial manager.

    While understandably the appointment of Kevyn Orr, as Detroit’s emergency financial manager raises many questions around the right to vote, we cannot engage in selective outrage because human lives lost in the carnage we’ve been witnessing in Detroit for the last three years are as important as the right to self-governance. Which is why I asked that we start using benchmarks to see what Orr achieves in the first 100 days in office.

    The no-show ambulance culture in Detroit that has greeted families in dire need of transportation to a medical facility was met with little or no outrage from some of our most prominent civic quarters. I don’t recall being invited to a press conference or forum that was demanding effective city services and that ambulances reach their destinations on time so families struggling to pay high taxes can feel like they live in a real city.

    When sorrowful faces of young families, the latest victims of heinous crimes in the city are splashed across the television screens on the evening news, I didn’t recall receiving calls about a comprehensive public safety plan — from our civic leaders — that brings with it meaningful resources to the table that would prevent the next young woman from weeping on television like Seraphina after losing her child to gunfire.

    This is nothing short of a dubious standard of leadership. We have to be consistent in our demand of political accountability across the board.

    The memory of little children that have died in this town beckons us to ensure that their brothers and sisters are safe. Their memory means that our leaders have an inescapable role to agitate for their safety and well-being at the highest levels of government. That also means parents should feel safe walking their children to school and not having to worry that their child could be raped when they walk alone.

    We cannot just leave the safety issue to the security apparatus alone, but rather all of us, including those with the loudest trumpets, should marshal resources to ensure that safety.

    On Monday morning, March 25, a group of Detroit business leaders standing with Mayor Bing answered that call to ensure that our neighborhoods are safe with the announcement of 100 new patrol cars for the Detroit Police Department, and 23 ambulances to replace the entire fleet of the Detroit Fire Department’s Emergency Medical Services Division. The cost of that donation is $8 million, a real demonstration of corporate social responsibility backing Bing’s Active and Safe Campaign.

    The donors, led by Roger Penske, founder and chairman of Penske Corporation, were Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan; Chrysler Group, LLC; Ford Motor Company; General Motors Company; Quicken Loans, Inc.; The Kresge Foundation; Penske Corporation; and Platinum Equity, LLC and the Downtown Detroit Partnership led by Cindy Pasky CEO of Strategic Staffing Solutions. In addition, FirstMerit Bank will serve as the financial partner in this collaborative project. The project, the result of a long dialogue between Mayor Bing and the corporate leaders, shows what can be achieved when all hands are on deck for the well-being of the city.

    Bing certainly deserves to be commended on the fruition of this effort.

    Penske called it “a “great day for the city of Detroit. Through the extraordinary efforts of local business leaders and the Downtown Detroit Partnership, we are pleased to help Mayor Bing and the police and fire departments bring new police cruisers and EMS units to the streets of Detroit. These vehicles will enhance the visibility of the police and fire efforts in the city and improve the safety and security of our neighborhoods.”

    The unprecedented donation shows what less talk and more action behind the scenes can do. Certainly it now challenges everyone who calls him/herself a civic leader to rise to the occasion and identify a dire need in our community and go to work to meet that need with lasting impact. There is no shortage of needs in Detroit. What Detroit needs is more hands that are ready to work, not just talk.

    “I am delighted that Detroit’s corporate community has once again stepped up to improve not only public safety, but the lives and well-being of Detroit’s citizens,” Bing said. “This is an unprecedented collaboration between the business community and the Mayor’s Office to provide the highest level of emergency services to the people of Detroit.”

    Detroit Police Chief Chester L. Logan said an additional 100 police cars will enhance efforts of DPD officers who patrol the city’s streets.

    “Having access to 100 new vehicles will make our police force more responsive to citizens and will help lift the morale of our officers,” Logan said. “We are grateful to the corporate leaders who made this possible.”

    Dan Loepp, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan CEO, said, “As a Detroit-based employer, we want everyone to see Detroit for what it truly is — a place where all people can live, work and play. Public health and safety services are vital to this vision for the city. As Detroit proceeds through this period of transformation, this is our opportunity as Detroit employers to contribute substantively to improve and maintain health and safety services for the city, its neighborhoods, residents and visitors.”

    Mark Reuss, president, GM North America, added, “General Motors is proud to contribute to such a noble civic effort, which is a tribute to the leadership of Mayor Dave Bing and Roger Penske. Helping with this vehicle project is obviously a natural fit for us, one we think will have direct and immediate benefits for the whole city of Detroit and everyone who lives, works and visits here, including our own employees.”

    Bankole Thompson is editor of the Michigan Chronicle and the author of the forthcoming book “Rising From the Ashes: Engaging Detroit’s Future With Courage.” His book “Obama and Black Loyalty,” published in 2010, follows his recent book, “Obama and Christian Loyalty” with an epilogue by Bob Weiner, former White House spokesman. Thompson is a political news analyst at WDET-101.9FM (NPR affiliate) and a member of the weekly “Obama Watch” Sunday evening roundtable on WLIB-1190AM New York and simulcast in New Jersey and Connecticut. E-mail bthompson@michronicle.com or visit his personal page at http://www.bankolethompson.com.

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