Much has already been said about the passing of Detroit business titan Mike Ilitch, and deservedly so. The man made a lasting mark on the City of Detroit, and even his critics would have to concede that he was putting it on the line and placing bets on Detroit’s resurgence long before anyone else even thought that made any kind of sense. In fact, more than a few folks thought he was crazy to be investing all that money in a predominantly black, predominantly poor city that had been written off by the rest of the country as a fading has-been.
Today, it’s safe to say that maybe Ilitch was far from crazy. He just saw the potential of a revitalized Detroit long before most everyone else, and he had the resources to capitalize on that potential. When it comes to the world of business and investment, the ability to see around the corner of the future is an invaluable skill.
But Mike Ilitch is not the only Detroit titan for whom the city mourns, and legendary businessmen are not the only ones deserving of praise in what has made this city great. Ilitch died at the end of last week, but on Monday of that same week, we lost Delores Bennett, a woman regarded by many as something equivalent to The Saint of the North End. For nearly five decades, Bennett dedicated her life to the betterment of her community – particularly the young people – in a way that was awe-inspiring. In a recent post on Facebook, community activist Dennis Talbert spoke passionately about Bennett’s impact on her neighborhood, and on the entire city:
“Did you know that Mrs. Bennett brought to Detroit the first drug treatment program for crack addicted individuals. She told the story of walking the halls of Herman Kiefer looking for help for young Northend residents going door to door in Herman Kiefer and finding no solution or treatment until she reached the last door on the top floor of the building an ran into a African (I wish we knew his name.) who said he had an idea. She told him to put his idea in writing and the next day she went to see Mayor Coleman Young unannounced and presented the plan and pleaded for his support and he set up temporary funding at $75,000.00 and within a month Detroit’s first methadone clinic was established for crack addicted men and women. She would tell me “I was just looking for some hope to take back to our kids. They needed hope.”
“Hope was the story of her life and ministry. Everything she did inspired hope for those living on the edge. Many of you probably don’t really don’t know how the Adopt A Child Program began. Late one Christmas week 55 years ago a mother came to her door asking for help and of course Mrs. Bennett and her husband kicked into gear and help to provide just basic clothing for her children and a few toys. When they delivered the gifts the mother told her that she had decided to kill herself and her children rather deprive them of the gift of Christmas. Mrs. Bennett said to me and others, I was cut to heart and made decision that no child on the Northend would go without basic gifts a few outfits and a toy. She shared this story again on the Mason and Company show a year ago and still was impacting her heart and passion. Fifty five years later tens of thousands have been blessed with the bright hope of Christmas love of which many of you are the beneficiaries.
“We celebrate the summer jobs program GDYT (and it’s all good), but in 1964, Mrs. Bennet started a summer jobs program in the Northend of students 14 and older employing over 300 kids in her neighborhood called NEYIC. She had no overhead. The headquarters was out of her house and backyard. She made it happen! Did you know there is park named in her honor managed by the residents of the Northend (The Men of the Northend). The parks programming is self funded by the community and between us, you cuss you pay up and make a deposit in the box on the tree unguarded.”
This is not a post-mortem competition, nor should it be. This is not about who did more than whoever else for Detroit. This is simply a reminder to all of us that when we reflect on the giants among us whom we have lost, we need to make sure to remember all their names.