(Part I of 2)
“Detroit’s revitalization is completely one-sided. The surge in investment in this majority-Black city is not going to (B)lack residents.”
— Alex B. Hill
DETROIT — Research by a Wayne State University graduate student reveals what many long-time Detroit residents — Black and white — believe: There’s a racial imbalance to Detroit’s “revitalization” that does not reflect the demographics of the city.
In a town where the population of approximately 700,000 is over 80 percent African American, Hill’s research shows the beneficiaries of funding and investment are nearly 70 percent white.
“Detroit’s revitalization is made up of a majority of white people. That isn’t to say that Detroit’s (B)lack population isn’t contributing anything to revitalization, rather it suggests there is a deliberate racially unequal distribution of support and funding,” Hill writes.
His research identifies three categories: startups, ideas and leaders in nine categories. Hill analyzed 818 recipients of fellowship programs,business incubators, universities, foundations and other “innovation” programs. He found that across all programs, 69.2 percent of individuals were classified as (w)hite and only 23.7 percent as Black; 1.6 percent Latino; 4.8 percent Asian; 0.7 percent Arab.
Looking at this new data, it is clear there is a serious imbalance of both opportunity and outcome in Detroit.
Hill told the Michigan Citizen: “I definitely knew that this was information that was already widely understood among Detroit residents. … Unfortunately, some people won’t consider a problem without seeing some numbers and data.”
In a city where the median household income, at $25,193, is less than half of the nation’s, with a double-digit unemployment rate twice that of the state, most Detroiters are without jobs and opportunity — over 50 percent is the unofficial rate.
Life-long Detroiter Russ Bellant, 66, says much of that imbalance is due to — in addition to being a historically racially-segregated region — an outside-in approach to the city’s redevelopment.
“In Detroit today, you see development focused on bringing new people and organizations into the city, but you do not see focused employment and development on the people who have grown up here,” he said in an email. “The massive assault from the foreclosure crises, industrial migration and the gutting of public services are leaving Detroiters — primarily African American — without jobs and assets. The ‘new Detroit’ that is bringing in new people into the city with new jobs is disproportionately benefiting whites.”
For many Detroiters, like Bellant, who is white, the term ‘new’ being used to describe the revitalization happening in Detroit translates into the whitening of Detroit.
Bellant says he tells young people in his northeast Detroit neighborhood, where he is block club president, No one is coming to reduce and develop anything for you.
“Everything they’re doing is for themselves and they’re bringing in non-Detroiters to do it.”
Revitalization in Detroit manifests in two spheres: project/business development and the arts.
The Kresge Foundation has funded hundreds of Detroit artists over the years, but has been criticized by many community artists for their mostly white male winners of the Kresge Arts grants.
Poet, author and book publisher jessica Care moore, a Detroit native and national figure, has been turned down by Kresge five times. She says she’s heard the complaints of local artists.
“You never know what the judges are looking for,” says moore, adding that this year, the foundation had the most “Black faces” — a change from previous years.
Detroit writer dream hampton was a 2014 Kresge winner, as was Moore’s nephew.
“I’m happy for whoever wins,” says moore, but, “White guys are getting all the artists grants.”
However, it’s not just a Detroit problem, it’s a national problem, she says.
Over 80 percent of working artists in the U.S. are white males, according to a 2012 U.S. Census Bureau survey.
Just working with that percentage, moore says, foundations should go out of their way to fund Black voices.
“If I see a lack of funding in anything, it’s Black women’s voices,” said moore, founder of Black Women Rock.
BWR has been the headline event for Women’s History Month at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American history for the past 10 years.
“You would think something like BWR that speaks to the positive image of Black girls and women (there’d be some funding),” moore said. “But not a dollar from the corporations, foundations, cancer, tampons, nobody. And some of these representatives have been to the show. We perform in the General Motors Auditorium.”
Moore says if it weren’t for Juanita Moore, director of the CHWMAAH and Njia Kai, programming and special events director for Midtown/downtown events, she wouldn’t get work in this city. “If I had to depend on work in Detroit to survive, my son and I would be homeless.”
But there’s a greater expectation from Detroit, moore says. “(W)e’re in a Black city. The national problem shouldn’t be our problem,” she said. “I’m not attacking Kresge. I think what they’re doing is great; I just think they could do better — although they’re doing better than most of them.” Moore says she hopes the recipients of grants become more representative of the city. “They’re going to lose all of us and I don’t think you want all the hipsters to be your artists. I’m going to argue, white kids love our art too,” she said. “I pray it gets better, and they don’t lose the soul of what this city is about… Black artists have put this city on the map.”
Cynthia Shaw, communications director for Kresge, says the foundation was disturbed by the disparities in Hill’s findings.
“Kresge is a national foundation with the goal of expanding opportunities for low-income people in America’s cities,” she wrote in an email. “That goal drives our grant-making and social investing. We have a dedicated Detroit program because Detroit is our home town. So, we take notice of data like that produced by Mr. Hill (and others).”
Shaw pointed out that Kresge does not, however, award grants to individuals — their charter prohibits it — but funds such as their Kresge Artist Fellows and Eminent Artists as well as the Detroit Revitalization Fellows — (shown in Hill’s research) — are a part of large grants to the College for Creative studies and Wayne State University, respectively.
“These entities must by law (per the IRS) have complete authority in making the selections of the award recipients. We do ask that the independent panels they compose, to make the awards, be diverse as far as race and ethnicity and professional expertise,” she said. “Though race is a factor in many of the issues the region faces, Kresge is trying its best to make grants and social investments to expand opportunities for low-income people of all races.”
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series that looks at the racial imbalance and inequity in the foundation funding to Detroit residents.