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The City of Detroit helped facilitate the destruction of Black Bottom, home to hundreds of Black businesses and thousands of residences, to create a path for the I-375 freeway during the 1950s and early 1960s. Here, historian Jamon Jordan commemorates the Black Bottom site where the state historical marker is placed near East Lafayette. (BridgeDetroit photo by Orlando Bailey)

Should the members of Detroit’s Reparations Taskforce be Black? Should they be Detroiters? 

These are questions included on a survey to help determine who would qualify for a seat on Detroit’s Reparations Taskforce. 

City Council President Mary Sheffield and members of the original working group hosted the first Reparations Taskforce Community meeting on Thursday evening. The virtual event lasted just over an hour and is expected to be the first of many community-driven conversations. Participants, and now residents citywide, are tasked with filling out a survey to help the City Council determine which qualifications to set for taskforce members.

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The survey can be found on the City of Detroit’s website until March 10. Sheffield said she hopes the process for determining eligibility to sit on the taskforce within two months. 

Most City Council members or their staff were present for the meeting, as well as State Rep. and congressional candidate  Sri Thanedar and Wayne County Deputy Chief of Staff Stephen Grady Muhammad. 

Lauren Hood, a member of the work group, said the survey will be used to gauge a wide range of residents. 

“We realize we are dumping a lot of information on people who may not have been thinking about this as long as some of us, so we recognize you may not be able to make an informed decision in real time,” she said during the meeting. 

Over 100 people joined the Zoom event. Many more tried to participate but were held in a virtual waiting room within the first 10 minutes of the meeting as hackers temporarily took over the meeting with illicit images and lewd audio. Members of the Council president’s team said they were contacting the cyber crimes unit of the Detroit Police Department to determine who was responsible. 

Last November, Detroit voters supported the creation of a reparations taskforce to address past harm caused by City housing and economic development policies. 

Most participants said they would prefer the taskforce be made up of members who are Black Detroiters due to their lived experience in the City. However, a few participants said they’d prefer a taskforce that included experts like Richard Rothstein and William Darity, or historians who may have not have a personal connection to Detroit, but have studied reparations and institutional racism within public policy. 

“You want to consider folks who have a good understanding of the issue,” said Jacob Walker. “Folks who are willing to come to work, you want productive members. So I wouldn’t limit myself just based on Detroit. If they’re here to work, and they have the history and the knowledge and they want to contribute, I wouldn’t turn them away.” 

Many felt strongly about an all-Detroiter taskforce, but there were variations in what determined someone to be a “Detroiter” among the crowd. Some suggested those who have lived in the city for at least 20 years, only homeowners, and those who attended Detroit public schools. 

The thought of only homeowners became contentious. A majority of households in the city became renter-occupied in the last decade. Some participants spoke about the property taxes and foreclosures that pushed out many Detroiters. They talked about predatory lending, big banks and corporations that have benefitted off Black Detroiters for decades. 

“Detroit is filled with people that were homeowners that were targeted during the foreclosure crisis. Limiting it to homeowners is offensive to them and their struggle. Detroit was one of the main cities targeted in the foreclosure crisis by big banks,” said Maurice BP-Weeks. 

Others said only considering homeowners would limit the taskforce to people of a certain age and financial status. Cidney Calloway, Councilwoman Angela Whitfield-Calloway’s daughter, said she would like to own a home, but isn’t in a position to do so at the moment and asked the crowd to think about the difference between a homeowner and a stakeholder. 

“Not only were we born and raised here, but we’d like to see our families raised here — so we are future stakeholders, as well,” she said. “Also, I believe they should be African Americans, because I can’t say much about the Latinx experience here in Detroit, and I can’t say much about the Caucasian experience, so I don’t know how much they could say about our experience and what we believe we deserve and what we as Black Detroiters have been through in the gentrification process and the survival process and the entire resilience that we provide to the entire city.” 

There was much back and forth about how long a person needed to have lived in the city. But at the end of the meeting, some simply said they just wanted the taskforce to be “for us, by us.” 

“I do still think we should focus on us as a people,” said Sheleta Reed. “ We keep doing the same thing over and over again. We add things to the agenda, and then ours is not completed at the end of the day. We are still empty-handed. So Detroit, focus on Detroit.”

Olivia Lewis is a reporter for BridgeDetroit. She was formerly a reporter for the Battle Creek Enquirer and the Indianapolis Star. She has also worked in philanthropy for the Kresge Foundation, the Council...

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3 Comments

  1. I have lived in Detroit 66yrs all my life. I went to Duffield Elementary in Black Bottom. In 1965 I was bussed to Cranbrook for expiermentation…I know Detroit.

  2. I have lived in Detroit for 66 years all my life. I was born in Black Bottom on Lafayette and JosCampue. My parents was pushed out in 1970 and we owned 2 homes in Black Bottom.

  3. I am a product of the gentrification of Black Bottom, my parents and grandparents were living in black bottom/ Paradise Valley when the political movement of systemic economics destroyed the critical images of business, education and development of minority growth and future survival. With that being said I believe it can only be fair that the children of those whom would have inherited the wealth from such a rich culture should be the people who shape the destination of what reparations look like in our future. After all the Jews did have to consider who sat on their board nother did the Japanese or other minorities America has pay for violating their rights of freedoms and privacy. My name is Tony Kirby I should be in representative of what was taking from me and my family.tonyk6384@gmail.com

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