Speaker Series follow up: We need a better welcome mat

If you didn't make it down to the Majestic Feb. 25 to catch the Speaker Series you missed a lively event. Model D teamed up with The Michigan Front Page and Detroit Regional Chamber's Fusion group to bring together a group of young Detroit leaders to discuss their opinions on embracing diversity, building leadership, and their visions for the city's future.

The night was moderated by Brian Ellison, resident of The Villages neighborhood and a drafter of the Detroit Declaration and the panel included:
• Palencia Mobley, an engineer, a Detroit resident and vice chair of Fusion;
• Alok Sharma, Detroit resident and chair of Fusion's Voice Committee;
• Akindele Akinyemi, a Detroit resident, entrepreneur and an advocate for education;
• Roland Leggett, a field manager with the ACLU who moved back to Detroit after a stint in Chicago;
• James Canning, lifelong Detroiter and owner of his public relations firm, Canning Communications;
• Raquel Castaneda-Lopez, college to career program coordinator at the Center for Chicano-Boricua Studies at Wayne State University.

Listen to the audio here.

The panel was asked a series of questions and each person responded with their own opinions on the subject. For those of you who don't have time to listen to the full audio, here is a rundown of what was said:

Palencia Mobley thought that while city wasn't welcoming to outsiders, adding diversity to the city would ultimately be what helps restore it. She said a new generation of leaders can help bridge the gaps that currently divide the city, and that the city and the suburbs should learn to co-exist: "The conversations we need to have are about how we can work together."

Alok Sharma agreed that the city as a whole wasn't welcoming, but believed that it was representative of a greater paradigm shift from racial and ethnic division to one that was inherently more socioeconomic. However, he noted that a younger generation of Detroiters will also help influence the future mindset and course of the city: "Folks who are 18 have a vastly different perception of Detroit than when I went to school 12 years ago."

Akindele Akinyemi also felt that the city wasn't welcoming, stating that it would be impossible to unite the region as long as we are living in fear. He felt that Detroit was a city in paralysis because it continued to elect leaders using a "civil rights mentality." Instead, he thought the city should move towards a "silver rights mentality" that would help equalize the economic playing field for everyone: "We need to put aside our fear and work together as one."

Roland Leggett echoed the sentiment that Detroit was not a welcoming city but still couldn't imagine living anywhere else. He thought that the overall conversation about Detroit didn't focus enough on its positive aspects, and that by having a serious, open and honest conversation about what we want out city to be like, it could become a better place: "I view Detroit as a place where all things are possible."

James Canning said that the city wasn't welcoming on the surface and that while it wasn't a "turnkey kind of city," once you get to know your neighborhood and community it starts to feel like home. He noted that until we change our self-perception outsiders will continue to have misconceptions of the city. Ultimately, he felt that change would come from people who are willing to participate: "It's how you engage the community around you."

Raquel Castaneda-Lopez didn't believe that the city wasn't welcoming on the whole, rather that it depends on the area. Moreover, she reiterated Sharma's perspective on class divisions by saying she felt she could identify with people based more on economics than race or religion. She felt that it was important for people to be able to live comfortably and without fear: "Before people can take care of others and themselves, basic needs must be met."

The Model D Speaker Series is sponsored by the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, Henry Ford Health Systems, Wayne State University and the Detroit Medical Center.

Ian Perrotta is a Model D Intern and staff writer for The Hamtramck Review. Send feedback here.

All Photographs © Marvin Shaouni Photography
Contact Marvin here

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.