University of Michigan professor Barry Checkoway writes a thought-provoking column today in the Detroit Free Press. At a recent football game, he watched a group of white suburban and black inner city youths march together holding signs that said “Challenge segregation … Increase dialogue … Create change.”
In Detroit, the nation’s most segregated city, it’s the kids who are saying, “this isn’t okay with us.”
The students who marched are all participants in Youth Dialogues on Race and Ethnicity in Metropolitan Detroit. The program offers a physical space for youth of diverse backgrounds to come together, and sponsors city-wide tours and a residential retreat to plan action projects that challenge discrimination, increase dialogue and create change.
This resonates with me, having gone to school in an astoundingly segregated city, where black and white students moved in separate universes until they were thrown together (by the ill-executed plan known as bussing) at the public high school. Racial tensions abounded, and fights were an everyday occurrence. But mostly, we didn’t know how to talk to each other.
It seems that most of these conflicts could have been avoided had there been any kind of dialogue, or even acknowledgment of the challenges we were facing, by higher authorities. But like most staid bureaucracies, the system functioned only threaten, punish, and look the other way.
As I sit here in Philadelphia, knowing that most neighborhoods are just as monochromatic, it seems that developing this sort of program should be paramount on the City’s agenda. Maybe even ahead of implementing “Stop and Frisk” strategies, or increasing police forces.