Vicksburg Street, Detroit.

For a long time, I was afraid to drive through this neighborhood. When our son moved into an apartment in downtown Detroit a couple of years ago, we assumed it was temporary. Then he bought a house on Vicksburg Street, met a girl, got married and became a father. He’s in Detroit to stay, at least for now. I’m still getting used to the idea.

Our son is an idealist and an optimist, as are many in the millennial generation. In reevaluating his life goals after a season of physical trials, he chose to move to a city that, like him, was on a healing path. “Like a phoenix rising from the ashes” we said.

Detroit is more complicated than that.

On October 13, while we gathered around a hospital bed in Detroit to celebrate the birth of our first grandson, Detroit residents were gathering downtown to march in support of racial unity. Eleanor’s March 4 Hope marked the 51st year that Focus:HOPE has worked to bring healing in a city that continues to fight for racial harmony. In 1968, less than a year after the Detroit race riots, Focus:HOPE adopted this mission:

“Recognizing the dignity and beauty of every person, we pledge intelligent and practical action to overcome racism, poverty and injustice. And to build a metropolitan community where all people may live in freedom, harmony, trust and affection. Black and white, yellow, brown and red from Detroit and its suburbs of every economic status, national origin and religious persuasion we join in this covenant.” 

We live in a time when prejudice and inequality have pushed racial tension to levels comparable to the 1960s. The city of Detroit is a microcosm of the divide felt in urban, suburban and rural communities across the country. While Detroit works to rebuild its metropolitan neighborhoods, some suburban black residents still deal with inadequate housing, inconsistent utilities, dangerous schools and drug gang activity.

The heart of the city is getting a facelift, but the heartbeat still suffers.

To be honest, it isn’t easy or comfortable to think of our grandson growing up in a neighborhood where he might be the only white face in his classroom, to see him begin life in a culture where his parents have been told to “get out of our city.” I worry about safety, acceptance, friendships, opportunity.

But worry doesn’t promote peace.

If I believe Christ when he said “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid”, I have some work to do.

My son and his wife are committed to Detroit’s effort to promote racial reconciliation. Their only plan is to live, work, worship and play alongside people of color created in the image of God. My only plan is to support them. And lose the fear.

My personal journey toward acceptance and active participation begins with self education. A news reporter by trade and a home educator by choice, I’m doing some research and seeking out works by authors of color to begin understanding the roots of racial prejudice and what I can do to avoid being part of the problem. I’m beginning with Be the Bridge by Latasha Morrison. A diversity expert and unity champion, she is “committed to educate people on cultural intelligence and racial literacy.”

Self education is just the first step. Here’s a list of other actions you and I can take to become part of the solution (gleaned from various sources in my Internet search):

  • Be informed
  • Understand what racism is
  • Avoid stereotyping others
  • Foster new relationships
  • Show empathy
  • Reach out to the right people
  • Work to diversify local institutions
  • Support smarter policing

My kids tell me Detroit’s racial divide is not as simple as one historic, incendiary event. Social constructs seldom are. But, the resulting impact of the Detroit riots are undeniable and they can’t be defined in bullet points. The Detroit my kids call home represents the truth that a racial divide we thought our nation had overcome is deeper and more pervasive than we want to believe.

I’m a believer in grass roots theology: deep lasting change comes from the ground up. Programs are good, initiatives can be powerful, awareness is essential. But what’s needed most is doing life together, coming alongside and bearing witness to the sorrows and the joys of our brothers and sisters, whatever their skin color.

Maybe a white baby in a black neighborhood can be a first step.

(For a concise, factual explanation of the Detroit race riot of 1967, I recommend the information offered here.)