Sunday, May 11, 2008

Making it happen on the border

I went on a tour Saturday that was eye-opening for a number of reasons.

The tour was sponsored by the Detroit Grosse Pointe Collaborative, a project supported by a number of community organizations and foundations, and designed to bring residents on both sides of Mack Avenue closer together. Mack separates the city of Detroit from the Grosse Pointes, and relations between the residents on either side haven't always been great. Things were so bad at one point that walls were erected and dead ends created in Grosse Pointe Park (closest of the five cities to Detroit) to keep people out. Residents of Detroit have been upset because, in a city over 80 percent black, the gesture seemed to imply that blacks weren't welcome.

But things are gradually improving, the Pointes are becoming more diverse, and the DGPC and other efforts are helping.

Saturday's tour guide was Nick Sinacori, who is working on a history book that highlights how the area was developed. One of the biggest takeaways was the fact that data from the 1910 U.S. Census showed about 100 black people living in Grosse Pointe. I thought, naturally, that these were servants. After all, my father-in-law's parents were servants in Grosse Pointe mansions who lived in the homes they worked in. But Sinacori suggested otherwise.

He said that most of them were jockeys or employees of the horse racing tracks in the area during the later part of the 19 century. The horse race tracks eventually started hosting car races as the automobile became popular, and as the auto business boomed they disappeared altogether -- replaced by housing and other development.

The 2000 census put the number of blacks in GPP at 362, and the number of minorities at over 1,000. The other, more affluent Grosse Pointe municipalities had about 240 blacks, according to 2000 census figures cited by SEMCOG.

This represents measured progress, I think, and should help race relations in the area. There were a diverse group of people in attendance and everyone seemed incredibly engaged. One older woman on the tour, who happened to be black, even mentioned that her father was a stable hand at one of the race tracks in the area in the early 1900s.

Now the collaborative needs to find more people who aren't in the choir to preach to, which is the perpetual challenge of every diversity effort. But I am hopeful.

I'll be writing more about Nick and his work, as well as the DGPC project in the future. Stay tuned.

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