Effective Corporate Social Responsibility is essential to the socially and economically just redevelopment of Detroit. At first glance, that is a given. Investment in your community is good business; impactful investment, even more so. For Detroit, in particular, the above circumstance could determine whether or not it ascends a cycle segregation, stratification and social inequality that has pervasively sculpted this city for the better part of the past century.
Simply put, the private sector runs this city and has done so for decades.
A hundred years ago Henry Ford carved the cities of Highland Park and Hamtramck out of Detroit’s 140-plus square mile footprint to create comprehensive communities around two of his largest assemblies; today our three-headed Gilbert-Moroun-Ilitch billionaire hydra is doing the same thing with their massive land-grabs and the corresponding redevelopment of Campus Martius, Michigan Central Station [“West” Corktown] and The District. Now we are left this New Detroit v. Old Detroit; 7.2 SQ MI v. Neighborhoods; poor, under-educated black v. affluent, gentrifying white dialogue.
As a review, The Motor City achieved global prominence on the heels of the automotive industry’s boom. Outlasting the Packard’s and Hudson’s of the world, The Big Three of Ford, General Motors and Chrysler emerged as lasting pioneers within the auto industry. With their success came a perceived immorality. Three demigods of innovation in their own right, the government and citizenry of Detroit willingly permitted them to pervasively mold the city’s structure and policies to their own benefit; they lobbied to remove public transportation, destroyed neighborhoods with the highways they financed and bore their roots so deep into the soil that no other industry could grow.
In the late-60’s and early-70’s, a one-two punch of civil rights and post-industrialization knocked Detroit square on its ass. A failure to diversify the social structure and industrial landscape of the city left Detroit with as much adaptability and mobility as World’s Strongest Man, Mariusz Pudzianowski. Rapidly remove two-thirds of the population, plunge the city government into bankruptcy, channel unprecedented amounts of money into private foundations and here we find ourselves today: The Big Three still reign supreme and the working class fights tooth-and-nail for representation in response to reduced rights and civic disenfranchisement; some ambitious billionaires have gotten themselves in the mix too. Any questions?
For the Detroit academics in the room, thank you for your patience while I caught everyone else up. We’re here today because of the lackluster corporate social responsibility I witnessed earlier this week. As a representative of Challenge Detroit, I had the opportunity to attend the Detroit Economic Club’s Meeting on the 2015 Economic Prospects for the Regional and National Economy. From my humble seat overlooking the Westin Book Cadillac’s main ballroom, I watched a group of Cody High School student’s file into the room and populate the table in front of me. At an event where tickets typically went for $75 dollars to non-members, Cody was one of three Detroit schools represented as ‘honored guests’ that day due to the generosity of a prominent health insurance company in Detroit who sponsored them.
After a public acknowledgement of the students’ attendance, the luncheon proceeded. Guests were served modest lunches consisting of a meatloaf slice, three baby carrots and a scoop of mashed peas and, as we ate, a preeminent national economist jovially expounded on the economic forecast for our country in relation to the price of oil, Obamacare, etc., etc., etc.
While the older gentleman to my right dozed off and the younger woman to my left fiddled with her phone, my focus shifted to the teenagers in front of me. Within minutes of the presentation’s beginning, their shoulders slouched and their faces went blank…
Context, you need context!
A Detroit Public School located on the far west side of the city, over eigthty percent of Cody’s students receive free or reduced lunch. The recipient of a $27 million GM Foundation grant (re: private sector runs this city) in 2011 the school has achieved marked success with it’s “small schools” model. Unfortunately, the fact remains that Cody’s three small schools ranked in the 9th, 5th and 3rd percentiles in statewide performance. Digging deeper into the three schools’ data, 90-98 percent of 11th graders achieved a “Not Proficient” mark on Mathematics and 80-89 percent of 11th graders achieved at best “Partially Proficient” marks in Reading on their Michigan Merit Examination (MME) in 2014. In layman’s terms, Cody High School juniors cannot read or understand mathematical principles at a high school level.
Now I am one for youth exposure, immersion and access programming, but as the recent This American Life episode, Three Miles, illuminated, appropriateness and efficacy of that programming go hand-in-hand. Those two concepts did not accompany the students to last week’s meeting. The speaker droned on about unemployment rates and stock market gains; the students uncomfortably shifted in their seats and stole glances at their teacher for any indications of modeled behavior.
Regardless of their level of interest, they didn’t have the capability to comprehend much of the information being presented that day.
Long after tables had been cleared and the speaker had commenced his Q & A session, I curiously noticed several Cody students snacking on a handful of bright green apples. A clear glass vase full of Granny Smith’s served as the centerpiece of each table in the ballroom. Providing color on an otherwise whitewashed table-setting, I thought they were a pleasant addition. The Cody students with their adolescent appetites and food insecure home lives only saw them as food. With thirty-nine tables in the ballroom, theirs was the only table with an empty vase as the meeting closed. I hope they thanked their corporate sponsors for the apples.