Detroit will mark the first anniversary of its bankruptcy filing this Friday, and across the country, people are watching the city to see how it has survived the upheaval.

Despite pending cuts for pensioners, as well as widespread poverty, sobering health and violence statistics and a declining population, Detroiters have expressed cautious optimism about recent changes, which include greater investments in development, promises to improve city services and an ambitious plan to eliminate urban blight.

The largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history has also stirred up interest in success stories. Though no one person will fix Detroit, some people have received well-deserved attention for their work to improve the city. A New York Times article last month highlighted hot spots in the Corktown neighborhood, and a story in the same paper earlier this year heralded small businesses.

But something’s missing from those pieces, and from many other articles that examine the city’s resurgence: black Detroiters, who make up 83 percent of the population.

Stories that claim entrepreneurs are building, revitalizing and even saving Detroit focus primarily on white professionals, often younger and new transplants to the city, a trend that’s palpable and frustrating for locals. When journalists and readers criticized the Times for leaving blacks out of its Corktown story, the paper’s public editor addressed the lack of diversity in a follow-up, and the writer said she regretted not including a black-owned business. (A more recent Times story takes a wider-ranging view.)

It’s not difficult to find a black business owner to speak with, though. There are more than 32,000 in the city, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures from 2007. Many, particularly those who have kept their businesses going on shoestring budgets, feel excluded from conversations about Detroit’s revival and overlooked when it comes to getting access to funds and resources.

“I think, for the most part, black-owned businesses are not getting a piece of the pie,” bookstore owner Janet Jones told The Huffington Post. “What about people who have been doing the hard work of living and working and having business in Detroit for the last 20 years?”

Despite difficulties, many business owners have had their doors open for decades, something local developer George Stewart, 77, traces back to historical segregation that had white business owners refusing service to black customers.

“During the good times and the bad times, black-owned businesses have been around, primarily serving their community,” said Stewart, who moved to Detroit from Baton Rouge, Louisiana in the 1960s. Such businesses, Stewart said, have long been “circulating resources, building wealth [and] opening doors to other opportunities, such as higher education and lifestyle.”



Erika Boyd and Kirsten Ussery-Boyd both left careers in other fields to open a restaurant in West Village last year, serving soul food classics like collard greens, barbecue and mac-n-cheese — all vegan. They took the leap after watching loved ones and the broader African-American community struggle with diet-related illnesses. Together they crafted a menu that’s both delicious and healthy.



R. Christopher Prater and TaNisha Prater, who recently moved back to their native Detroit from Atlanta, opened their boutique in Midtown this year with partner Jessica Glen. They sell secondhand women’s clothing — TaNisha is a third-generation retailer, and her husband has always been a thrift shopper, a necessity in his family of 13 siblings.

The Praters say style is a secondary priority for the shop, which donates 30 percent of its proceeds to Coalition of Temporary Shelter, a nearby residence for homeless Detroiters. Thrift on the Avenue has started a recurring event to give full makeovers to women at COTS and raise awareness of the circumstances that lead to homelessness.

“If we can help people transition from homeless shelters and put them in a position where they can land a job and provide for their families, that’s worth way more than the couple bucks we make from a pair of jeans,” R. Christopher said.

Source: Huffington Post

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