As we look forward to our future and embrace change in Detroit, social injustice and social polarization results in us not looking at or toward each other as relational human beings. The challenges we still face when it comes to inequality of wealth; lack of economic resources; unfair treatment of individuals; access to education, housing, and healthcare; mass incarceration; and food insecurity, just to name a few, keep families in communities and neighborhoods trapped in a “social injustice bubble.” Where is our community outrage, let alone the spirit that lies in each and every one of us, when it comes to justice? The times that we live in right now demand that we pop the social injustice bubble and transform negative behaviors and interactions with one another into positive interactions. We must do things differently. Interaction changes people, temporarily or permanently. Unequal government controls and measures that deliberately deny certain groups of people opportunities and resources keep us in that bubble.
The questions I hear from young people between the ages of 14 and 21 that live and attend school in Detroit and the surrounding communities are “Why is there widespread and overt poverty in Detroit?
Does the foundational imbalance keeping us from a just and humane community in the city involve just us?” As I look at the variety of ways I can address those questions that our young people ask, I mentor and advise them that there are neither single solutions nor answers. I explain to our youth that in order to attempt to eradicate social stigmas, you must let your fears, reluctance, and insecurities go; seek to understand why social constraints are the way they are; and create innovative, situational, and sustainable options that lead to alternative social-justice policies for society, especially for people who face multiple obstacles.
Our youth confront daily violence in our communities, and this contributes to the social ills that many people face. I recognize that the space that we occupy in this world is in direct correlation to the quality and the quantity of life that is due to all Americans. But what do we do, as a collective body or as individuals?
One example of executing that vision into a reality is a recent experience I had giving a presentation to Osborn Academy of Math, Science and Technology’s Youth Violence Prevention Team and moderating a youth-led town hall meeting. The students wanted to discuss “The Effects of Deplorable Conditions on Student Achievement.” The students then led a rally and were empowered to use their voices, along with educational and community resources, to shed light on a social condition in their community that affects their safety and prevents them from reaching their full academic potential. The students then held a march in the Osborn neighborhood which focused on the dangers of traveling to and from school through areas with abandoned and unsafe houses and buildings. Our youth tackle daily violence in our communities, which contributes to the social ills in Detroit. Our youth also recognize that the space that we occupy in this world is in direct correlation to the quality and the quantity of life that is due to everyone who lives and works in Detroit, and that what you say and do as a collective body or as individuals involves more than just us.
My vision for Detroit in 2014 and beyond is for us to be social-justice leaders, be the model of a beloved community to our global neighbors, and to continue to assist and work with organizations and our youth and to challenge them to take their place in leadership roles to create and put into effect the vision that they desire in their communities, and to consistently help them and provide resources.
Barbara L. Jones is the Community Dispute Resolution Specialist for The Center for the Peace and Conflict Studies Program at Wayne State University and a WSU faculty member.