The Pointes are coming to grips with discrimination of the past – an issue that boiled over after Grosse Pointe Park police recorded and distributing videos that mocked a mentally challenged African-American man – and attempting to turn a page on a history that caused some blacks to call the area “Mississippi without the signs.”
Some 250 people turned out Thursday for a panel discussion on racial diversity sponsored by Diverse GP, a group that organized after the videos were released to look not only at an unflattering history of discrimination, but also look at ways to make the Grosse Pointes welcome, diverse and thriving communities.
The “2014: How Far Have We Come?” forum, Diverse GP’s first event, was moderated by WDET-FM radio talk-show host Craig Fahle of Grosse Pointe Park, who said creating racial harmony “is not a quick journey," the Detroit Free Press reports.
To understand how long the journey is, consider Marie Anderson’s story. The 78-year-old African-American recalled having to stay on her “side” of town in 1950s Detroit and away from the Pointes – or, as she and other black community members called it – “Mississippi without the signs.”
“I could not eat out in Grosse Pointe,” she said. “I could not even eat on the east side of Detroit.”
Anderson was one of the panelists recruited by Diverse GP, and she thinks discrimination still exists, the Detroit News said.
“I hate to say it,” she said, “but I think we still have it.”
Echoing that, college student Rodney Folsom, an African-American resident of Grosse Pointe Park, said that in cold-weather months, he’s hesitant to wear a hooded sweatshirt because he worries how others will perceive him.
“We need to see more diversity, be more accepting of other cultures,” he said. “I just want to see actual action happen.”
Real-estate agents reportedly helped develop an all-white culture 60 years ago, making bias more difficult to overcome.
“To keep this community white, in the 1950s, the real-estate agents banded together (and) people were very blatantly discriminated against,” said the Rev. Shelly Page, the minister at the Grosse Pointe Unitarian Church, where the forum was held.
Progress is occurring, however. After the cell phone videos of the black man singing and dancing with the caption “got to love the coloreds” surfaced, the city of Grosse Pointe Park suspended five officers for their roles in recording and sharing them and agreed to train police personnel in cultural competency, customer service and racial profiling.
Members of the group will review the comments made Thursday and determine if another meeting is needed or other avenues should be explored.The overflow crowd at the Diverse GP event told member Maria Catalfio that “people are hungry to have this conversation.”
TELL US: What are you doing to promote racial diversity and harmony in your town?