Race, Health, Education and Culture with Eugene Robinson

Posted by Cheryl Jones on

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson said he remembers Detroit as the most glamourous, cosmopolitan city he had ever seen when he was six years old, so he says it was with great sadness he watched the city’s decline.   He is encouraged now about what is happening.

"The media switch on Detroit has turned,” said Robinson.   “It’s no longer a story of despair but a story of optimism." 

Robinson then shared his experience covering the recent unrest in Baltimore.   He says the unrest in Baltimore followed the story in Ferguson.  Both stories, he believes, prompted a lot of easy commentary that applied a 1960’s world view to 21st century America.   Robinson said the quest for racial justice is more complicated, but no less urgent.    And he said that Baltimore holds some lessons for Detroit.

Robinson referred to a Kellogg Foundation report released today, "The Business Case for Racial Equity in Michigan".   Robinson said the report was astounding and shows "when we throw young people away, we are throwing away our collective future as a nation."   

In West Baltimore, Robinson said there is a lot of vacant housing.   The steelworks that once employed the workers that filled those houses is gone; instead, Johns Hopkins Health System is the largest employer in the area.   Yet Robinson said the school system has not done anything to prepare students for those jobs that are now available.   He described a huge disconnect between the economy of the city and the people of the city. 

Robinson believes the Freddie Gray story in Baltimore illustrates many of the unaddressed issues faced by people in poverty:  exposure to lead poisoning, adequate nutrition, and educational achievement that would have kept him off a street corner watched carefully by police.

The Kellogg Foundation says one out of three children in Michigan are at risk, and Robinson called for more action to support those children.   At the same time, Robinson says the political climate is filled with fear, perhaps related to decades of stagnating middle class incomes and the disappearance of many blue-collar jobs.  Demographic changes, as the nation moves to a majority minority nation, have also challenged a number of audiences – heightened by the fact that an African-American is President.

Because of the political climate, Robinson repeated, "Don’t wait on Washington."  While he believes that the current impasse in Washington will end at some point (“because I’m a cheerful person”), Robinson said the energy and imagination needed to move forward on racial and economic justice must come from states, cities, private and non-profit sectors.   He said he is encouraged whenever he comes to Michigan because people are engaged in these issues and are willing to debate them and put them on the agenda.  "I'm leaving Mackinac more hopeful than when I arrived," he said.

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