By John Masson
Organizers of Michigan Law's Martin Luther King Day forum on January 16 have an ambitious goal in mind: shedding light on the thinking of the slain civil rights leader by shedding light on his relationship to the complicated story of Detroit.
Nearly half a century after he was assassinated, relatively few now remember how active King was in Detroit, which even then was struggling to fight poverty, racism, and white flight. Fewer still remember that King first delivered what became known as his "I Have A Dream" speech in Detroit's Cobo Hall, then a shiny new downtown arena.
The forum, "Dr. King's Vision for Economic Justice: Focus on Detroit," will feature Detroit City Council President Charles Pugh, New Detroit CEO Shirley R. Stancato, Excellent Schools Detroit CEO and 1994 Michigan Law grad Dan Varner, and Michigan Chronicle Senior Editor Bankole Thompson. Scheduled for 3–5 p.m. in the breathtaking new Robert B. Aikens Commons adjoining Hutchins Hall, the panel, moderated by Professor Angela Dillard, Director of the Residential College and professor of Afroamerican and African Studies, will look beyond the Detroit that exists only in newscast sound bites and analyze the complicated Detroit that exists in reality as Michigan's largest city. Opening remarks will be delivered by Professor Dana Thompson, Director of the Entrepreneurship Clinic at the Law School.
The discussion will focus on the future of the city and ask how city government, foundations, the media, nonprofits, educators, banks, and the corporate sector can work together to define the future for Detroiters.
Much work remains to be done, said Martha S. Jones, an associate professor of history and Afroamerican and African Studies and an affiliated LS&A faculty member at the Law School, who helped organize the event. But there's good news, too: despite its many challenges, the creative and vital side of Detroit could help provide a roadmap for what economic justice looks like in the future.
"Nearly a half century ago, Dr. King called upon us to take up the challenges of entrepreneurship, development, public-private partnerships and self-sufficiency that were and remain the building blocks of economic justice," Jones said. "King's challenge was prophetic, and in the city of Detroit, his vision of economic justice remains a moving aspiration. We join with our Michigan colleagues already deeply engaged in Detroit in encouraging the university community to become even more a part of the city's future."
This story is also appearing in the University Record.
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