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African Town? Concentrate on this town

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ROCHELLE RILEY: African Town? Concentrate on this town

September 24, 2004

BY ROCHELLE RILEY

FREE PRESS COLUMNIST

Some Detroit City Council members may soon feel like CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather. The economic development plan they approved Tuesday recommending the creation of African Town -- a black business district with popcorn, fish and juice factories -- must be a hoax.

Surely they didn't realize they were paying $112,000 for such an ill-advised plan.

Detroit doesn't need an African Town, unless -- and this is important -- it is a cultural center that celebrates the heritage of many African countries, offering spices and fabrics and foods that are unique, a place where you can always find a good Ethiopian restaurant (although I prefer Ghanaian) and qualified hair-braiders, a place that could be connected to the nation's largest African-American museum. Now that's a win-win.

City Councilwoman Joann Watson wants a black business district that includes that fish hatchery and popcorn factory.

Council member Alberta Tinsley-Talabi said she voted for the cultural mecca.

"I know we can't do it the way it's currently prescribed, but we have an opportunity in the long run."

But here's a better idea that benefits more people: If the council wants to take a step toward greater economic parity, it should seek another tack: education.

Education first

Nearly half of Detroiters 16 and older are functionally illiterate at some level. Only 11 percent of Detroiters older than 25 have a bachelor's degree. That number drops to 10 percent for black Detroiters.

In Detroit, only 69 percent of residents 25 and older have a high school diploma. That number is 71 percent for black Detroiters older than 25.

Detroit's most urgent need is to fix its schools.

There you go again, asking what the school system has to do with Detroit's economic outlook. That in itself is the reason we need education more than small businesses.

Detroit has focused, not on children, but on school labor and school governance and school politics to create jobs.

But the city cannot keep graduating legions of unemployable youth. It cannot create a business district without future owners to sustain it.

"How are you going to take somebody with a fifth-grade reading level who's never written a check and doesn't have a bank account and put them into a business?" asked Kurt R. Metzger, who as director of the Michigan Metropolitan Information Center at Wayne State University has studied Detroit's economics. "What I was thinking is it's a simple response, like the (presidential) election where we don't talk about issues but talk about what's comfortable.

". . . This seems like a really quick fix for a few people . . . But how much will this do for the average Detroiters? The money isn't being spent to solve the 16-percent unemployment rate or 47-percent illiteracy rate . . ."

Support, don't run

In Detroit, where average household income is $29,526, compared to $44,667 statewide, Joann Watson is right to push for a change. But she's pushing for the wrong change.

What the council could do is create a business think tank that the city could help fund, but not run, a place where any person could get advice on everything from start-up to payroll to taxes.

Now that's an out-of-the-box idea. And the city council didn't have to pay me $112,000 for it.

Catch Rochelle on "Am I Right?," WTVS-TV, Channel 56, 5:30 p.m. today and 2 p.m. Sunday and on WDIV-TV, Channel 4's "Flashpoint" at 10 a.m. Sunday.

Contact ROCHELLE RILEY at 313-223-4473 or e-mail [email protected]

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Amen. We need to get people like this on city council.

Here's an LBP quote from the Sept 27th free press

"I think it's one of the dumbest ideas I've ever heard about and frankly insulting," said Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson. "How would residents of Detroit feel if I would propose having a Honky Town in Oakland? I would be run out of office, and rightfully so."

Now that's a funny quote!

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