Race in Community Project Asks: What Does Diversity in Ferndale Mean?

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(Guest View by Kathleen LaTosch, Dec. 1, 2015)

Ferndale, MI – Everyone says diversity is good for us. Business leaders expound upon the economic benefits of having a diverse workforce – the creativity, the increased problem-solving ability. Liberals say it’s “the right thing to do.” Public education experts report that integrated schools are the best model for all students. Governor Snyder has previously touted the benefits of hard-working immigrants as entrepreneurs and innovators. L. Brooks Patterson, Oakland County Executive, has also historically applauded efforts to further diversify.

You’d think with all this support for diversity, we’d have achieved diversity nirvana by now. NewWay_Jazz_TuesdaysBut we haven’t. Oakland County’s cities and towns still exist as mostly segregated spaces – segregated by race, nationality, income.

So what’s the road block? It may be that we’re hard-wired to stick with our own people.

Volumes of neuroscience now back up the tendency of humans to group with people who are like themselves. As humans, we gravitate toward people that are like us. We feel more comfortable and at ease with people we perceive to be like us – we have shared experiences, shared languages, shared religions, shared foods, even shared pop culture references.

Within these enclaves, we may also have a tendency to view “others” as threats. In his recent book “Deep Diversity” Shakil Choudhury describes a concept that perhaps hits closer to home given the international climate on terrorism. He says that it’s part of human nature for each of us to harbor an “inner terrorist” that can switch on, especially when we identify a group as acting against our interests. We will become combative against those who are different from us if we perceive them as threatening our own rise.HowesLocation

If you pair this with some of the recent neuroscience on implicit bias – that we all make assumptions, often without our conscious knowledge, about others all the time – you can see how diversity and integration have an uphill climb.

The truth is, diversity won’t happen if we wait for it to happen. We must be thoughtful in our approach in order to come together as a stronger, bolder, more diverse community. We have to be intentional and proactive in asking, “How can we be more inclusive?”

In Ferndale, people are asking just this question. The Race in Community Project, a new initiative of Citizens for a Fair Ferndale, was created by community members who aim to reduce racial disparities within the city and make the town a more welcoming place for all garden16_bridget_kevin_deegan_krausepeople.

Wait. Ferndale? This might be surprising news for some. Ferndale is considered by many to be a liberal town, filled with progressive, diversity-loving people. And while many would agree with this characterization, the perception has been shaped mainly by its inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The town’s residents remain nearly 85% white even though it sits at the border of Detroit which has a population that is almost 83% black.

Community members launched the Race in Community Project after a 2013 Ferndale Public Schools strategic planning report identified the significant race and income-based achievement gap in the schools as a top priority to address. Reports further indicated that black families in particular (both parents and students) didn’t always feel welcome in Ferndale, in part due to concerns over racial profiling.

Troubled by the results, parents and Ferndale School Board members met together with leaders from Citizens for a Fair Ferndale, a community-based Ferndale nonprofit chazzano game adorganization, to see what could be done. Last spring, they invited a diverse cross-section of leaders from the Charter Township of Royal Oak, Ferndale, Oak Park, and Pleasant Ridge (all towns that lie within the Ferndale Public School District) to engage in a conversation about race. Facilitated by New Detroit, the conversation included the Mayor and the Chief of Police in Ferndale. The conversation yielded rich dialogue among members of the communities and pointed to directions for improvement.

One of the first steps the group identified was to gather more information about the community and invite more people to participate in the dialogue. On December 9th, they are hosting a community forum entitled “Ferndale Past & Present: How did we become the Ferndale of Today?” The session features Kurt Metzger, the area’s renowned demographer and Mayor of Pleasant Ridge, for a special spotlight on Ferndale’s racial roots. The event is co-sponsored by the City of Ferndale and will take place beginning at 7pm at the Ferndale City Hall, in Council Chambers.

Schrock2015_SmilingFace_adFerndale is not the only town with efforts to build a more inclusive community.

~Last October, the Farmington Public Schools hosted the 15th annual conference of The Minority Student Achievement Network on addressing systemic racism in our schools and closing the achievement gap. https://www.michigandaily.com/news/msan-held-union

~This past May, Novi High School hosted “We Don’t Want Them” exhibit for students and community on housing discrimination in Metro Detroit from 1900-1960 in partnership with the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity & Inclusion https://www.novi.k12.mi.us/downloads/dist_spot_docs/we_dont_want_them_here_ad_20150429_095348_1.pdf?r=635658980379539891

~Oakland University hosts an annual Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Conference. This year’s event takes place on March 16, 2016.

People interested in attending the Ferndale event on December 9th can visit https://www.facebook.com/fairferndale/?fref=ts. The event is free and open to all.

Kathleen LaTosch is Chair of the Race in Community Project and a professional diversity and inclusion consultant. She has been a resident of Ferndale since 1992 and lives there with her wife of 24 years and two sons.

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