How can white residents who are new to Detroit responsibly enter historically Black communities, and how can longtime residents cope with changes to their neighborhoods? Rhonda J. Smith is tackling this complex and urgent topic in her journalism and community engagement practice as a Detour Detroit fellow, bringing together her reporting and personal knowledge for a discussion that will focus on people’s lived experiences and practical solutions.
Smith will host the White Integration in Russell Woods-Sullivan Area conversation at the Dexter Grinds coffee shop on Tuesday, Nov. 12.
Panelists include Russell Woods residents and others who have been heavily involved in race relations in Detroit.
Smith is a longtime resident of the Russell Woods-Sullivan community, historically a Black middle-class neighborhood that’s experienced the disinvestment and population loss that’s occurred around the city. In recent years, she’s witnessed an influx of white neighbors, drawn to the strong community fabric and well-kept homes.
She’s heard feedback from Black residents who have shared displeasure about the changes in the neighborhood — for example, more people walking dogs and leaving dog poop on neighbors’ lawns. She’s also talked to new white homeowners who are aware of the larger issues, but aren’t sure how to handle their role as neighborhood newcomers on a personal level.
“I know that people see me, by virtue of me being white, as a gentrifier, and I can’t help that, but what I can help is how I engage people,” Smith recalled one neighbor sharing.
“I think it’s my job to just sit back and learn and offer where I can, but not to be aggressive in trying to assert myself,” the woman told Smith.
While the event will focus on Smith’s own neighborhood, she said it is open to all and meant for anyone concerned with strengthening community connections, fostering dialogue across racial lines and understanding their neighbors’ points of view.
“What’s happening in Russell Woods is a microcosm for what’s happening in other Detroit communities and across the nation,” Smith said.
“So often we live in these [silos] where we gripe in our heads or to others who look like us who are just going to affirm where we are,” she continued. “That’s not going to change anything. So I would say, come, have the courage to be challenged, and have the courage to challenge someone else — and maybe we’ll be able to change together.”
🏘️ Discussion: White Integration in the Russell Woods-Sullivan neighborhood. Nov. 12, Dexter Grinds, Russell Woods, free, info. Add to cal.
Rhonda J. Smith is a fellow in Detour’s Emerging Voices program, designed to tell the story of Detroit’s present and future in the voice of its residents. Her event is the first of several fellowship events: our five fellows are each hosting community events in the next two months to engage Detroiters and celebrate their own neighborhoods’ stories.
Main image: Metro Detroit racial dot map created by demographer Dustin Cable, showing one dot per person as record in the 2010 U.S. Census. Each green dot corresponds to one Black person, blue is white, red is Asian and yellow is Hispanic.