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 peopleâ€™s lived experiences and practical solutions.Â
Smith will host the White Integration in Russell Woods-Sullivan Area conversation at the Dexter Grinds coffee shop on Tuesday, Nov. 12.Â
Panelists include Russell Woods residents and others who have been heavily involved in race relations in Detroit.Â
Smith is a longtime resident of the Russell Woods-Sullivan community, historically a Black middle-class neighborhood thatâ€™s experienced the disinvestment and population loss thatâ€™s occurred around the city. In recent years, sheâ€™s witnessed an influx of white neighbors, drawn to the strong community fabric and well-kept homes.Â
Sheâ€™s heard feedback from Black residents who have shared displeasure about the changes in the neighborhood –Â for example, more people walking dogs and leaving dog poop on neighborsâ€™ lawns. Sheâ€™s also talked to new white homeowners who are aware of the larger issues, but arenâ€™t sure how to handle their roleÂ as neighborhood newcomersÂ on a personal level.Â Â
â€œI know that people see me, by virtue of me being white, as a gentrifier, and I canâ€™t help that, but what I can help is how I engage people,â€ Smith recalled one neighbor sharing.
â€œI think itâ€™s my job to just sit back and learn and offer where I can, but not to be aggressive in trying to assert myself,â€ the woman told Smith.
While the event will focus on Smithâ€™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 neighborsâ€™ points of view.Â
â€œWhatâ€™s happening in Russell Woods is a microcosm for whatâ€™s happening in other Detroit communities and across the nation,â€ Smith said.Â
â€œSo 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,â€ she continued. â€œThatâ€™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 weâ€™ll be able to change together.â€
ðŸ˜ï¸ Discussion: White Integration in the Russell Woods-Sullivan neighborhood. Nov. 12, Dexter Grinds, Russell Woods, free, info. Add to cal.Â
Rhonda J. Smith is a fellow in Detourâ€™s Emerging Voices program, designed to tell the story of Detroitâ€™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 neighborhoodsâ€™ stories.Â
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.