Highland Park City Council unanimously approves CO...

Highland Park City Council unanimously approves COVID-19 ‘Just Recovery Task Force’

Highland Park City Council voted unanimously Monday to establish a COVID-19 Just Recovery Task Force. 

“This task force is about the community coming together to get through this crisis, but also to look forward,” said City Council President of Highland Park Carlton Clyburn in a press release. 

The task force will be a joint effort between the City Council and the grassroots-led Highland Park Community Crisis Coalition. The task force’s goals are to coordinate relief and community safety efforts and develop a long term plan to respond to COVID-19 using the framework of a “just recovery”.

According to the Climate Justice Alliance’s website, “just recovery” is a framework for responding to crises that focuses on solutions that “respond, recover, and rebuild” rather than solely offering charity and aid.  “Respond” calls on people to activate local mutual aid networks rather than outside emergency response,“recover” means helping people build economic equity versus exploiting them for low paying jobs, and “rebuild” means long-term support for creating a more sustainable and resilient  community.

Jayeesha Dutta is the co-founder of Another Gulf is Possible and is on the steering committee for the Climate Justice Alliance. “It’s a really big milestone for Just Recovery to have a major metropolitan area adopt the framework into policy,” she said about Highland Park. The framework was developed when Hurricane Harvey hit in August 2017. It started with a hashtag “#JustHarveryRecovery” to distinguish their efforts from emergency response efforts, and it grew from there.

“It’s a chance for the government to really represent the interests of the people, and not the profit margin,” she said. 

Highland Park resident and member of the group Citizens for a Sustainable Highland Park Margaret Lewis told Planet Detroit that this task force is essential in disseminating information, because Highland Park’s city hall is closed, the city lacks its own newspaper, and most of its residents lack computer access. 

“The task force is at least a beginning where these concerns can be addressed and citizens can have a place to have dialogue,” she said.

Juan Shannon, Principal at Parker Village and founding member of the Highland Park Community Crisis Coalition said in a press release, “This task force is a necessary step to prepare for future waves of the pandemic and other crises. But it’s also an opportunity for us to think about building long-term sustainability and resilience by supporting Highland Park-led initiatives for sustainable development and sustainable infrastructure.” 

Highland Park, a city made up of mostly Black and low-income residents, has been hit hard by coronavirus. According to the U.S. Census, Highland Park is almost 90% Black and 45% of its residents live in poverty, and 18% of its residents are over the age of 65.

For the first two months of the crisis there was nowhere to get tested for coronavirus in the city. On May 4th, Trinity Health and Saint Joseph Mercy Health System established the first testing site in Highland Park. On the first day the new test site was open, 35-40% of residents tested positive for the novel coronavirus. 

“This could potentially wipe out our entire city,” Shannon said about COVID-19, noting that Highland Park is only 2.9 square miles with roughly 10,000 residents. 

The Highland Park Community Crisis Coalition is made up of five grassroots organizations and was born as a result of the D2N Detroit COVID-19 Relief Initiative. 

Shannon says there are benefits to partnering with the city. “There are opportunities that are available to municipalities that are not readily available to nonprofits or any other organization,” he said. 

Dutta say, She says, “We’ll now see how this grassroots-based framework can be institutionalized in the service of all, and to become part of a more participatory and popular form of democratic governance that’s based on what people need in times of emergency.” 

The Highland Park City Council is made up of five members: Carlton Clyburn, Rodney Patrick, Norma Lewis, Kendrich Bates, and Derrick Armstrong. More than a dozen Highland Park residents also gave input to the formation of the task force.

“We are looking to get people informed and try to keep them safe,” Shannon told Planet Detroit.  “And for people that need to recover from any of the economic injustices, we hope to be a shining light.”