Speakers dive into race relations in two of America’s toughest cities

Detroit, Mich., will be one of the cities under the microscope at “Race, Police, and the Recovery of Our Cities," an M.V. Summer Institute forum at the Hebrew Center. —Wikimedia Commons

Two high-powered African-American civic leaders with national profiles will lead a discussion on “Race, Police, and the Recovery of Our Cities” on Thursday, July 21, at 7:30 pm at the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center.

Karen Freeman-Wilson, the first female mayor of Gary, Ind., and the first black female mayor in the state’s history, will join Pulitzer-prizewinning journalist Stephen Henderson, editorial page editor of the Detroit Free Press, at the event, which is part of the Hebrew Center’s ongoing Summer Institute series.

Event facilitator Joe Bower of Edgartown recruited the speakers: “I heard Karen speak at a Harvard Business School event and was deeply impressed. I knew she was the right person for this topic,” the professor emeritus at the Harvard Business School and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government said last week. Mr. Bower credited colleagues at the Nieman Foundation, a prestigious journalism foundation, for providing Mr. Henderson’s name as a speaker: “So we have two of the country’s toughest cities represented, and we’re going to have a discussion. We expect a good turnout, including the Island’s African-American community,” Mr. Bower said. The discussion will be lively, based on the biographies of the two accomplished civic leaders and activists.

A graduate of Harvard Law School, Ms. Freeman-Wilson served as Indiana’s attorney general before being elected mayor of Gary in 2011. Under her watch, Gary’s murder and crime rates, among the nation’s highest, have declined.

Reached by email this week, Mayor Freeman-Wilson said, “As one who has served in two branches of government, I would suggest that we all must take a less siloed approach to leadership and service. Those in the judiciary have a duty to be problem solvers and not simply ‘referees.’ Those who lead from an executive’s perspective must also understand the value of a team approach. I would also suggest that the most important players on the governmental team are those who operate outside of government. This would include the faith community, civic and social organizations, and educators, as well as individual citizens. When heavy lifting has to be done (and restoration of urban communities against the backdrop of race is certainly a heavy lift), everyone has a role to play.”

She stressed that continuous relationship-building and communication is key to social harmony: “That is why dialogue is so important. You have to talk to people, get to know people who differ from you. That allows you to displace inherent biases, stereotypes, media portrayals, or any other influence that may cause you to treat people unfairly,” she wrote.

Mr. Henderson is the antithesis of the notion of aloof editorial writers roosting far from the fray. An often controversial and acerbic critic of government-as-usual, Mr. Henderson won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for commentary and the 2014 National Association of Black Journalists Journalist of the Year Award. In addition to his work for the Detroit Free Press, the Detroit native hosts the daily talk show “Detroit Today” on WDET, hosts the weekly talk show “American Black Journal” on Detroit Public Television, co-hosts the news show “MiWeek” on Detroit Public Television, and is a correspondent for WXYZ-TV in Detroit.
“Race, Police, and the Recovery of Our Cities”: Thursday, July 21, 7:30 pm. Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center, Vineyard Haven. Tickets start at $20. For tickets and more information, visit mvsummerinstitute.com.