PuLSE Institute: End Bias Against Detroit’s Poor

By Bankole Thompson

There is a deep element of conscious bias that has rendered any substantive or serious discussion of poverty and its impact on Detroiters in this economic recovery as some sort of a sidebar conversation, as opposed to the kind of dialogue that should take center stage. It is a conversation that deserves the most attention from everyone who claims to be seriously invested in the city’s wellbeing.

There is a seemingly callous indifference demonstrated by some who prefer to look the other way whenever poverty comes up as an issue. They don’t want to dig into the vexing problems that have given rise to poverty and economic inequality. They don’t seem interested.

Instead what some of these forces are interested in is whatever official line or press releases they can regurgitate for public consumption from the halls of power inside the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center in downtown Detroit. 

Detroit is in unchartered waters. We either confront the monster of poverty, which is a daily reality for thousands of residents, or we continue to sing the refrain of a comeback that hasn’t shown remarkable positive impact on the lives of many who feel trapped.

This is why the arrival of The PuLSE Institute last year is timely to serve as a key platform on the issues of inequality that are often deliberately ignored in the glare of the spotlight. Because before the emergence of the Institute, there was no credible and independent mainstream anti-poverty think tank focused exclusively on inequality issues in Detroit.

Let’s face it. Detroit seems to be going about it all the wrong way because officials who are driving this recovery don’t seem to want to acknowledge that poverty exists. If you don’t acknowledge the problem, it’s difficult to find a prescription for it. In fact, whenever the notion of “two Detroits” comes up, some of them are left squirming and in denial of its existence.

Detroit is divided because this ongoing recovery is overwhelmingly one-sided. That is a fact. It’s heavily focused on downtown and Midtown. And now we see efforts to expand to Corktown. I’ve referred to downtown, Midtown and Corktown as the three islands of opulence, as economic desolation continues to determine life for many in Detroit’s impoverished neighborhoods.

Granted, that there are efforts to branch out of the city’s business district into some designated neighborhoods. But those paltry efforts are not nearly enough to make significant changes in the lives of the many who are worried about what Detroit would become in the next five years.

But I’m hopeful that despite the conscious bias evident in some quarters to try to ignore poverty as the defining issue of this economic recovery, which is yet to be fully inclusive, there are still some who understand that the issue isn’t going away and are ready to work on it.

Jerry Norcia, the president and COO of DTE Energy called for action on poverty in a PuLSE column published last week. Norcia chairs The PuLSE Institute Business Leaders Against Poverty Initiative, a Committee of the Institute made up of a select group of industry captains including Cindy Pasky, president and CEO of Strategic Staffing Solutions and others who have acknowledged that poverty is a major issue.

“The compounding effect of lifting people out of poverty is undeniable: Strong families means stronger students and neighborhoods, which leads to an educated workforce that is primed to succeed,” Norcia wrote. “Business will recognize this progress and continue to invest, putting more people to work and lifting more of our citizens toward economic prosperity.”

He added, “Detroit is in the midst of a renaissance, one that has the potential to benefit all, but only if we work to ensure no one is left behind.”

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan should use his 2019 State of the City address to talk about poverty and its far-reaching implications and adverse impact on Detroiters. He should do it in a similar way he did when he spoke about the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration last month at Cobo Hall hosted by the Rev Jesse Jackson.

When poverty becomes the main issue to tackle, then we can begin to have the real conversations about solving the complicated yet difficult problems of Detroit’s recovery which has left many behind. It’s not too late to turn the corner and eliminate the intentional disregard of poverty as the dominant problem of this era.

Bankole Thompson is the editor-in-chief of The PuLSE Institute and an opinion columnist at The Detroit News. For submission inquiries send email to info@thepulseinstitute.org 


  1. The elephant in the room is RACISM. The many results of REDLINING…institutionalized legal racism…include isolation of black residents from key sources of prosperity including control of ed educational and property ownership resources. Similar to arguments surrounding reparations, the generations affected by REDLINING alone create a subliminal sense of desperation within elites. They therefore avoid the topic of poverty per se. Now, when GOVERNMENT officials avoid the topic the narrative also avoids racism as it STILL exists. Only when the TOP leaders, as did Joe Biden, actually SPELL IT OUT will you see an honest discussion of policy and investment solutions to address the CAUSES of poverty in Detroit.

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