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Stateside: Looking back at a year of racial reckoning in Detroit

Photo taken from a BLM protest in Detroit this summer
Sarah Cwiek
/
Michigan Radio

This was a wrenching year of racial reckoning both nationally, and right here in Michigan. Detroit journalist Stephen Henderson has been grappling with these issues both on-air as a radio host on WDET, and also in writing. Many of his conversations about race and racial justice this year featured prominent American writers and thinkers, and those conversations became the basis of a new season of Henderson’s podcast “Created Equal”.

Henderson has spent years thinking about the intersection of race and American society as the founding editor of Bridge Detroit, and a Pulitzer-Prize winning editorial page editor of the Detroit Free Press. He says America needs to make real progress on reversing systemic racism, and soon.

There have been three standout reckonings for Detroiters this year: the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the presidential election. The pandemic has hit Black communities hard. Many community leaders have passed away. Just this week, Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, one of the state’s best-known Black elected officials, died after weeks on a ventilator with severe complications from COVID-19.

On COVID-19 in Detroit:

“I’m back to the point where I get up every morning and look at social media for news of someone who is dead, and every day there is someone. So in a way, we’ve been pushed back to the worst days of the spring. And I don’t know how we’ll eventually come to terms with that,” Henderson said.

On anti-racism protests:

“I think the Black Lives Matter protest was different in that it gave people opportunity to come to sort of reckon with the things that were happening and really gave platform to people we hadn’t heard from or known before. The number of young activists who appeared and grabbed attention and had really incredible things to say during that was a pivotal moment during that movement here in Detroit,” Henderson said.

On the election and confrontation between poll watchers and challengers at TCF Center:

“It was kind of a surprise moment of reckoning here in Detroit. I don’t think any of us here expected that the President’s reaction to losing this state or the election nationally would be to try to disenfranchise African-American voters in the city of Detroit, but it really was, and it made us the center of those efforts,” said Henderson.

“We were never going to back down. We were never going to let them steal our voices or steal our votes in the way they were trying to do," Henderson said. "And I think a lot of us have an enormous amount of pride in the people who did that, the people who voiced that so strongly over the last couple of weeks."

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