By Steve Thorpe
A new initiative called the Detroit Equity Action Lab (DEAL), intended to examine structural racism in Detroit, will be housed within the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights at Wayne State University Law School.
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation awarded a $1.3 million grant to Wayne State University to launch the program through which nonprofit organizations working in the areas of racial equity, health care, education, food security, and safety will address those issues. Professor Peter Hammer, the director of the Keith Center, will lead the effort. He says that the effort is the result of a need and a possible solution coming together.
“The genesis of the project is twofold,” Hammer says. “The Kellogg Foundation conducted a needs assessment of its grantees, trying to determine how to make its work more effective on a range of issues including racial equity, food security, health disparities and transportation. At the same time, the Keith Center was pitching the idea that there are no ‘off the shelf’ answers to those problems and that we should engage in more community action research.”
Hammer gives the foundation credit for seeing the synergy and acting.
“What Kellogg did was merge those two ideas … the notion of capacity building that was coming out of their needs assessment with the notion of an explicit methodology of structural racialization in community action research to generate better knowledge and better capacity to address these issues,” he says.
The university administration has welcomed the project and the president vowed to do whatever necessary to provide assistance.
“There is great need for a resource of this nature in our city,” Wayne State University President M. Roy Wilson said in a statement. “The Keith Center is committed to promoting equality and justice. Local nonprofit organizations can be key drivers in the discussion and mitigation of civil rights challenges, and we are fortunate to have found an ally in this project with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.”
Sixty nonprofit leaders will participate in DEAL as they learn how to build capacity for their organizations to work in racial equity workshops led by national subject matter experts.
“There are a lot of great groups doing racial equity work in the city and I hope to have them involved in the planning and the work,” Hammer says.
Through trainings and discussions, they will identify long-standing structural racism and create action plans to promote change. DEAL participants will create policy recommendations and improve awareness about racial equity issues in the community.
Hammer, who holds a Ph.D. in economics in addition to a law degree, ties the economic future of the region to its ability to deal with race issues.
“We have created such polar attitudes about race and it’s pulling us all down,” Hammer says. “I would say, as an economist, that unless we’re willing to address these issues, in their real form, we as a region cannot succeed. We’re reaching a point where evidence of that is more and more visible.”
Hammer says that the first step is identify the issues and examine them.
“We have to hold these things up and not deny them. And then we need to deal with it.”