Detroit to Flint Water Justice Journey media coverage

This article, by MCHR board member Abayomi Azikiwe, was originally posted here.

A week-long, cross-state march, organized under the theme “Clean, Affordable Water for All: Detroit to Flint Water Justice Journey,” ended in Flint, Mich., on July 10.

Organizations sponsoring the walk included the People’s Water Board, the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights, Michigan Welfare Rights Organization in Detroit and others. Activists from Highland Park, Pontiac and Flint joined the march and rallies held in all four cities.

MWRO Co-Chair Marian Kramer, who lives in Highland Park, a small municipality surrounded by Detroit, reported that residents did not receive water bills for three years due to layoffs of meter readers.

The city of Detroit is now claiming huge debts are owed by Highland Park. Massive shutoffs could be imminent.

Under emergency management and bankruptcy, the banks and corporate interests sought to shield the forces responsible for the current crisis in access and safety. In Detroit, $537 million was taken out of the system in order to terminate interest-rate swaps issued by leading financial institutions, including Chase, Bank of America, Loop Financial and Morgan Stanley.

In Flint, where the water situation is perhaps the worst, people marched and gathered at City Hall on July 10.

Although both Flint and Detroit have been removed from emergency management, the state of Michigan is still overseeing the finances of both municipalities. Water shutoffs in each city continue, but in Flint residents are also faced with the extreme deterioration of the quality of their service.

The Flint water system was connected to Detroit’s massive infrastructure until, under emergency management, it was broken off in 2014 as a “cost-cutting measure.”

Water flowing into residential homes is coming directly from the Flint River. Testing by outside experts indicates that the use of high levels of chlorine and ferric chloride could be causing corrosion in the lead and iron piping system. At least half of the homes in Flint were constructed more than 50 years ago when the use of lead was common.

New regulations based on the U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act of 1986 are not being enforced in the city. Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality has been criticized for not exercising its authority in response to complaints from Flint residents.

Flint resident holds hair and contaminated water.Today families in Flint are suffering from a number of health issues. Water from the local system has been described as not only undrinkable but unfit for washing and cooking.

Flint resident holding hair and contaminated water

Residents discussed the health problems they are facing due to contaminated water. Melissa Mays of Flint, who chaired the July 10 rally, said that she and her children were diagnosed with copper poisoning in March. The family is now in a detoxification process under medical supervision.

A Michigan American Civil Liberties Union report suggests that the local water department’s testing methods are designed to conceal the level of lead exposure of residents. Before samples are taken, residents are told to run the water in an effort to flush out the toxin build-up near the faucets.

Curt Guyette, of the ACLU of Michigan, reports, “Flint’s water contained corrosion-control chemicals until April 2014, when Flint’s ties to the Detroit water system were severed. … Discontinuing the use of the anti-corrosion chemicals allowed the toxic scale built-up on the insides of pipes over the past decades to be released into water flowing into people’s homes.”

LeeAnne Walters requested two city tests of her water. It revealed dangerously high levels of lead, charting 104 parts per billion and 397 ppb.

Yet Virginia Tech researchers found lead levels in Walters’ water had reached 13,200 ppb — more than twice the amount at which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declares water as hazardous waste. (, July 9)

An extremely angry Flint resident outside City Hall brought with her a container of brown water run from her tap. She also held a fistfull of her hair, which she said fell out after washing with this water. She blamed the local and state authorities.

Capitalist disinvestment at root of crisis

Flint has been hit over the decades by plant closings and financial ruin caused by the banks and corporations. The birthplace of the United Auto Workers is now a source of underdevelopment and political oppression.

Much like Detroit, the city’s landscape is covered with abandoned factories and commercial structures. The foreclosure rates were extremely high at the height of the Great Recession several years ago.

Local officials are hampered by the constraints placed on politicians under state supervision.

Michigan’s right-wing, multimillionaire Gov. Rick Snyder had presidential aspirations but failed miserably when he placed a statewide referendum on the ballot to raise sales taxes, aimed ostensibly to repair Michigan roads. A corporate media television outlet revealed that most of the money during the first year would go toward paying off bond debt on previous road construction schemes. After the referendum received an 80 percent “no” vote, Snyder announced he would not pursue the presidency.

The water march gained a significant amount of media coverage. Participants submitted a petition to the state Capitol in Lansing demanding clean and affordable water.

However, capitalist interests remain dominant in water management, which includes the global anti-worker firm Veolia. Every effort is being made by the ruling class to privatize the system. It will require vigilance to fight the corporate and financial interests seeking to deny safe water to the people.


For more coverage of the Detroit to Flint Water Justice Journey from start to finish, check out the following articles, listed by publication name:

Oakland County 115

Tony Trupiano interview with Lila Cabbil and Marian Kramer before walk

Michigan Radio

Fox 2 Detroit

WXYZ Detroit

Worker’s World

Huffington Post

The Republic (Columbus, Indiana)

WEYI (NBC Flint)

Seattle Pi

Central Michigan Life


Tony Trupiano interview with Kim Redigan during walkMLiveMichigan Radio (post-walk coverage)ABC 12 (Flint rally coverage)The Elkhart TruthMLive (Flint coverage)

Join us as we walk from Detroit to Flint and demand clean, affordable water for all!



Detroit to Flint Water Justice Journey

The Detroit to Flint Water Justice Journey is about lifting up the need for clean and affordable water in Michigan. The walk will begin on Friday, July 3 in Detroit where tens of thousands of citizens have had their water shut off and where the 2005 Water Affordability Plan has been passed by the Detroit City Council but never implemented. From there, the walk will continue to Highland Park where the community has been threatened with mass water shutoffs after years of administrative mismanagement. The journey will conclude on Friday, July 10 in Flint where residents reporting serious health problems related to unsafe water from the Flint River – hair loss, autoimmune disorders, skin burns, and children with lead poisoning – share their stories. Along the way, the walk will pass through cities, rural areas, lakes, rivers, and watersheds.

The walk itself is simply the thread that weaves together a series of important public events to highlight the issues by hearing from people on the front lines – local residents personally affected by unsafe and unaffordable water, concerned citizens, people committed to water justice including public health workers, attorneys, pastors, elders and youth. The key events include: the sendoff from Detroit on July 3, a cultural event and town hall meeting in Highland Park that same afternoon, a public cross-county speak out in Pontiac on Sunday, July 5, and a rally at Flint’s Town Hall on July 10. The focus is on connecting caring communities at these public events and sharing our collective concern for clean, affordable water upheld as a human right and to affirm that water is a sacred trust that should be held as a common rather than a commodity.

Governor Snyder has been invited to Flint on July 10 to hear from citizens from the cities of Detroit, Highland Park, and Flint.

Weeks ago, members of the state legislature were invited to a public hearing on water that involved testimony from these communities. Now, concerned citizens will return to Lansing via bus after the Flint rally to call for clean and affordable water at the state capitol.


Parents and teachers: Have your children or students color this page and take a picture of them holding it to post on social media using the hashtag #Detroit2Flint! Don’t forget to Tweet it to Governor Rick Synder (@onetoughnerd) to show your family or community’s support for clean and affordable water for all in Michigan!




8:00 AM: Spiritual water ritual, Underground Railroad Monument (Hart Plaza), led by indigenous Water Women

9:30 AM: Meet-up at Central United Methodist Church, walk to Water Department, and Spirit of Detroit.

10:00 AM – 11:00 AM: Send-off at Spirit of Detroit Statue (send-off is scheduled for 11:00 AM)

2:30 PM- 3:30 PM: Cultural Celebration, Nandi’s Café, 12511 Woodward Ave, Highland Park, MI 48203

4 PM to 5:30 PM: Highland Park Town Hall Meeting and Rally, St. Luke’s A.M.E., 363 Labelle St, Highland Park, MI 48203

9:00 PM Detroit Light Brigade, 9 Mile and Woodward, Ferndale, MI


7:00 PM to 9:00 PM: Meet for a Cross County Speak out, Baldwin Center, 212 Baldwin Ave, Pontiac, MI 48342


10:00 AM to 11:00 AM: Rally for clean, affordable water, Flint City Hall, 1101 S. Saginaw Street, Flint, Michigan 48502.

11:00 AM: Bus to Lansing. Arrive in Lansing 1 PM.



Friday, July 3:

8:00 AM: Underground Railroad 1 Hart Plaza Detroit, MI 48226 (Indigenous Water Women Ceremony)

9:30 AM: Central Methodist Church 3 E Adams Ave, Detroit, MI 48226 (Deliver letter to water board)

10:00 AM: Spirit of Detroit (Rally and walk sendoff at 11 AM)

*NOTE: Cars parked at Central Methodist need to be moved by noon. Will try to assist with shuttling people.

Noon (approx.): ACLU Offices 2966 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48201 (Curt Guyette/possible film)

2:00 PM (approx.): Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament 9844 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48202 (IHMs)

2:30 – 3:30 PM: Nandi’s Knowledge Café (Cultural Event)12511 Woodward Ave, Highland Park, MI 48203

4:00 – 5:30: St. Luke’s AME Church (Highland Park Town Hall and Rally) 363 Labelle St, Highland Park, MI 48203

9:00 PM: Nine Mile and Woodward (Light Brigade)

Saturday, July 4:

8:00 AM: Ferndale First United Methodist Church 2331 Woodward, Ferndale, MI 48220

Sunday, July 5:

Noon: Birmingham Unitarian 38651 Woodward Ave., Bloomfield Hills, MI 48304

All are invited to join service at 10:30 AM


Monday, July 6:

8:00 AM: Baldwin Center 212 Baldwin, Pontiac MI 48342

*NOTE: Park in gated lot. Gates locked at 5 PM.

Tuesday, July 7:

8:00 AM: Grange Hall Public Carpool Lot (exit 93 off I-75), Clarkston

Wednesday, July 8:

8:00 AM: Call 313-579-9071 that morning to arrange meeting place in Holly.

Thursday, July 9:

8:00 AM: Grand Blanc UMC 515 Bush Ave., Grand Blanc, MI 48439

*NOTE: Park on outer edges of lot; senior activity scheduled that day

Friday, July 10:

9:00 AM:  Woodside UCC Church 1509 Court St., Flint MI 48503 (Walk to City Hall begins at 9:30)

11:00 AM: City Hall Rally 1101 S. Saginaw St. Flint, MI 48502




Sponsored by:

People’s Water Board Coalition

Highland Park Human Rights Coalition

Flint Coalition for Clean Water

Michigan Coalition for Human Rights

and other orgs listed on PWB website



Be a part of history; we need YOUR help. We still need people to help with driving support on July 5, 7, and 8. We also invite people to contact us ( who are interested in walking and then staying nights at our host churches along the way as part of the core walk team.

We also are in great need of people getting the word out to everyone to take part in the Detroit – Highland Park – Ferndale events on Friday, July 3, the Pontiac Town Hall on July 6, and the final rally in Flint on July 10. The final rally will be followed by a bus to Lansing- please consider joining as a day walker for an hour, a half day, or more. Healthy snacks are always welcome.  

Gentrification and Race: Can We Have a Real Conversation?

This editorial, by MCHR board member Bill Wylie-Kellermann, was recently posted here and was originally printed in the Spring 2015 edition of On the Edge, a paper of the Detroit Catholic Worker.


The Rev. Bill Wylie-Kellermann

The Rev. Bill Wylie-Kellermann

THIS MORNING, guys came into the soup kitchen full of news that Kelly’s Mission up the street (where a number of our guests find nightly shelter) had received an offer on the building. I wasn’t surprised. A few weeks back I got a similar call from a well-heeled real estate agent in Farmington Hills asking, should the conditions be right, would I consider an offer and sell St. Peter’s Church! He said, rude and presumptuous I thought, “I’m in the business of kissing frogs, and every once in a while one of them turns out to be a prince.”

St Peter’s parish is Corktown, first neighborhood westerly adjacent to downtown. For 60 years it has been the “Catholic Worker neighborhood,” home first to St. Francis House and now to the current Worker, Day House. For the last 35 years St Peter’s has hosted Manna Community Meal, the CW soup kitchen and now houses a water station providing emergency relief to any of the 36,000 people who live without water due to shut-offs.

We sit on Michigan Ave – one of Detroit’s “spoke streets” that as Route 12 and the Red Arrow Highway goes all the way to Chicago. Yes, Michigan Avenue along the water front in the Windy City is one and the same. It was once the Native American’s Sauk Trail, though to be honest the Potowatomi and Anishenabe peoples were themselves walking a game trail, one cut through the dense forest by mastodons and other creatures. Europeans turned it into a road, partly to accommodate military movements when the two waterfronts became fortified to claim and protect commerce and to enforce Indian Removal as statehood loomed.

St. Peter’s is kitty corner from old Tiger Stadium, now a vast hole in the world, soon to be filled with a mixed use development of Police Athletic League sports, upscale housing and shops. Supported by a Federal earmark of $3 million, its public announcement probably triggered the relator’s speculative kisses.

Before our very eyes Michigan Avenue, is being redeveloped and gentrified. Looking west toward Kelley’s there is among other things a new restaurant called Gold Cash Gold. Empty some years, it was once a pawn shop. The sign and the painted brick message are touched up and left as ironic nostalgia, acclaimed as a name, a quaint reminiscence of the days when people here bet their jewelry and their hopes on paying the rent and yet escaping debt to reclaim heirlooms of family memory. Now the menu suggests an appetizer: “Crispy pig ears, papaya chutney, house hot sauce, sorrel.” Local Detroit whole hog.

Corktown and Conquistadors

Some six years ago, following a meeting with a group of new community residents, most all white, who were pressing us to close the kitchen – because “feeding people was only enabling their addictions,” I received minutes of their meeting prior. They are reproduced here in part, not to vilify but to edify. Truly. I often use them in teaching urban ministry courses. They are, in the truest sense, “classic” and ought to be part of a case study volume. Names have been deleted.

Hi Conquistadors, [remember I’m not making this up].

INTERESTED… We’ve picked four projects to get started on. (and a secret one that can’t be discussed via email…how very mysterious).
1.The Music Festival
Hopefully, this totally radical indie rock concert will be held next year in front of the train station–in tandem with tour de troit, already a successful Corktown event. XXX will be leading the Music Festival Committee–and working with XXX, who is heading up the annual tour de troit…
2. Team Bagley Market
These folks will start organizing complaints against Bagley Market, as well as rogue acts of bad will. We hope to make their operation as difficult as possible until the day when we can afford to swoop in and buy them out to open our own specialty grocery. Would anyone like to lead this team?
3. The Bermuda Triangle
This includes (but is not limited to) activism to stop the free handouts in our neighborhood that facilitate the drugs, crime and general malcontent that thrives from St Peters to the Train Station to the Mission on Michigan. XXX and I are hoping to go talk to the people at the church next week and will give an update. We’ll try being nice first…

To exegete this memo, you need to begin with “conquistadors,” which of course is “only a joke,” but a revealing one with respect to white euro-centric imperial supremacy and particularly oblivious (or not so) to the Latino cultural context of Southwest Detroit. The other way in is through the pronouns, including the possessive ones. Who are “we?” and what, by whom, is claimed as “ours?” In the wake of the memo, I proposed that we have some conversations together about a different way to do things, about community and gentrification, but the use of the latter word was deemed “pejorative and offensive.”

One element of the current neighborhood redevelopment is the proliferation of bars, brew pubs, and distilleries. I now count 17 bars on or adjacent to Michigan. Some are so close that St Peter’s is required to sign off on their liquor licenses. It’s ironic for those so concerned about enabling addictions. One distillery funded by a $7 billion Parisian company, purports to be a local production and goes by the name, Our/Detroit Vodka, both appropriating “Detroit” literally as a brand and exercising the imperial “our.”

The primary matter of note is that each of the agenda items is being addressed. The park in front of the train station now has its own conservancy and annually hosts a totally indie rock festival, along with a barbecue tent, and the starting line for the bike tour, plus an annual “corn hole” tournament. Roosevelt Park, long a space for homeless folk, had its benches officially removed to pre-empt loiterable rest. And one mid-November a police sweep carted off people’s tents and lean-tos, kindly removing residents to shelters or if need be jail. The train station itself, had been empty and abandoned for decades, stripped and windowless, a fascination for ruin porn urban spelunkers, and a perpetual set for movies – feature and indie zombie alike. Owned by real estate billionaire Matty Moroun, who also holds the Ambassador Bridge, it is now secured and commercial windows are going it.

To be frank, I was never a big fan of Bagley Market. It has had issues over the years. But rogue acts of bad will had never occurred to me. Our approach was to start a community garden across the street on church property. But now someone has swooped in to buy it; the upstairs residents are put out and the place is undergoing gut-rehab. What specialty enterprise is about to move in remains to be seen.

As to the pivots of the Bermuda Triangle, the park is dealt with. If the other two are not openly for sale, they are at least viewed as marketable targets. I confess to wondering what the buyers might envision for us at St Peter’s. Leveling the whole place and building condos from scratch? Another option: perhaps our social justice bee hive would become market rate offices and the church a performance space night-club. The sanctuary itself, with good acoustics, is deeply contemplative and beautiful. Built in the midst of the ’29 crash, it remains unfinished: walls of exposed brick do readily harken to that urban loft ambiance. The basement, preserving the linoleum, the stainless steel, and the worn woodwork, could be a restaurant – Manna Community Grill and Brew Pub.

But our guests? Those who come for food and warmth, for improvised community, for being treated with dignity and respect, who variously make the neighborhood home – would be found elsewhere.

What’s in a Name?

I used to serve as associate to a congregation in the Cass Corridor, somewhat north of Corktown. That was a neighborhood teeming with life and culture, single room occupancy hotels, streetlife in parks and porches and projects, bars where Sixto Rodriguez regularly played. A place where they use to “kick out the jams.” The church served the neighborhood, which poured daily in and out the front door. We ran a senior center, a program for the developmentally disabled, youth basketball and open meals. We had connection with the local school and were home to Michigan Welfare Rights. When they set up a tent city for homeless folks, it was next door to the church. We hosted the local community organization and founded a Housing Development Project.

Now the neighborhood has been rebranded as “Midtown.” The SRO’s are most all gone, some converted to condos. The University Police, the largest private force in the city, patrols the community. The corporations and the Medical Center pay their employees to move in as renters or buyers, though the Cass Corridor Neighborhood Development Corporation still holds and rehabs buildings for fixed and middle income folks. At the church, there is still a worshiping community on Sundays and its programs are actually larger than ever, heavily funded by the state and the foundations – but many are located elsewhere, at a big facility in northwest Detroit. What is the role and responsibility of the church in community, specifically with respect to displacement?

Rebranding, this contrived changing of names, is a common and important aspect of gentrification. Are you down with the program? Do you call it Midtown or Cass Corridor? What do you remember? What do you forget?

Ironically, the Cass in Cass Corridor is Governor/General Lewis Cass who was Andrew Jackson’s Secretary of War during Indian removal, and among the largest land owners in Michigan (including 500 acres along the Detroit waterfront). He oversaw the land concessions of indigenous community. In 1819 Chief Ogemaw-ke lamented, “Your people trespass on our hunting grounds. You flock to our shores. Our waters grow warm. Our lands melt away like a cake of ice. Our possessions grow smaller and smaller. The warm wave of the white man rolls in upon us and melts us away. Our women reproach us. Our children want homes. Shall we sell from under them the spot where they spread their blankets?” (Conot, American Odyssey). Yet the name, “Cass Corridor,” (from his farm) for all its untold irony had been embraced by a community full of life.

“Midtown,” a moniker contrived by a foundation-funded non-profit, is a name that erases not just the sordid history of Governor Cass, but the remembrance of poor and black, Chinese and Indian people’s business and streetlife. It is a name better suited to the stops of a rail line connecting downtown to the New Center area.

Names of many neighborhood schools have likewise been changed by emergency management. Take the gratuitous renaming of Finney High School to East English Village Academy (Finney was an abolitionist and East English Village is another newly minted neighborhood). A friend of mine struggled long and hard over whether to show her mother the published map which redesignates Mexicantown as “The Garment District.” The earlier name had been struggled over but was finally claimed with pride. In the thirties, 15,000 Detroiters (many native citizens) were “repatriated” back to Mexico on depression premise that the Mexicans were taking our jobs. Most who survived returned home to Mexicantown. Now some of them suddenly live in the Garment District, named for newly arrived Detroit fashion start-ups. (

Subsidized Housing in Corktown

Corktown history buffs love to tell the story, and rightly so, of the struggle to save the neighborhood from the leveling hand of urban renewal. Postwar, two neighborhoods were chosen as “blighted” and for destruction. Then as now, “blight” was a slippery term whose meaning mostly suited the purposes of those who wanted the land. Hastings Street (Black Bottom/Paradise Valley with enormous cultural assets and vitality) was African American; Corktown, originally Irish fleeing the potato famine, was by then two-thirds Maltese and Mexican. People in Corktown organized, signed petitions, did neighborhood clean-ups, improved their homes, and went to City Council hearings. Father John Mangrum, one of my predecessors at St Peter’s spoke against the clearing. “Destroy families, tear up homes and supplant them with questionable business development and the wrath of God will fall on this city.” But the Council voted unanimously to clear 129 acres between Michigan and Fort Street.

Rebuilt housing promised for 140 displaced families never materialized. Light industry filled the space, as was the city’s plan, except for a three-block stretch, a bufferland along Bagley that remained vacant for a quarter century. I remember walking across it regularly. You could flush pheasants up from the deep grass and I still have a photo of the path cross at its center where two diagonal short cuts intersected. Eventually a group of Corktown neighbors spearheaded by Shirley Beaupre, now of blessed memory, decided that subsidized housing should be built there. In 1985 they accomplished the low and moderate income project, called Clem Kern Gardens after Corktown’s other activist priest. Now surrounded by an iron grate fence, it is today virtually all black, lending Corktown an appearance of good diversity stats.

You want my guess? The suburban speculators have noticed its location and value. Perhaps the management company has received a cold call. I bet the iron fence comes down if it’s converted to condos. A new name would be in the works too.

Meanwhile, there is still subsidized housing in Corktown, but it’s of a very different sort. A number of corporations (Quicken Loans, DTE, the Detroit Medical Center, Blue Cross/Blue Shield) pay their employees to move into downtown neighborhoods. Quicken, which aggressively denies selling predatory loans but which profited enormously from the mortgage crisis in Detroit recently built a multi-million dollar fiber optic data storage site on Rosa Parks. The loan company also grants its workers $20K in forgiveable loans to buy a house in Corktown, or $2500 to rent. This is an issue for us at St Peter’s because we rent out a two flat house and the first person to apply was from Quicken. We had to decide whether we would participate in the program and to think through a policy. We do consider it a subsidy, not one enabling poor folks to live in mixed income neighborhoods, but one for corporate employees, artificially altering the market, effectively raising rents and values, and forcing out low income people. We decline officially and publicly to participate.

Michigan Ave. business start-ups are subsidized too. A number, including one of the distilleries, have gotten grants which I believe come from the ear-mark for the Tiger Stadium site. A bagel shop, great place, good coffee, nice folks, dedicated localists, got $50K. I’ll bet Gold Cash Gold too.

Displacement, Race, and the G-word

The term “gentrification,” originated in England where the landed gentry were moving back into London neighborhoods and displacing working class residents. It’s an urban economic process where depressed land values draw investment which changes those values (taxes, rents, and costs) driving people out. But it is also where driving certain people out changes land values. Those who take offense at use of the term in this neighborhood constantly assert that no-one is being displaced.

Further downtown, but toward Corktown there is an apartment building which has been renamed the Albert, after its famous architect, Albert Kahn. Residents were evicted and a major rehab was undertaken. This is common as center city vacancy rates are now less than 5%. As conversion became complete a promotional video, geared to young people was produced. Largely an advertisement for downtown, it portrayed the opportunity and resources of city living. “It’s our generation’s turn now.” Visuals were full of marble countertops, strip lighting and hardwood floors -and mostly white folks crooning about our place, our time. On youtube it generated lots of hits, many as unanticipated push back. The video equivalent of the conquistador memo. Before they could pull it down, brilliant guerilla film-maker Kate Levy snatched it off public media and mashed it up with interviews she had done with the mostly black residents in walkers and wheel chairs telling their struggle to remain in the building or have some of the apartments reserved for them. It’s very moving. ( This was not a Dan Gilbert/Quicken building, but he had one just like it next door – one of his seventy downtown properties bought at fire sale prices.

A few months ago, Nolan Finley, opinion editor at The Detroit News, who has been an unabashed supporter of emergency management, new white “Mayor” Mike Duggan, Detroit bankruptcy, and water shut-offs, wrote a surprising lament about downtown asking “Where are the Black People?” He’d suddenly noticed their absence from upscale venues and downtown festivals.

It’s a clear red flag when you can sit in a hot new downtown restaurant and nine out of 10 tables are filled with white diners, a proportion almost exactly opposite of the city’s racial make-up… It should stop us in our tracks — as it did me the other day — when a group of 50 young professionals being groomed for future leadership shows up to hear advice from a senior executive, and there’s only one black member among them.

Why hadn’t African Americans done the same thing as the white suburban creatives seizing opportunity in Detroit? It was mystery to him. He was pretty sure it wasn’t about racism and thought it outright ridiculous to say it was about gentrification. (Detroit News 12/14/14)

Not everyone is averse to the G-word. George Jackson Jr., now resigned as head of the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, named it just “one of the costs of progress.” He told a Grosse Pointe audience, “When I look at this city’s tax base, I say bring on more gentrification…I’m sorry, but, I mean, bring it on.” Emergency managed and mayoral policies do encourage it.

Last year Spike Lee let loose his notorious rant about gentrification in Bedford Stuyvesant – police protection, city services, name changes, access to schools, and cultural disrespect all figured in. Yet there are big differences between Detroit gentrification and that same process in Brooklyn or Chicago where land values, population density, and market centers do create intense competition and conspire rapid displacement. To understand gentrification in Detroit involves panning back to the bigger picture of displacement in the city as a whole.

Moving People Out

The reduction of the city’s population from 2 million in the fifties to maybe 700,000 at present happened in waves. Nearly all were mediated by race as a matter of public and economic policy. Long before the 1967 rebellion, white flight was well organized. The suburbs were created post-war by guaranteed GI Bill and FHA loans that were only available for new housing and only for whites. Restrictive covenants (explicitly forbidding sale to blacks) built into title deeds were legally enforceable until the mid-fifties and functioned de facto thereafter. Guns and baseball bats backed them up. When housing discrimination was made technically illegal, banks devised “redlining” policies to withhold loan credit from black neighborhoods which were “not good investments,” but offered it freely in white ones.

Disinvestment from the city was best signaled by the invention of the shopping mall, essentially by JL Hudsons – the first one in the US just north of 8 Mile Road. Eventually Hudsons abandoned their downtown facility which sat as a ghostly hulk until it was famously imploded. Interstate expressways that decimated, divided, and displaced communities of color also enabled whites to move, but drive back into the city for their blue and white collar jobs. Eventually, the auto companies moved headquarters or plants to the suburbs, before they discovered the south and south of the border.

There was good money to be made in moving white people. Real estate companies developed “blockbusting,” a practice of controlling the line between the black and white communities. They would move one black family into a block and then send postcards to all the other houses on the block: “We’ve sold a home on your street; if you might also be interested in selling please call…” Racial and economic fears were fused and people indeed sold quick. I went to Cooley High School in the sixties and I saw those postcards on Ardmore Street. Cheap homes invited absentee landlords and speculators extracting rent without maintaining properties. Meanwhile, real estate developers were busy throwing up homes and stripmalls, inventing suburban sprawl. White flight, industrial flight, job flight, and capital flight were structurally engineered, and did indeed strip the city’s tax base, devalue its land, impoverish its people, and corrupt its housing stock.

Fast forward to the most recent waves of population loss, equally driven by race. The financial crisis and depression of 2007 were constructed on financial instruments which bundled sub-prime mortgages into marketable securities. Predatory loans had actually been targeted and disproportionately sold in black communities. People who once owned their homes outright found themselves facing impossible balloon payments, foreclosure, and eviction. A city, once holding the largest number of homeowners in the nation has become the city with the highest foreclosure rate. The whole thing was actually illegal, but the banks got bailed out. And then their loans (not the current value of the home they took back but the full value of the original loan) were covered by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Now if they sit on the house, refusing to sell, and it burns mysteriously, they get the insurance settlement as well. Sounds like triple dipping to me. It was a massive financial extraction that further wasted black neighborhoods in Detroit.

At the last census there was a scramble to count homeless folks and find a million people in Detroit, but it turned out we could only locate 713,000. Geez, what happened to all those people? Expelled? Displaced? Irresponsible borrowers consigned to the economic darkness.

And here is where the Detroit gentrification narrative diverges from Chicago or Bed Sty. A city of 139 square miles now has over 40 square miles in cleared land, many in small parcels. So infrastructure for twice the people. A certain logic dictates what Mayor Bing called downsizing. But how?

There is a 1 inch thick book of maps called Detroit Future City, a study funded by foundations. It’s not a democratically accountable city planning document, but the mayor’s chief planner once called it his new bible. It makes not a single mention of race, or racial distribution in the city, but it suggests neighborhoods which have a future and will receive infrastructure and support, and others whose future is to become green space or water retention areas. This also means clearing land into large tracks which can be developed later or sooner. What about the folks who still live in those areas, who have hung in and tried to hold community in a deteriorating neighborhood, planting gardens in the shards? Are they getting eminent domain payments for their properties.

No. But here is how they can be encouraged to leave: withdraw city services. Turn off the lights. Close the neighborhood schools and let them decay before your eyes. Churches can be withdrawn too. (Before the last round of church closings the cardinal sat down with the mayor presumeably to hear which neighborhoods had no future). When precincts go, crime increases intolerably. There is a history in Detroit of using drug traffic concentration to clear neighborhoods slated for redevelopment. Think Brush Park, State Fair Grounds, Detroit Airport. If you turn off hydrants and distance firehouses, smoke or fire can do the same thing. Years ago in Poletown arson was funded by demolition contractors paying kids to set blazes – it being easier to haul off a burned out hulk half carried away on the wind. But the winds of fear and smoke also carry people off.

Residential water can be shut off. That drives out renters first. Last year there were upwards of 30,000. With spring at hand the shut-off season is about to resume with 36,000 homes slated, 3,000 per week. Moreover, water bills are now attached as liens to tax bills, so home owners can be foreclosed for being in arears. This holy week, 62,000 homes in Detroit go into tax foreclosure – 37,000 of them occupied. What, a hundred thousand mostly black folks sent packing from their inconvenient neighborhoods? Their properties will go the largest landlord in the city: the Detroit Land Bank. (The Atlantic,Oct. 2014 “One fifth of Detroit’s Population Could Lose Their Homes”).

Isn’t there money to keep people in their homes? There is: more than $400 million in federal funds designated for Hardest Hit Homeowners. But it’s not being released by the Governor. Well, a third of it has been released for demolition and blight removal. The Detroit Blight Removal Authority is headed by Bill Pulte, 26 year old grandson of the largest homebuilder in the country, based in Bloomfield Hills. And the Detroit Blight Task Force, which did the mapping of neighborhoods and the structures to be demolished, is headed by, yes, Dan Gilbert. Both have vested interests in clearing black and poor neighborhoods of Detroit.

Here we come close to gentrification, Detroit-style. There are increasingly two Detroits. One growing, largely white and monied – neighborhoods along the riverfront and the Woodward corridor, as well as a few others along the spoke streets of the city. The other is largely black and shrinking. The one is privileged with resources public and private. Wealth from the other is squeezed. Displacement in the latter benefits the former in resources, infrastructure, and land value.

Think about it: the marketable value of St Peter’s corner goes up not just because of development across the street, but because of expelling people and clearing land in other neighborhoods. The market, as they say, becomes more focused. We are privileged by their loss. Does it have to be so?

Our Confession

If you live in the Catholic Worker neighborhood and feel judged, even convicted, by this story and you are still with me, then you are the very person I am hoping would read. If you live or work or worship in the Catholic Worker neighborhood and are happily reading along because, like me, you could feel justified by this story, then you too are one I am hoping would read. If you live in a part of the city and have qualms about your location, if you live in the suburbs and know the real history of how you got there, if you reside in a portion of the city under assault as blighted and without future, even if you are a public official, or a private one for that matter, tracking the narratives about gentrification and having a hand in public policy – then perhaps we have gathered the very readers I’d hoped.

My own confession is that I live in a two-block stretch of Southwest Detroit which could readily become a white enclave. When our family moved here more than twenty years ago it was the aging rear guard of an eastern European neighborhood since become majority Latino. At one point there were seventeen connected households of white families, part of the extended Catholic Worker activist community. We had a common life together on our block, but not much relationship to our neighbors. Notice the pronouns. I am confessing them.

When it came time for all our children to begin high school, a number of our community moved out of the city, largely for the sake of education. Our family stayed on the block, but our girls went to an excellent Catholic high school in Farmington Hills. This was during the first state takeover of the public schools at the turn of the century by the Engler administration – done in order to control, direct, and extract nearly a billion dollars in bond money for school reconstruction, but it also was also the beginning of a process dismantling public education in Detroit. To facilitate that a campaign by New Detroit and others denigrating DPS was developed, and I suppose we bought the mainstream narrative.

Our family was privileged to have our daughters well educated. They are still on the block or in the community engaging the city’s movement struggles for justice. I’m proud of them. Indeed a number of the young people who moved away are coming home to our street, rerooting. As that happens (we are now much more connected in community with neighbors on the block) and as other young white folks with good urban politics are likewise drawn to the neighborhood, we are forced to be asking ourselves: how do we keep from gentrifying our own street? We slow new moves. And we keep this critical confessional question before our hearts.

Gentrification for some is a calculated strategy. But for others, much like white privilege, it operates in a blissful self-ignorance. What water? says the fish. Both must be named to be seen, and often painfully so. Both must be confessed. I’d be glad it this story was part of that confession.

The questions remain. Can we have a real conversation about gentrification in Detroit? How about here in St. Peter’s parish, in the Catholic Worker neighborhood? I can say we’d be willing to host it. Could we honor the history and struggle of the neighborhood and city, not as ironic kitsch nostalgia, but as a way of joining a living struggle for justice now going on? Is gentrification just a relentless process that grinds on oblivious of human lives, or can it be creatively resisted and altered inside and out? Can a neighborhood be consciously and truly mixed income, including street people, or is there no alternative to apartheid security? What would we have to slow or stop, what encourage and support? Could the “our” in our neighborhood be not exclusionary, but wide and universal? Whose city? Our City! Whose neighborhood? Our neighborhood! Whose community? Our Beloved Community!

Bill Wylie-Kellermann is a United Methodist pastor under appointment to St Peter’s since 2006. A nonviolent community activist, teacher and writer, his ministry extends in a number of directions. This article originally appeared in On the Edge, a paper of the Detroit Catholic Worker, Spring 2015. It also appeared on the website of Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management

The Making of America’s Premiere Social Ethicist: Reinhold Niebuhr in Detroit: 1915-1928

Michigan Coalition for Human Rights invites you to:


Presented by Rev. Harry T. Cook

Monday, May 18, 7:30 p.m.

Barth Hall, 4800 Woodward Avenue, Detroit

Rev.HarryCook-218x300Facilitator: Rev. Harry T. Cook

Cook is a retired Episcopal priest and a scholar of religious ideas and the texts from which they arose. He is, as well, a historian of the city of his birth (Detroit). Cook is the author of eight books and publishes a weekly on-line essay that enjoys a readership across the United States and Canada, in Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, France and South Africa. Cook served two Detroit parishes from in the 1960s and 70s (Old Christ Church and Emmanuel Parish).

He was editor of The Record, the news monthly of the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan from 1971-1979. From 1979 to 1987, he was the religion editor and later a columnist at the Detroit Free Press. He returned to parish work in 1987 as rector of St. Andrew’s, Clawson from which he retired in 2009.

Fighting Citizen’s United

MCHR went to the MI Democratic Convention on Valentine’s Day- to show our LOVE for Michigan and Detroit! Stay tuned for a writeup on what happened.

Here’s some info on other people who are fighting the good fight against Citizens United:

Wolf Pac Michigan is the state arm of Wolf Pac, an organization started by Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks (TYT), the largest online news show in the world. Wolf Pac’s stated goal is to destroy Citizens United and get money out of politics by getting state legislators to call for an Article V constitutional convention of the states. Three of the necessary thirty-four states have called for a constitutional convention to overturn Citizens United so far (Vermont, California, and Illinois). Here’s some more info on Wolf Pac, from Cenk himself:

Not only was Wolf Pac MI be at the convention to spread the good word and recruit folks to help get money out of politics, TYT Detroit was also there. TYT Detroit is the social wing of the Wolf Pac movement in MI and is a great organization to meet, network with, and have fun with other progressive-minded people in our region.

Kim Redigan: An Open Letter to My Students After My Arrest for Disorderly Conduct


Dear students:

Some of you have contacted me after seeing news of my arrest for a nonviolent action around the water shutoffs here in Detroit. While I am touched by your concern, I implore you to reserve your support for those being affected by the shutoffs and your own generation, which, unless things change, is on track to inherit a commodified world in which beauty, nature, life itself will be sold off to the lowest corporate bidder, an affront to all that is good, decent and human.

The action in which I and several others engaged was only a small gesture of loving resistance, a humble offering of our own bodies against the dehumanizing and democracy-crushing effects of life under Detroit’s state-appointed emergency manager. Pope Paul VI once said the world needs witnesses more than it needs teachers, and in times like these, to be a teacher may mean to move the classroom to the street in order to bear witness to the grave injustices that are harming our neighbors.

The glaring disparity between the rich and the poor in Detroit and the breathtaking rapidity with which that gap is widening is downright biblical. With its adult sandboxes, whimsically painted street-side pianos, and upscale lofts, downtown Detroit has become a glittering playground for the pioneers of the “new” Detroit while blocks away, children are unable to brush their teeth or flush their toilets.

To put it plainly, this is sin. “I was thirsty, and you … shut off my water.”

While I know that for some of you, the image of one of your teachers being led off in handcuffs is jarring, you should not be surprised. As discussed in class, we plant our feet on the good soil of a biblical tradition and body of social teachings that demand justice and a preferential option for the poor. If we fail to incarnate these teachings, they remain dry as dust. How can we study the prophets, the Gospels, the encyclicals, and the saints and not act? As it has been said, “To know and not to do is not yet to know.”

After witnessing home after home being shut off in the early-morning hours where contractors mark their work with a bold streak of blue spray paint (an action that suggests a sort of reverse Passover ritual), after listening to stories of people trying to stave off the inevitable (life is always complicated when money is tight), and after stuffing towelettes into baggies for elders to use as bathing kits, I had to act.


When I joined others in blocking the contracted shutoff trucks from leaving that morning, I acted as a mother, teacher and follower of Jesus, conscious of the privilege I carry, a privilege not afforded those who are so often casualties of a soul-numbing legal system that discriminates against the poor and people of color.

In light of those whose very existence in the face of brutal and unrelenting injustice is a daily act of resistance, our action was a mere crumb, a tiny ripple, an embarrassingly small gesture of solidarity. A way of trying to bring some decency and order to a disordered situation.

Ironically, we were arrested for disorderly conduct, an interesting charge for a teacher whose daily life of bells, schedules, and respectful classroom conversation is predicated on good order. There is another kind of order, however, that throughout history has been used to keep the boots of brutes and empires on the backs of people, especially the poor and vulnerable.

This was the so-called order of the day that prompted the prophets to raise their voices to the high heavens over the ruthless exploitation of widows and orphans and the oppressive order of the day that compelled Jesus to turn over tables in the temple.

And this is the gut-wrenching, heartbreaking order of the day here in Detroit, where tens of thousands of people are having their water shut off despite the protestations of local citizens, nurses from around the country, the United Nations, and people of goodwill from around the globe.

No, if anything is disorderly, it is an imposed system of governance that is disenfranchising citizens (especially in African-American communities), uprooting the poor and working class, privatizing the commons, and denying babies and elders the human right to water.

In biblical terms, the disorder of the present moment can best be understood as an aggressive assault by the powers and principalities, rapacious (dare I say demonic) economic and social forces that are crushing the poor in gross violation of the law of love articulated in Matthew 25 and the beatitudes.

This is a time for both lamentation and action. A time to wage love, as the mother of Detroit’s water movement, Charity Hicks, counseled, with all the courage and compassion we can muster.

There is much more I want to say, but when I see you in class in a few weeks, we will discuss these things.

You are scholars — do the research and then take to heart the words of Pope Francis who rails against the idolatry of money, the “new tyranny,” as he calls it.

When we get back to school, we will sit quietly with Francis’ question: “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” One of the first things we’ll do upon our return is discuss the core principle of Catholic social teaching — the dignity of the human person — something worth pondering in times such as these.

For now, turn your attention to those around you and your own future. Know that there are elders in the community who have given their lives to this struggle for a very long time and come to this sacred work with hard-fought wisdom. Listen to them. Respect them. Learn from them. Stand in solidarity with the good and graced work already going on.

Study the historical context of the present moment, do social analysis in concert with others, and then decide where to place your feet.

Jesus chose to stand with the least among us. Where will you choose to stand?

What will you do to bring good order to a disordered world that needs you to wage love with everything you’ve got?

As published August 6th, 2014 in National Catholic Reporter


Kim Redigan is the Vice-Chair of the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights, Secretary of
Pax Christi Michigan’s State Council, and on the Coordinating Committee of the Detroit Area
Peace and Justice Network, where she represents Meta Peace Team (formerly Michigan Peace
Team), and the Detroit Catholic Worker. Kim spends most of her time working with Meta Peace
Team where she volunteers as a nonviolence trainer and serves on domestic and international
peace teams, including teams in the West Bank and Egypt. Kim has a Master’s degree in
Religious Studies from the University of Detroit Mercy, a B.A. in English from the University of
Michigan-Dearborn, and a Master of Arts in Social Justice from Marygrove College. Over the
past nine years, Kim has taught courses in World Religions, Catholic Social Teaching, and
Spiritual Biography at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School. Prior to that, Kim taught
English for ten years at Holy Redeemer High School in southwest Detroit. She is also involved
in Women in Black – Detroit and represents Pax Christi as a Jobs with Justice affiliate. Kim and
her husband Matt are parents of four children.

Kim Redigan writes about privatization of public resources, contempt for the impoverished, and her own personal experiences with tough choices for Common Dreams

MCHR Vice-Chair Kim Redigan writes for Common Dreams:

Today, families in Detroit, living under an emergency manager imposed by a governor committed to privatizing every inch of the state, are having their water shut off.  A few days ago, the United Nations, at the behest of local activists, issued a statement on the shutoffs.

This is what it’s come to  –  appealing to an international body to uphold the basic human right to water.

The situation in Detroit is, of course, a result of systemic injustices deeply rooted in racism, injustices that have been analyzed by minds far better than mine.

No, the question I ask is not academic.

I am honestly trying to understand the hatred that is reserved for the poor in this country, hatred as deep and noxious as a tar sands trail.

How to explain the downtown waiters I spoke with yesterday who snorted, “If they can’t pay their bills, too bad.” Or the mean-spirited letters to the editor penned by folks who seem oblivious to the outsourced jobs and the predatory lending schemes that have ravaged this city.  Or the vitriol of self-righteous people who don’t understand that Detroit is the canary in the proverbial coal mine – a harbinger of the structural adjustment plan that is coming to a suburb near them.

Yup, just get an education at one of the abysmal state-controlled schools in Detroit, take out a college loan at exorbitant interest rates, and then ride the downtown People Mover to nowhere to find a job in a town with an unemployment rate double the national average.  Oh yeah, and eat your soup by candlelight after paying your water bill with the money set aside for electricity.  If your boots are still salvageable after the coldest winter in history, grab hold of those fraying straps and, like any good American, pull yourself up and live the dream!

Although today I am privileged to have a job and modest home, it wasn’t always that way.

We were newly married, going to school, having babies, and working minimum-wage jobs during the Reagan years. Having been raised in working-class, cash-carrying families, neither of us fully understood the interest game, and when a major bank dangled a line of credit before our young eyes we, foolishly, bit the bait. For years, this single loan of a few thousand dollars hovered over our lives like a drone.

Unexpected medical expenses, broken-down cars, and rising utility rates culminated in our falling into a deep hole that seemed to reach all the way to China, an ironic thought given the globalization that was taking hold at that time. We wore hand-me-downs, lived on cheap carbs, and cut our own hair.

Despite our best efforts, we always seemed to come up short.

Eventually, we turned to the cash advance “service centers” that were popping up in our west side neighborhood at that time like boils on an old man’s back. Taking out a $100 loan on Wednesday in order to pay a utility bill due on Thursday only to owe $130 the following Wednesday led to unrelenting stress which led to illness which led to medical bills which led to a soul-crushing vicious cycle.

Ultimately, we filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in order to pay off our debts.  The humiliating experience of standing in a crowded courtroom before a dour judge who demanded an accounting of the most minute expenditures related to childrearing was an exercise in solidarity with others in that grim room.

For the next several years we did penance by squeezing our large family into a minuscule rental home that had no shower, garage, or privacy. While we found a way to make it work, we lived under the scornful gaze of our landlords, a suburban couple who ruled over their dynasty of shoddy homes with all the arrogance of third-world despots.

When we arranged to see the home for the first time, I was pregnant with our fourth child. I will never forget the shame I felt as I donned a dress the size of Texas in order to disguise my pregnancy.  My shame deepened when Mrs. Landlord haughtily raised a plucked eyebrow and said she couldn’t imagine how we could raise three children there.

After we moved in, we were model renters, only once asking for a ten-day reprieve because of a family funeral.  In a great show of benevolence, our landlords granted the extension with the caveat that we pay a ridiculously high penalty fee.  The resentment I felt on that occasion and others when we had to acquiesce to the demands of extortionists has never left me.

Although my experience does not even scratch the surface of what it means to be poor, it’s allowed me to understand the complex and terrible choices people must often make in order to survive.

When a Detroit water board commissioner trumpets the fact that a big chunk of people pay their water bills within 24 hours of shutoff, he misses the real story. The story of families choosing water over rent, water over electricity, water over food.

There are always choices to be made when one is poor.

Today, those with money gather before fountains that splay bursts of blue water against the skyline of a city that is turning off the water of its citizens. When asked about the shutoffs, they stir their iced drinks and use words like “responsibility” and “laziness” and recite racist tropes about Bridge cards and steaks.

Their words are parroted by those hanging on to their own jobs, homes, and water by a tenuous thread.  By those who deny their own precariousness by projecting hatred onto those who languish only a deck below on this sinking ship.

Today, we’ve reached the point where a child with an empty cup is an object of contempt.

Why do we hate the poor?

Perhaps we hate the poor because they are the prophets of a future that awaits us all. A future of water shutoffs for the many and splaying fountains for the few.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.
Kim Redigan is a mother, teacher, nonviolence trainer, and human rights activist from Detroit who blogs on spirituality and social justice at