A three-part event series is delving into the connection between gentrification, economics, and racism and how those issues pertain to the current state of Ypsilanti.
The second part of the Gentrification, Economics, and Systemic Racism series took place at Parkridge Community Center, 591 Armstrong Dr., on Wednesday, Oct. 25, from 6 to 8 p.m. The panel discussion was moderated and organized by lifelong Ypsi resident Bryan Foley, and featured chief storyteller for the city of Detroit and author Aaron Foley, Ypsi mayor pro-tem Nicole Brown, Ypsi human relations commissioners Ka'Ron Gaines and Amber Fellows, and Ypsi resident Steve Pierce.
Bryan Foley says he wanted to host the event series because he believes many Ypsi residents don't know what's happening in local politics and city officials have a tendency to ignore those who are paying attention. His goal is to encourage civic engagement by starting a community conversation that allows residents to make themselves heard and listen to what others have to say.
"We’re just here to talk and to discuss. We’re not here to beat up on the mayor. We’re not here to beat up on council members. We’re not here to beat up on the city administration or staff," Foley says. "However, we are here to hold them accountable, and to let them know that we have a voice, and a voice cannot be discounted."
The proposed International Village development on Water Street was a focus of the second part of the event series. Four members of city council, including Brown, were in attendance to directly answer the many questions about the development, like why no one investigated the funding source behind city staff's controversial trip to China in advance.
The panel and audience discussed a forthcoming community benefits agreement, which would require International Village's developer to follow certain guidelines, like hiring local contractors and construction workers. Councilperson Lois Richardson assured a few audience members who were concerned the community benefits agreement was being drafted behind closed doors that the city attorney is only in the process of working on an ordinance that will allow councilors to work on the agreement alongside residents.
On Sept. 11, Foley hosted the first part of the event series, which focused on the history of Ypsilanti. Discussion topics at that session included how escaped slaves traveling on the Underground Railroad found a safe haven on Ypsi's South Side and how their descendants are worried about being displaced from the neighborhoods where their families have lived for generations. He says he was prompted to host two more events after that because there were still many unanswered questions and uncharted discussions after the first event. The third part of the event series will be held sometime in November.
"The city of Ypsilanti has a very rich history," Foley says. "Ypsilanti’s motto is pride, diversity, and heritage. And what we’re seeing is we’re willing to sacrifice — in my opinion — the city of Ypsilanti wants to sacrifice its heritage for pride and diversity, and that’s very troubling."
Brianna Kelly is the project manager for On the Ground Ypsi and an Ypsilanti resident. She has worked for The Associated Press and has freelanced for The Detroit News and Crain's Detroit Business.
All photos by Brianna Kelly.