For Sharron Allen, the creation of an equity coalition in her city is a sign of progress. Allen has lived in Sterling Heights for 32 years and said she experienced racial tension in both the neighborhood and school community when she first moved from Romulus.
“But the community had grown a lot,” she said.
Allen will be one of the members of the newly formed African American Coalition on Equity, a coalition aimed at improving race relations in the city that is home to more than 10,000 Black residents.
“I think Sterling Heights is taking a big step in letting the Black community know that they are also welcome here,” said Allen. “A lot of African Americans who don’t live in the community have a sense that Sterling Heights is not the place that they are welcome, or should live.”
“I think this committee will come together and solve some of these issues and will help communicate that Sterling Heights is a welcoming place.”
The group will be comprised of Black residents; community leaders representing government, education, health care, business, and clergy. The new coalition will also include representatives from groups like Black Lives Matter, Macomb Ministerial Alliance, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Macomb County Interfaith Center for Racial Justice and others.
More than 4,000 people marched in a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest
in Sterling Heights on Saturday, June 6 in a rally that the city's police chief described as a "good day for democracy".
“In light of recent events, city administration has taken pause to reflect on all that we have been doing in terms of diversity and inclusion in our community,” said City Manager Mark Vanderpool.
Sterling Heights city manager Mark Vanderpool with keynote speaker Andrew Humphrey at the city's Diversity Distinction Awards Dinner 2019.
“While we have forged significant and meaningful relationships among religious and ethnic communities within our city, with respect to racial diversity, we can do more, and we have a responsibility to be part of the solution," said Vanderpool. "The formation of this group is one of the first steps in that process.”
Resident John Myers III said he has a vested interest in becoming a part of the new coalition, and wants to get dialogue started. He has lived in Macomb County for 25 years, and Sterling Heights for 18, and believes the demographics in the city have changed "tremendously" over the last decade.
"When I moved to Macomb County, Sterling Heights was labeled as 'Sterling Whites'," he recalled.
"My elders indoctrinated me on how to handle any police encounter in Sterling Heights. This would include driving with my seat fully in an upright position and no baseball hat or hood on my head. It was a known fact in Sterling Heights that the Black community was a target."
Twenty years on, he is relieved to see that stigma changing.
"It’s more important for people to focus on what different racial and ethnic groups have in common, governing a unique experience with different racial and ethnic groups."
Sterling Heights resident John Myers III has witnessed changes in his city over the past 18 years.
Myers explained that one of the goals of the group is to help connect city leadership with the Black community, and that the first meeting will be a discussion on what specific goals or objectives the members of this group may have.
"I have recently met with city officials and the Youth Advisory Board, to create a more robust and service-oriented [Martin Luther King] celebration," Myers said.
The Sterling Heights’ Ethnic Community Committee has also been working within the city to promote cultural diversity since 1990, serving as a forum for issues of ethnic division and promoting cross-cultural understanding. Participants include members of the Philippino, Macedonian, Chaldean, Italian, Albanian and Sri Lankan community in Sterling Heights, but few Black residents.
“I’m thrilled to see the city taking the steps to reach out to our African American community and begin the important dialogue to ensure we are living up to our inclusionary vision for all residents,” said Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor.
“It is imperative that every single one of our residents feels equally safe and at home in our exceptional city.”
The city will host the first meeting for this group within the next month and residents interested in participating can contact the city’s community relations department here