HOLDING HER OWN: Tara Wall, a conservative pundit and strategist for Mitt Romney, is a CNN panelist, a columnist for the Washington Times, and a defender of traditional values. She has debated a variety of progressive leaders, including the Rev. Al Sharpton (left) at a 2007 National Urban League convention. (Photo: Robert Cohen/Newscom)
Last month, when Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign hired veteran GOP operative and conservative pundit Tara Wall as its senior communications adviser, many assumed the former Massachusetts governor was preparing to get serious about his outreach to the black community. But Wall, one of the most high-profile black conservatives on the media circuit, says her primary job will be to shape the presumptive GOP nominee’s overall communication strategy — her ability to appeal to blacks, women, and other groups will presumably be a side benefit for the Romney team.
Still, as Gov. Romney takes on the nation’s first black president, it would be silly to think he wasn’t making a play for the black vote by bringing Ms. Wall onboard. As reported in The Washington Post, Romney’s plan is not so much to battle Democrats for the Black vote (he knows that would be a losing game), but to demonstrate to independent and swing voters that he “can be inclusive and tolerant in his thinking and approach.”
Ms. Wall will have her work cut out for her. Romney’s infamous quote that he’s “not concerned about the very poor” and his lack of clarity on the immigration issue have left him looking out of touch on social justice matters. And then a recent visit to a poor black neighborhood in Philadelphia to talk about education was greeted by unfriendly crowds — and some harsh criticism from Philly Mayor Michael Nutter. But, as Ms. Wall observes, Romney did show up, and he’s eager to demonstrate his willingness to interact with diverse communities.
If Philadelphia is any indication, it’s going to be a long, brutal road for Gov. Romney if he’s serious about breaking down the walls between the GOP and non-white communities. But Wall likes their chances. She recently spoke to UrbanFaith’s news and religion editor Christine Scheller about the challenge of being a black Republican, why Barack Obama is a likable guy, and how Mitt Romney’s policies will be good for the African American community. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
URBAN FAITH: Can you tell us about your journey from television journalist to columnist to CNN contributor, to adviser to the GOP, and now adviser to Governor Mitt Romney?
TARA WALL: Politics and journalism have been a part of my life since I was a kid. I always knew I wanted to be a reporter, and I always knew I wanted to be civically engaged, so I always did things in that vein to bridge the gap between people of different cultures and backgrounds. I told my pastor I wanted to do both and he said, “You can’t do politics and reporting. You have to pick one or the other.” At the time, you really couldn’t. Now it’s a little different. The worlds do meld. Throughout my career, my interest always went politically. I had been covering Governor Engler as an education reporter and literally got recruited by someone who worked in his administration to come work as a liason in his Detroit office. I loved it, and by virtue of doing that, I also worked on the first Bush campaign. I really believed President Bush’s message and wanted to support him. My story about becoming a conservative Republican is a whole other tier, but I always knew that I had conservative values. I was raised that way.
But you didn’t always identify as a Republican?
When I first went away to college at Florida A & M, I joined the school newspaper and I joined a political organization. The only political organization there was the Florida Young Democrats. Somebody asked me why I was a Democrat. I didn’t know that I was; I didn’t know I was anything at that point. I didn’t like that I didn’t know the answer to that question. So it wasn’t until I started examining both sides that I knew I was more aligned conservatively. I also credit the fact that I had the benefit of hearing people’s full speeches when I covered political events. At the time school choice was huge and I covered that extensively. I found myself agreeing with education reform, welfare reform, and less government.
ON MESSAGE: As Mitt Romney senior communications adviser, Tara Wall will shape the campaign's overall communication strategy.
In the 1950s, when it was perfectly acceptable and expected that some people would need welfare, my grandmother had to raise five kids on her own after my grandfather left her. She didn’t want welfare. She wanted to raise her kids on her own and she did. She went back to school because she didn’t want the government taking care of her kids. I grew up with that mentality. My parents worked very hard. I am middle class and worked from the time I was 14 years old. We were people of faith. We went to church. Those are some of the things that shaped me.
I never thought I would be a mouthpiece for the party, because as a reporter, I liked being independent. I liked having the ability to disagree, but I remember being at a rally with President Bush and it struck me how humble he was and how he spoke so highly of his mother and her impact on his life and his faith. That struck a chord with me, and so I definitely wanted to help the campaign after that. I did that for a year and then I got right back into TV in St. Louis. Then 9/11 happened, and everyone got laid off, including me. I thought maybe God was trying to tell me something, that maybe this business wasn’t for me anymore. I decided to go back to Detroit because 9/11 was devastating for everyone, including me, and I just wanted to go home. I had my own TV show in Detroit, which I loved, and had no plans to leave. Then I got recruited by the Republican National Committee to help get President Bush reelected. Had I not had Ed Gillespie on my show, I probably would not have gone. But I grilled him. I asked him, “What are you going to do to be inclusive and build the party?” I was so struck and so awed by his response. I just felt like, “This guy really gets it. He really understands what’s needed and how to communicate on this level.” About a month later I got the call from the RNC. It was one of the toughest decisions I ever had to make, but I kept telling myself that someone has to deliver this message and maybe I’m the person they need help do it.
Is your public service grounded in your faith?
It’s grounded in a lot things. It’s grounded in faith and family. A lot of what continued to develop from a civic standpoint was born out of my faith and the principles we were taught in that regard in church, but I fell in love with civics when I was in fifth grade. I was one of those kids who watched cartoons and the news. In high school, I watched C-span. I always felt a moral responsibility and a moral obligation to be the underdog and tell peoples’ stories. I know what it feels like to be bullied. People always say, “How can you do this? How do you take on so much? You’re anomaly.” But my dad raised to have a thick skin. I think we’re all here for a purpose. Not to sound too cheesy, but I feel like this is what my life destiny is. God gave me the ability to be in front of a lot of people, to have a great career doing TV, and then to use those abilities to help others articulate their messages.
I hope to help do that with the campaign. The issues that are presented to us cross racial barriers. There are racial disparities that exist, but there is more than a one-party solution to those issues. I just want folks that look like me to know that there are other options. There are more ways to address these issues and I’d like them to give us a chance. As Governor Romney goes out and speaks about some of these issues in our communities, I think he’s very sensitive to listening and I think that’s very important. I’m here to assist in that area.
What will your strategy be for helping to make Governor Romney appealing to communities of color?
I think we all know that 90 percent, if not more, of blacks are Democrats and will vote for President Obama. So, people need to know that we do have a message and that the Obama campaign doesn’t have a lock on the black vote. Our goal is not to take any vote for granted. We also have to make sure that we’re continuing to reach out broadly to our base, our base of black conservatives, Republicans, moderates, those who have supported us in the past and those who may have voted for Obama, but are looking for us to say, “Come back home.”
Do you think Governor Romney’s recent visit to a Philadelphia charter school was a mistake, or was his visit to that predominantly African American school reported inaccurately?
PHILADELPHIA STORY: On May 24, Gov. Romney greeted students in a computer class at Universal Bluford ES, a charter school in West Philadelphia. His visit to the neighborhood sparked criticism and debate. (Clem Murray/Newscom)
It was unfortunate how it was characterized. That an elected official [Mayor Michael Nutter] decided to come and bracket an educational event was a little absurd. He certainly has that right, but Governor Romney was welcomed at the school. Parents and teachers who want choice absolutely welcomed his message. They were happy he was there. I think that this goes a long way in showing that Governor Romney is open to listen to and from those folks who know what’s best for their schools and for their kids. He has a great message about closing the gap between minority and non-minority students. What has President Obama done to help bridge that gap? We see one-in-three young black kids right now have no work. We see the unemployment rate in the black community at a staggering 13 percent and we’ve had 40 months of unemployment. Those are things that need to be the focus, not these distractions.
Why are Romney’s ideas good for the black community? For example, how will his ideas and policies impact the high unemployment rate in the black community?
He has outlined a number of things he would do his first day in office. Some of the things we have to look at are the reasons people are out of work. It’s harder to find jobs because job-killing regulations are costing this economy billions of dollars. President Obama wants to raise taxes on Americans, particularly small start-up businesses that employ half of all private-sector workers. They’re not able to do that. They’ve been hindered from [hiring new workers] because of the tax burden and regulations. Mitt Romney thinks reforming the tax code is fundamental. Lowering the tax rate to 25 percent, making the R&D tax credit permanent. That in itself fosters innovation. Working with congress to lower individual tax rates by 20 percent across the board. That helps the small business, because a lot of times, these small business folks are being lumped in with corporations and it’s not right. I run my own small business, so I know what it’s like. It’s stifling. I’ve heard from small business owners who say in 40 years, they haven’t not been able to hire this way. They can’t do anything because they feel so hindered by all of this.
That’s one part. The other part Governor Romney has talked about is repealing regulations on day one and capping annual increases and regulatory costs at zero dollars. That also adds thousands of jobs and billions of dollars to the economy. This is his number one focus as opposed to President Obama, who doesn’t seem to be able to focus on the economy right now. He’s focusing on everything else, visiting celebrities and going on shows. If we could just focus on getting the economy back, it’s going to help African Americans and those who have been disproportionately hurt by this entire economic situation.
Why aren’t we talking more about black unemployment? Black joblessness? We are, but I have yet to hear anything substantive from this administration. And, God knows, I’m sure President Obama means well. He’s absolutely a likable person. I’m sure folks feel compelled every time they hear him speak, but what has the soaring rhetoric resulted in? When you have 40 straight months of job loss, what has that done to the black community? What has that done for black job growth and entrepreneurship?
Is there any hope of shaking up the traditional alignment of Black Christians with the Democratic party and white evangelicals with the Republican party?
Black conservatives, particularly in the South, will cross party lines to vote on certain initiatives. While they overwhelming still vote Democrat, they’re more conservative from a faith perspective. I don’t know how that will translate this election. I suspect that, at least from the folks that I’ve heard from, there are those who are disappointed from a faith perspective in some decisions that the president has made, but some of them will probably still vote for him. There are others that say, “I’m not sure. I’m still pondering how much that means to me.” I don’t know that it’s going to cause people of faith in the black community to overwhelmingly come to our side. I think black conservatives, yes; black moderates who are on the fence, maybe yes; but black Democrats who may disagree with him, I don’t know that that’s necessarily going to be a game changer for them. That would be just me pontificating, and that doesn’t mean we won’t speak out and court all those who value the platform that the party and the candidate stands for. Hopefully we’ll reach those that we might be able to find some bridges with.
Can the GOP leverage politicians of color like Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, and Nikki Haley to attract a more diverse constituency or will it always appear that these politicians are tokens?
LISTENING TO THE PEOPLE: During his Philadelphia trip, Romney participated in a roundtable discussion on education issues with Kenneth Gamble (glasses and hat), chairman of Universal Companies, the non-profit that runs the charter school Romney visited. (Clem Murray/Newsocm)
I think [Gov. Romney] already is attracting a more diverse constituency, and I reject the notion of tokenism. It’s long been discounted. These are sitting elected officials who are Republicans. So that’s absurd. There are many in the black and Latino community who have voluntarily come out and supported Governor Romney: Condoleezza Rice, former Education Secretary Rod Paige, who is on his education advisory panel, Representative Tim Scott, Marco Rubio. These are folks who support the ideals and the leadership that Governor Romney represents and that’s what’s important. You don’t have to go that far to find many others like them, despite the narrative the media puts out there.
It was ironic at the Philadelphia event that it was the same day or the day after Secretary Rod Paige was announced as an education advisor and no one even picked it up. No one interviewed him or talked to him about his support for Governor Romney and why he was helping him to craft some positive solutions relative to schools and school choice.
What is the biggest misconception that women and people of color have about Mitt Romney?
The problem with perceptions is that they change day-to-day. One day he’s up; one day he’s down. Right now he seems to be up. His numbers have gone up a little among women. Obviously you never want to fuel perception any further if it’s completely inaccurate and you definitely want to correct mistruths. It’s up to pundits to decide about perceptions. They’re going to hash that around. The campaign is focused on insuring the message gets out to women, to minorities, and to others across the country, what his record is, what he believes are the best tools to move this country forward, and reminding voters of the abysymal record we’ve seen these past four years with President Obama.
You’ve been a Republican adviser for nearly a decade. Have you been criticized by other people of color for your party affiliation or are we at a place where people can respect differing political convictions?
I wish we were at that place. Do you want to see my emails?
What kinds of things do people say?
Very nasty, hateful horrible things that I can’t even repeat to be honest with you. But I don’t focus on that. I go back to the fact that my dad raised me to have a tough skin. I know that not everybody can speak out the way I can. For every one of me, there are 50 more that aren’t as brave as me. I don’t mean that in a bad way. They’re secret Republicans or closet Republicans because it’s not worth it for them and their families to put themselves on the line that way. Not everyone can do that. I accept this as my cross to bear, if you will, because someone has to speak out. Someone has to be that person, until those attitudes and ideas change and until we do get to a point that we can have a civil discussion about where this country needs to go. There are varying opinions even within the Republican party.
Black Republicans are not monolithic. Sometimes we disagree amongst ourselves, but that’s part of the healthy, natural debate. It’s getting better, but there are certain things we haven’t broken through and certain ideals we haven’t broken through. Anytime you have a majority of one race voting one party, it doesn’t serve us well. It shouldn’t serve anyone well if the party is taking any vote for granted. That’s not the way politics was designed. It was designed to be a debate and discussion and a sharing of ideals. We shouldn’t be giving our vote over to one party, whatever that party is. We should examine the issues. I want to see more parity, from a party perspective. It would be great if we could have 50 percent down the line on each side of the aisle, or maybe one day there will be a purple party.
I heard [former Democratic] Rep. Artur Davis recently speak. He said that his ideals and beliefs are not welcome in the Democratic party. I feel that way. That doesn’t mean I don’t go to organizations and events that are highly Democratic, but a lot of times I feel out of place. I feel like my viewpoint is not represented on the stage or in a panel, and I don’t think that’s right.
Does your status as an African American Republican woman help you identify with Governor Romney when he is criticized for his Mormon faith?
I just think that’s another diversion. People of faith have embraced Governor Romney. They respect that he’s a man of faith period. From Evangelicals to Catholics, people have come out and said, “This is a man of faith.” That’s what counts to most Americans, knowing that he has a belief system and values. He’s a man of character and integrity. He’s a family man. Those are the things that matter to Americans.
COMMUNITY SERVICE: Elevate Detroit staff members and volunteers serve area residents during one its CommuniD Barbecues last year at Detroit’s Robert Redmond Memorial Park.
Is Detroit coming or going?
The conventional wisdom is that the once-bustling Motor City is the epitome of a metropolis in decline, a remnant of a bygone industrial era. But for many of us who have decided to intentionally make Detroit our home, we choose to believe that the city has a future.
It’s in our nature, I guess. We love to root for the underdog, and Detroit is definitely that. As politicians, businesspeople, and sociologists ponder the city’s chances, it takes faith to see a bright future for a city that has lost so much of its luster. But over the last few years, the city’s been gaining notoriety as a business incubator (see Detroit’s Future: From Blight to Bright), a destination for good eats, and the slow (but steady) revival of America’s number one auto manufacturing center. It’s home to four professional sports teams, including the Lions who went from serving as the laughingstock of the National Football league to finishing with a 10-6 season and making their first playoff appearance since 1999. Most recently, Detroit was even rated as having one of America’s top ten best downtowns. Detroit’s full of previously unrecognized promise. It’s resilient, tenacious, and on the verge of exciting change.
VITAL SIGNS: An attractive waterfront, competitive sports teams, and fine restaurants give Detroiters reason for hope.
However, a lot is still broken. Detroit’s also been synonymous with present-day notions of urban crime, decay, and impoverishment. At the height of its powers in 1950, Detroit had 1.8 million residents and a thriving economy that helped drive the fortunes of the rest of the nation. Now, 60 years later, the population has dropped to just 700,000 and is in a desperate struggle to recapture its cultural and economical relevance.
Over the past few years, Detroit has become a case study in what ails American cities. In 2010, Time magazine set up a special outpost in the city for a year to chronicle the city’s challenges. And a new book, Detroit: A Biography, finds former Detroit News reporter Scott Martelle analyzing what led to the city’s current misfortunes. Though a sobering read, a strength of the book is that it doesn’t live in the past by romanticizing the bygone glories of the auto industry or the Motown era. Instead, Martelle drills deep into the troubling factors that contributed to Detroit’s decline. Endeavors like Time’s reporting project and Martelle’s book are important reminders of Detroit’s challenges and possibilities.
Detroit is a city begging for educational reform and financial restructuring. And though Michigan’s unemployment rate has steadily decreased over the past year, Metro Detroit’s rate remains higher than state and national averages at 9.2% as of April.
Still, we hope.
Let the Sonshine
With unemployment rounding out at over 50,000, Detroiters have begun exploring other employment options. Detroit residents have begun to reimagine how to create a more sustainable economy — one that isn’t dependent upon a single industry. Through the diversification of business endeavors, some see slow progress.
Historically, a bottom-up, micro-level approach to local economic development has proven to be the most effective. According to the World Bank in a recent report, “Local economic development is about local people working together to achieve sustainable economic growth that brings economic benefits and quality of life improvements for all in the community.”
THE ROAD AHEAD: Downtown Detroit as seen along Woodward Avenue. Strapped with the fallout of crime, poverty, and political corruption, city leaders are in a desperate search for answers. Meanwhile, a cadre of Christian visionaries hope to become part of the solution. (Photo: Rebecca Cook/Newscom)
Some Detroit entrepreneurs have even begun to use their business ventures in order to combat joblessness in their individual communities. Take, for example, Café Sonshine, a local eatery in the New Center neighborhood which employs local residents and provides a community gathering space. Or examine Wayne State University’s Tech Town, an organization that trains and equips fledgling local entrepreneurs with the tools they need to foster a successful business.
Following are the stories of three entrepreneurs who are working to address poverty and stimulate the metropolitan Detroit area through local business. Though all significantly different from each other, these individuals share the same passion and enthusiasm to eradicate poverty, share the love of Christ through community, and see Detroit become healthy and whole.
GO-GETTER: Elevate Detroit’s Mike Schmitt
Mike Schmitt, director and community architect at Elevate Detroit, has a very intentional vision for his corner of Detroit. He’s firmly planted himself in the geographical area called Cass Corridor. The neighborhood — a small grid of streets located in the Midtown district — has been coined by some as “the Jungle.” It’s a high crime area rife with prostitution, drug dealing, and a strong gang presence that dates back to the early twentieth century. The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre was even partially plotted in Cass Corridor by Detroit’s Purple Gang, associates of Al Capone.
“It’s entirely likely that the same people who may have smiled at you earlier in the day have been up all night making drug runs, selling crack and heroin,” said Schmitt. “Though there are more churches per capita in Detroit than in any other city, there’s an unfed hunger here for community and love.”
Four years ago, Schmitt started Elevate Detroit and a related outreach event called CommuniD BBQs. To date, Elevate Detroit now organizes five BBQs in four different cities — Detroit, Flint, Pontiac, and Mount Clemens. Each week, people come from across the metro Detroit area to join in fellowship with people of different ethnicities and socio-economic positions. On these Saturdays, it’s a piece of God’s kingdom here on earth.
“I’ve tried to move away a couple of times now, but Detroit is my home. Once you see God moving in so many different ways, it’s impossible to leave,” he said.
SERVING THE WHOLE PERSON: Community residents wait in line for food and other resources during Elevate Detroit’s CommuniD Barbecue and mobile health clinic events.
Schmitt also is the primary visionary behind Dandelion’s Café, a new business and community outreach model in the heart of Cass Corridor. Though not officially off the ground yet, Schmitt and his team are in the process of raising capital and hope to get started soon. The hope is for Dandelion’s Café to serve the dual purpose of a coffee shop and concert venue in the building directly adjacent to the park at 2nd and Seldon in Detroit. Schmitt dreams of hosting open-mic nights, karaoke nights, local music nights, and even bring in national acts for concerts. Schmitt and his crew envision this venue becoming a center for community in the neighborhood and creating jobs for those who are in disadvantaged situations.
To complement this model, Schmitt hopes to purchase a nearby house or small apartment building for his previously homeless employees to live in with other residents — families, singles, and the elderly alike. He sees this partially as an antidote to the “No ID” problem. Without a permanent residence to reference on employment applications, it’s impossible for many transients to nail down a job. And without a source of income, the cycle of poverty repeats itself.
“I believe that by doing life together, we’ll create a support network for those who don’t have one,” said Schmitt. “The more that I came down to Detroit from my suburban home, the more I started to realize how much we all had in common and I wanted to do something to help cultivate a support network for those who didn’t have one.”
Harriet Tubman in Detroit
Similarly, Mark Wholihan of The Car Whisperers, LLC yearns for Detroit’s “second chance.” Wholihan began praying for a purpose from God immediately after he became a Christian. After praying for more than eight hours straight one day, he began to envision a new kind of auto repair service, an opportunity that would allow him to use his business to employ people in his community with a lack of resources.
VEHICLE FOR OUTREACH: In this ad for his auto shop, Mark Wholihan stands out in his red suit. He launched the business as a way to connect with people in his Detroit community while aiding the city’s restoration.
The Car Whisperers, LLC opened in February of last year in Livonia, Michigan. This mobile mechanic auto repair facility services western Wayne County. Because it’s largely connected to other cities through an infrastructure of highways, the city of Livonia is an ideal base of operations for any largely mobile organization. Additionally, with easy access to cities such as Farmington Hills, Detroit, Canton, and Allen Park, its socioeconomic range of customers is widely varied and diverse.
“When God put this business on my heart, I nicknamed it The Harriet Tubman Mission,” said Wholian. “Through using this business, I’m trusting God to help me bring people from slavery to freedom.”
Like Mike Schmitt, Wholihan envisions his auto repair service as a stepping stone to a larger organization designed to provide clients with total rehabilitation. In the case of The Car Whisperers, he has dreams of founding a residential long-term rehabilitation program in Detroit for people in need of holistic recovery. This projected program, called Second Chance at Life, will include a homeless shelter, drug and alcohol rehabilitation program, job placement services and an education center. As they continue to develop the micro-economy that will help to fund such an endeavor, Wholihan and The Car Whisperers are partnering with the YWCA community centers in order to expand how they meet the needs of their community.
“Reducing drug and alcohol abuse, unemployment, homelessness, crime, poverty and the return to previous lifestyles will make the program successful,” declares a blurb on the ministry’s website. “[It is our hope] to help Detroit and the surrounding communities to become a better, safer place for everyone.”
Repairer of Broken Walls
Like the Wholihan and Schmitt, Lisa Johanon and her non-profit ministry, the Central Detroit Christian Community Development Corporation (CDC), are targeting poverty and joblessness in Detroit through a grassroots movement. Johanon lives and works several blocks north of the burgeoning New Center district in Detroit. Located adjacent to the Midtown neighborhood and about three miles north of downtown, New Center was developed in the 1920s as a business hub that could serve as a connecting point between downtown resources and outlying factories. Today, New Center is slowly developing into a commercial and residential success. From the summer-long event series in New Center Park to the growing headquarters of the Henry Ford Health System, New Center is making its mark on the Greater Detroit area.
FRESH VISION: Lisa Johanon (right) and her daughter Emma. (Photo: Cybelle Codish)
But blocks away in the neighborhoods north of New Center where Johanon lives, it’s another story. Though only separated by some city streets and skyscrapers, this area hasn’t been able to grasp the same commercial success that its evolving counterpart has enjoyed. Rooted in a chronic, generational poverty, these residential neighborhoods have more than just economic obstacles to overcome. The community’s struggles with drug abuse and mental illness are visibly prominent. It’s been calculated that up to 72% of the households are single-parent families. Johanon said the amount of tragedy and injustice has led residents to ask God, “Why?”
“You can’t talk about Jesus when your neighbors are hungry and don’t have a job,” said Johanon. “Long term impact happens because someone is walking beside them.”
So, that’s what Johanon made plans to do. She moved to Detroit in 1987 after helping plant a church in Chicago’s notorious Cabrini Green housing projects. During her first seven years in Detroit, Johanon established and oversaw the Urban Outreach division of Detroit Youth for Christ. From there, she went on to become the executive director of the CDC, which she co-founded more than 15 years ago. She’s been planted there ever since.
The CDC aims to be a well-rounded resource for the central Detroit area. They organize and administer educational programs, orchestrate employment training, and create opportunities to spur job growth in the area. With their outreach initiatives and organic structure, the CDC takes Isaiah 58:12 to heart — “Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.”
“The CDC is the model for economic development in our community,” said Johanon. “Walmart isn’t going to come to our neighborhood, so we have to create the job opportunities ourselves.”
Of the three Detroiters highlighted, Johanon has the most business experience to date. The CDC has launched five businesses in their community — Peaches & Greens Produce Market, Higher Ground Landscaping, Café Sonshine, CDC Property Management, and Restoration Warehouse. Each business has a twofold goal — to meet the needs of its community members and simultaneously provide them with jobs.
ON THE MOVE: Lisa Johanon (far right) and her Central Detroit Christian Development Corporation team received a May 2010 visit from First Lady Michelle Obama, who was encouraged by CDC’s Peaches & Greens venture, which provides Detroit neighborhoods with access to low-cost fruits and vegetables through a produce truck and store which are clean and safe. Mrs. Obama, whose “Let’s Move!” initiative targets the problem of childhood obesity, hailed the CDC’s efforts.
But it’s not just about providing community members with a sense of dignity that financial stability can bring. Johanon understands that there needs to be a holistic approach to the restoration of dignity – an approach that includes attention to a person’s physical, social, and spiritual needs.
“The CDC believes that education empowers our community to grow and thrive. Employment equips our community to sustain families. [And] economic development transforms our community,” said a source on their website.
It’s easiest to understand what the CDC aims to do by looking at individual stories. “When we hired people from the neighborhood to work for Higher Ground Landscaping, not a single one could pass a drug test. Now, we only have two who still fail,” said Johanon. “The minority has pressure to change their lifestyle. We want to show that we’re committed for the long term.”
And she’s right — it’s consistent commitment that’s going to change the DNA of Detroit. Each of the entrepreneurs featured in this piece have committed their time, experience, and vision to making their little corner of Detroit more sustainable. In essence, they’ve surrendered their lives to God and His mission for them. And this is something that no politician or urban developer will ever be able to replicate — God using ordinary people to bring about change and renewal. Ultimately, Detroit’s revival — and the resurgence of any ailing city — will start and end with these kind of committed efforts.
FECKLESS FRONTRUNNERS: GOP presidential hopefuls Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney during the recent Republican debate in Tampa, Florida. (Photo: Brian Snyder/Newscom)
Newt Gingrich thinks poor kids should probably learn to be janitors and that they should definitely eschew any morsel purchased by their parents with food stamps.
Mitt Romney does not lose any sleep over the “very poor.” His priority are the middle-class folks who make up the “heart of America.”
The problem with the rhetoric of the Republican frontrunners is that it distracts from the true question — what will we do about poverty and hunger?
In his specious statements about food stamps (which benefit the working poor as well as those on welfare), Gingrich baits race by declaring the first African American president of the United States the “Food Stamp President.” Oh, loquacious lobbyist who would be Debater-in-Chief, this does not count as an argument, but rather, as an ad hominem attack.
Mitt Romney, feeling his oats after his win in Florida, dissed the downtrodden so as to affirm his solidarity with the middle class. Oh, compassionate corporate man who would be Mormon-in-Chief, this statement amounts to baffling babble. Even low-income Republicans think that Republicans in Congress don’t do enough to help the poor.
Perhaps Mitt and Newt should take a page from a Republican president past.
No, not Ronald Reagan, who was also an expert at proffering dubious depictions of the poor — remember the welfare queen?
I’m talking about Richard Nixon.
Surprised? The summarily dismissed, yet politically complex President Nixon advanced domestic policies benefiting — OMG — the poor!
Nixon delivered an impassioned speech in 1969 touting an end to hunger by — GASP — increasing funding for food stamps.
Nixon propounded a Family Assistance Plan in 1971 that would shore up the safety net by — HOLY SOCIALISM, BATMAN! — providing a guaranteed minimum income.
Perhaps Gingrich’s gaffe would be just another laughable line during a contentious campaign if there were not so many politicians like him willing to punish the poor by cutting food stamps, limiting their use, and imposing drug tests prior to giving needed help.
Perhaps Romney’s remark could be forgiven as an oversight if he hadn’t already articulated the same thing in earlier appearances, indicating that his policies will not reflect the sentiment that we are our brother’s keeper after all.
In a country where 16 million children live in households that are food insecure and 15 percent of Americans receive food aid from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the reductionist rhetoric of the Republican frontrunners should give us pause. Caring for the poor is not a partisan issue. Feeding the hungry is a co-responsibility of caring communities, from the statehouse to the church house.
Don’t fall for the “food stamp” red herring or the “heart of America” trope.
The Cultural Divide
“America is coming apart,” American Enterprise Institute scholar Charles Murray wrote at The Wall Street Journal last week. The problem is one of “cultural inequality,” Murray said, and it reveals itself in “a new upper class with advanced educations, often obtained at elite schools, sharing tastes and preferences that set them apart from mainstream America” and in “a new lower class, characterized not by poverty but by withdrawal from America’s core cultural institutions.”
Murray roots working class decline, not in macro-economic factors like the loss of manufacturing jobs, but in social policy developed during the 1960s that he says “made it economically more feasible to have a child without having a husband if you were a woman or to get along without a job if you were a man; safer to commit crimes without suffering consequences; and easier to let the government deal with problems in your community that you and your neighbors formerly had to take care of.”
His solution to this alleged cultural divide is the affirmation of core “civic virtues” like marriage, industriousness, and religiosity. Not only should they be advanced by the working class folks who adhere to them, but he says, “Married, educated people who work hard and conscientiously raise their kids shouldn’t hesitate to voice their disapproval of those who defy these norms.”
That ought to go over well with the young’uns.
Restoring American Dynamism
Fellow conservative David Brooks took a different approach to the problems faced by a hypothetical economically disadvantaged woman in his January 23 column at The New York Times. Brooks advocated “a two-pronged approach” to “restoring American dynamism” that includes “more economic freedom combined with more social structure; more competition combined with more support.” This translates into a simpler tax code, corporate tax cuts, streamlined regulations, flexible immigration policy, and a long-term balanced budget, as well as a host of measures that support education and more child care options for families.
At The American Conservative, Rod Dreher struck an even more moderate tone, rebuking Newt Gingrich’s “food stamp president” remark by reminding readers that SNAP benefits have doubled since 2008 because “the country suffered its worst economic collapse since the Great Depression!” Dreher contrasted SNAP spending with the estimated $107 billion bill that the Pentagon will present this year to U.S. taxpayers for what he regards as a futile war in Afghanistan.
Thank God for comedians …
Smoking Out the Satirical in Progressive Elitism
At The Weekly Standard, humor writer P.J. O’Rourke charged progressives with hating poor people. He was riffing on Maine’s new ban on smoking in all public housing, but he applied the critique WIDELY. Here’s a single satirical sentence that Murray might consider when pondering cultural divisions:
“Smoking kills smokers, which is about what they deserve for engaging in such lowbrow, wrong-headed, retarded, vulgarian activity, except they get sick first and that drives up the cost of a single-payer national health care system, plus their second-hand smoke is worse yet because it is a, yuck, inhalation hand-me-down from uncouth people who probably haven’t flossed, and it kills progressive elites who don’t even know anyone who smokes while also releasing greenhouse gases and stinking up the cheery curtains that elites hang in public housing group activity areas to brighten the lives of the underprivileged who are confined to concrete tower blocks with six-by-eight-foot living rooms, seven-foot ceilings, plexiglass windows, and sheet-metal doors with a dozen locks on them.”
Linament Salesmen and Other Ills
Speaking of humor, in a new interview with The Root, comedy legend Bill Cosby took on those who criticize him for “airing dirty laundry” about the Black community when he denounces its social dysfunctions, calling them “liniment salesmen.” He also expressed his concerns about teen pregnancy, Black-on-Black crime, and illiteracy. “I’m telling you that I’m worried and very, very concerned today when a mother, speaking about the son being in jail, says, ‘I’m happy. He’s in a safe place.’ You cannot take that casually,” Cosby warned, and that’s not funny at all.
Winfrey the Non-Conformist Anomaly
Leave it to media mogul Oprah Winfrey to defy them all. In an interview with India’s NDTV, Winfrey said that she and Stedman Graham would have been divorced by now if they had gotten married. “I really am my own woman and I don’t really conform very well to other people ideas about who and what I should be and being married calls for some conformity,” said Winfrey. But then, these guys would probably say she’s the exception that proves the rule.
What do you think?
Is there a cultural divide between a new upper class and a new lower class. If so, who’s to blame and what, if anything, is to be done about it?
Stating the facts or Race Baiting?
STRAIGHT TALKER OR RACE BAITER?: GOP presidential candidate and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.
As moderator Juan Williams tried to question former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich at the South Carolina debate last week about Gingrich’s charge that President Obama is the “food stamp president,” there were loud boos for Williams and enthusiastic cheers for Gingrich.
“Speaker Gingrich, you said black Americans should demand jobs, not food stamps. You also said poor kids lack a strong work ethic and proposed having them work as janitors in their schools,” said Williams. “Can’t you see that this is viewed, at a minimum, as insulting to all Americans, but particularly to black Americans?”
“No. I don’t see that,” Gingrich brashly replied.
Williams then said his Twitter account had been “inundated” by people of all races, who wanted to know if Gingrich’s comments were intentionally meant to “belittle the poor and racial minorities.”
“The fact is that more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history,” Gingrich said. “I know among the politically correct you are not supposed to use facts that are uncomfortable.”
Playing Dumb or “Morally Evolved” Toward Truth?
“When Mr Gingrich replied to Mr. Williams that he cannot see why some might take umbrage at his comments that black Americans ‘should demand jobs, not food stamps’ and that poor kids tend to lack a strong work ethic, I don’t think it’s quite right to say he was ‘playing dumb.’ On the contrary, Mr Gingrich acts as though he is so morally evolved, so essentially oriented toward truth—as though he surveys the world from such an Olympian height, through such crystalline air—that he is unable even to imagine how his use of venerable racist tropes could be sensibly seen to serve a purpose other than transmission of the plain truth,” concluded a writer at The Economist’s Democracy in America blog.
Just Stating the Facts
But Col. Allen West, the only Republican member of the Congressional Black Caucus, told Fox News that there is no racial coding in Gingrich’s charge. He said it’s a fact that there has been a four-to-one Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits increase since President Obama took office.
Do Facts Add Up to Truth?
The Washington Post agreed, sort of, reporting that “about 46 million participants in 22 million households” are receiving SNAP benefits. “But that’s mainly because there’s been record poverty levels, not because President Obama has taken major steps to make it easier to receive food stamps from the government.”
What Color Are SNAP Recipients?
As to the misconception that the majority of SNAP recipients are black, Bloomberg Businessweek reported that “about 34 percent of food-stamp recipients are white, while 22 percent are African Americans and 16 percent Hispanic, with the rest being Asian, Native American or those who chose not to identify their race.” Businessweek also reported that “some 41 percent of all recipients live in households where family members are employed.”
Has the Mud Slinging Only Just Begun?
“If you hate negative campaigning, you may want to turn your television off for the next few weeks. Or maybe months,” said Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post.
What do you think?
Is Newt Gingrich engaging in shrewd but despicable race baiting, or is he just stating the facts?