A guest column by Sheryl Mitchell, April 27, 2014
The opinions expressed in this blog were first expressed in the Oakland 115 on April 27th, 2014 and are solely those of the guest blogger.
I had the opportunity to attend the Leadership Luncheon on April 25th that was held at Cobo by the Eight Mile Boulevard Association (8MBA) and witnessed an unexpected show of regional collaboration that was so powerful that it almost brought me to tears. As a bit of background, the 8MBA is a nonprofit organization that was formed in 1993 to revitalize and promote the Eight Mile transportation, business and residential corridor by linking the public and private sectors.
The luncheon is their annual fundraising event and featured a panel discussion of the “Big Four” – City of Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano, and Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson. The panel discussion was moderated by TV Commentator and Attorney Charlie Langston. The room was packed with several hundred people, who like me, were probably expecting some heated discussions about regionalizing the water system, Detroit’s bankruptcy, and the usual snips and bravado that this group is well known for displaying when in each other’s company.
But the moment that resonated in my mind and touched my heart was not related to a caustic comment, but a spontaneous action just before the discussion began. The gentlemen were introduced one at a time and each entered the stage to take their seat. First Duggan, then Hackel and Ficano. Patterson was last and was in his wheelchair as a result of the serious injuries that he sustained in a car accident over a year ago.
The panelists were to be seated in raised bar seats and it was difficult for Patterson to maneuver himself from the wheelchair to the be seated in this tall chair. What happened next was that the other three men left their seats and stood shoulder to shoulder to surround and support Patterson. This was unplanned and unrehearsed. From the audience, I couldn’t even see Patterson. All I saw as a solid wall of brotherly support. A wall of men so strong and firm that even if Patterson had completely lost all ability to stand on his own…they had him! They would not let him slip or fall. They were each there without any hesitation to fully support him in reaching his objective. He didn’t ask for their help. But, each of his colleagues was there without question or hesitation. They demonstrated that by working together they could overcome any obstacle. They worked together as a team, unselfish, not hindered by political one upsmanship.
Their action only took a couple of seconds. But it has permanently embedded in my mind the question: “What if they acted this way when they were discussing often difficult regional issues?” What if instead of building walls around their political geographic turfs, they instead locked arms and built a solid bridge to connect, protect, and preserve their shared territory of Southeast Michigan? What if they realized that in their most vulnerable moments, that the others wouldn’t take advantage or poke fun in an attempt to humiliate them and their situation; but instead that knew that their neighbors would stand beside them and earnestly work together to ensure the success of even the weakest member, because ultimately we are all in this together.
This profoundly transformed my perspective of what can happen in Southeast Michigan. If this could happen in a few seconds on a stage…then possibly it could transpire in the backrooms of political negotiations. And, just maybe – there is a glimmer of hope that Eight Mile will no longer be the road that divides Detroit and the Counties of Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb. But, Eight Mile can be the symbol of the unifying thread that connects our region. Just maybe.
For more information on 8 Mile Boulevard Association check out their website at http://www.eightmile.org/.
A link to the original blog can be found here.