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One Detroit, One World: Re-imagining Detroit Through Diversity and Inclusion

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By Raquel Castaneda- Lopez
Detroit City Council Member - District 6
April 25, 2014

People are looking to Detroit. Recently, I have gained a better understanding of why.
A month ago, I attended a week long-training in Brussels as one of three US delegates chosen to participate in the Transatlantic Inclusion Leadership Network (TILN), organized by the German Marshall Fund (GMF). Through TILN, GMF is working to build a movement of local, national and international minority leaders who are helping transform their countries and the institutions within by creating a “transatlantic network of young leaders dedicated to building more inclusive governments.” (Woolley)
TILN successfully created a space which fostered debate, the development of leadership skills and an exchange of ideas, passions and stories. Workshops covered topics of political strategy, ethics, working with the media and building social capital. We also had the opportunity to visit with the EU Parliament, leaders of NGO's and lobbyists.
Each session was uniquely beneficial, but it was the community that I found myself in that taught me the most. Surrounded by an elite group of elected officials and activists fighting for the rights of marginalized communities, I recognized commonalities in our struggles and realized the power of our voices to impact change. I found myself in a space that not only encouraged, but pushed us to think critically with each other on how race and discrimination plays out globally.
Since returning, I've searched for how to incorporate these lessons into conversations about Detroit's future. Through this search, I have seen that Detroit must become a key voice in the global conversation. I have a renewed understanding that as leaders, we must engage globally to collectively build a welcoming city.
Detroit is an industrial city in transition, representative of a shift in our culture and society, both locally and globally. As the city redefines itself, Detroit is redefining our concept of urban centers by exploring how de-industrialization, development and globalization plays out in urban settings.
For Detroiters and non-Detroiters alike, it is both a painful and inspiring process.
The current narrative about Detroit is dominated by a dichotomous dialogue of divisions ie. blacks vs. whites, native Detroiters vs new Detroiters, immigrants vs. Americans, etc. The demographic shifts of the urban landscape complicate this situation, fueling debates over racism, income inequality and gentrification. With such ripe tensions, it is easy to become blinded by our daily challenges and to lose sight of the larger global struggle.
These tensions create uncertainty but more importantly potential. This is what draws people from around the world to join us in our journey of redefinition.
So, how do we move beyond these divisions?
We must be inclusive of our diversity, not divided by it. We must become a more inclusive and diverse global city.
To move forward we must recognize the commonalities between Detroit's struggles and those of urban centers around the country and world. By building relationships between and within our communities we develop solidarity with the larger, global society. Now, to achieve our full potential as a city, we need to be intentional about including diverse perspectives and cultivating diverse leadership to build our city’s social capital, (i.e. creating local and global networks that build trust and community within our city).
We need more efforts like the newly implemented Council by District system, platforms such as TILN to support diverse leadership, community exchanges to share best practices and to develop partnerships with our urban peers.
These efforts would ensure broad representation of diverse perspectives, but also engagement in conversation with the global community to foster the exchange of ideas, culture, and experiences. Ultimately, when we create forums to share stories it is in that sharing that we realize that we are part of a larger struggle. This is a necessary step to become a more inclusive, global city.
It may seem un-American or un-Detroit to see ourselves as a “global” but if we look closely, we’ll realize we already are members of a global community. Detroit is one of the busiest international crossings in north America, home to three of the worlds biggest automakers, with over 40 languages spoken in the public school system.
We have begun talking about redefining the city economically but now it’s time to begin the conversation about redefining ourselves ideologically. A Detroit philosopher and activist, Grace Lee Bogg states we must "stop focusing on just growing our economy and start growing our souls. People are coming to Detroit to do this." We can lead the way towards a new vision of urban centers but it's important to recognize that we're not the only ones headed on this path. As we seek to create meaningful solutions, our efforts can only be enhanced through relationships forged across zip codes, municipal and national boundaries, and racial and socioeconomic divides.
The future of Detroit is my future and I realize the importance of maintaining the TILN network, so I don't stop growing, lose perspective or forget that I'm part of a larger story. It's what motivates me and gives me strength. I know success in this endeavor is not asked of me, but demanded by Detroiters and those looking to Detroit.
Deindustrialization, privatization, racism, income inequality, and gentrification are not only Detroit issues – they are global challenges.

The world is looking to us, Detroit. Now let us look to the world to learn, to grow and to truly become one Detroit, one world.
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