More and better parks can help position Detroit to attract more millennials

March 22, 2017 by  
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When my husband and I moved to a high-rise building near the Renaissance Center in Detroit in 2000, calling our new neighborhood “downtown” would be an aspirational description at best.

The city center we moved to lacked amenities so basic that even our apartment’s stunning views of the Detroit River and Belle Isle barely made up for it. We had to get into a car to reach the closest drug store, movie theater, dry cleaners, and grocery store. Even the most attractive thing about the neighborhood – the Detroit River – was barely accessible by land because the riverfront of those days was a long-abandoned industrial wasteland.

When our son’s arrival made our apartment too cramped for three people six years ago, my husband and I thought about buying in one of the city’s traditional residential neighborhoods, but the pull of downtown was hard to resist. Folks thought we were crazy when we told them we were moving just a mile away to a near-east neighborhood near the edge of downtown because – even then – building a life near the city’s center seemed like far from a sure bet.

Today, the signs of rebirth in my neighborhood are undeniable. Long-shuttered storefronts near Eastern Market have sprung back to life as hip restaurants, coffee shops and other millennial magnets. And new housing is being developed and built in and around downtown at an impressive pace.

But the primary amenity that made me move to and stay downtown is my home’s proximity to the Dequindre Cut Greenway and the Detroit River Walk . I’ve watched my son play with new friends and learn to ride his bike in these beautiful, art-infused green spaces, so thoughtfully planned and beautifully realized. We were among the first to experience the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Outdoor Adventure Center when it opened on the Dequindre Cut a few years ago. We love to take in summer concerts at the Chene Park amphitheater on the Detroit River. And after all these years, the view when I take a walk or ride my bike on the River Walk still takes my breath away. It’s like the city’s greatest assets are in our backyard.

Turns out I’m not alone when it comes to choosing a home simply because of its proximity to green space. New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman recently wrote about efforts in Chicago and Philadelphia to transform abandoned and underused land into green spaces. The city’s mayors are betting on revitalized parks as a way to boost civic pride, not to mention housing values. As an added bonus, early statistics show that violent crime is practically non-existent in these newly vibrant public spaces in Philadelphia.

“Urban policy often focuses too much just on housing,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel told Kimmelman. “Housing alone doesn’t make a neighborhood.”

I recognize that mine was not exactly a novel approach to home buying: There’s a reason real estate surrounding Central Park is at a premium in Manhattan. But with a few exceptions, Detroit’s long-neglected parks have hardly been a draw for home buyers in recent decades.

In fact, there was a time when living near a Detroit park could saddle a homeowner with more responsibilities than amenities. A few years ago, my father, who lives in a sprawling condo that faces Palmer Park, called the city’s recreation department to offer to pay for new basketball hoops in the park out of his own pocket because he was tired of seeing disappointed kids playing ball with imaginary baskets. The city later installed the hoops, but many of Palmer Park’s improvements can be attributed to the city’s partnership with People for Palmer Park – a non-profit organization that has created programming for and brought structural improvements to the park. For example, the group worked with the administration of former Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and Lear Corporation to bring a splash park and play scape to a section of the park that was once home to an abandoned swimming pool. It’s a hopeful sign that citizens, non-profits and city officials are working together to improve public spaces like Palmer Park.

It matters because Michigan desperately needs an infusion of talent and educated millennials are obsessed with living in walkable, vibrant, urban communities. Global commercial real estate services firm Avison Young issued a report last year that predicted that communities that are rich in amenities will hold on to millennials, even as their predecessors de-camped for the suburbs once they started having children.

“Millennials will choose to locate where they can access the city center but live in neighborhoods that still offer an urban experience that most closely resembles the denser downtown. Inner city neighborhoods, in-fill locations, improved public space and walkable amenities will continue to attract some millennials as their life circumstances change.”

Detroit still has a long way to go before we can offer amenities that rival cities like Chicago, but I’m excited that there seems to be a recognition – from both non-profit and city leaders – that green spaces are a vital feature of a functional and attractive city.

I’m still pulling for Detroit to provide more and better amenities – not to mention basic services – to make the city a magnet for talent. In the meantime, my family and I have five glorious months of play at the river’s edge each year. It’s not enough. But it’s pretty good.

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New report shares the impact of over-incarceration on kids

March 21, 2017 by  
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At MFI, we were already supportive of prison reform that helps nonviolent criminals stay out of jail when appropriate, not least because doing time severely limits one’s ability to participate meaningfully in the economy following release. When we look at what it will take for Michigan to be prosperous again, we need to be removing barriers to employment, and those barriers are huge for the formerly incarcerated.

Turns out, prison reform could just as easily be a focus of our education agenda because over-incarceration is playing a significant role in making life really hard for a large number of Michigan kids, and undercutting the chance that they will be prepared for the economy of the future.

228,000 Children

In Michigan, 10 percent of kids have a parent in prison. 228,000 children. (According to last year’s Kids Count report, “A Shared Sentence.”)

A new report from the Economic Policy Institute claims that not only is it harmful–in a long-term, impacting life outcomes kind of way–for a child to have a parent in prison, but that it could be a significant driver of the achievement gap. (The “achievement gap” usually refers to the gap between black and white performance in our educational system.) The conclusion is logical when you think about it: with black men six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men, and one in three black men experiencing incarceration at some point in their lifetimes—the impacts are disproportionally going to fall on the children of those men, children of color.

The Impacts on Kids

While the researchers take pains not to attempt to quantify the impact precisely, they do share some remarkable factors. They have controlled for a variety of factors to do apples-to-apples comparisons, and find that, versus a child whose parents have never been incarcerated:

  • A child with a parent in prison is 48% more likely to have ADHD, and 43% more likely to have behavior issues.
  • A child with a parent in prison is 43% more likely to suffer from depression.
  • A child with a parent in prison is 23% more likely to experience developmental delays.

“Children of incarcerated fathers are 51 percent more likely to suffer from anxiety, 43 percent more likely to suffer from depression, and 72 percent more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Not surprisingly, children with incarcerated parents are also more likely to engage in some of the behaviors that may lead, eventually, to their own induction to the justice system, like delinquency and marijuana use.

Naturally, all of these issues weave together in a complex dynamic of causality. Incarceration is wrapped up with poverty, joblessness, psychology, family culture, stigma in the community, stress, and trauma.

But what is clear is that when we over-incarcerate, the costs include worse life outcomes for children who were not themselves on trial.

 

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NEXT SUNDAY: Marche du Nain Rouge in Cass Corridor

March 17, 2017 by  
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Marche du Nain Rouge Returns
Sunday, March 26, 2017
March 26, 2017 in the Cass Corridor! Meet at the corner of Cass and Canfield. Entertainment at noon. Parade at 1 p.m.

Mardi Gras-style krewes, bike groups, cosplayers and art cars to join 8th annual parade of city pride

It's the time of year when the city swells with pride and hits Cass Avenue to meet its oldest nemesis, the legendary harbinger of doom, the Nain Rouge.

The annual Marche du Nain Rouge returns for its 8th year, with festivities and entertainment starting at noon March 26, 2017, at the corner of Cass and Canfield in Midtown. The parade will depart at 1 p.m. down Cass Avenue to the Masonic Temple.

At the Masonic Temple, marchers will meet the Nain, if he once again decides to show his face. In past years he’s ridden on a giant cockroach, tamed a fire-breathing dragon, run for mayor, among other shenanigans. The Nain has been met by young Detroiters in love, Ghostbusters, and spirits of Detroit’s past and future. What will he try this year? And more importantly, how will you face the Nain?

This year, Mardi-Gras-style Krewes du Rouge are forming to show the Nain their neighborhood pride. Two krewe parties are planned: March 16 for East Siders at 8 p.m. at Cadieux Cafe, and March 23 for Midtowners at 8 p.m. at Traffic Jam & Snug. The parties feature live music, food, drinks, and fun appearances -- perhaps the Nain will even attempt to crash. It’s a weakly constructed mystery!

Several bike groups are planning to decorate their wheels and roll down Cass together, featuring the wonderful animal creations of Detroit-based metalsmith, Juan Martinez. A recent workshop of the Wire Auto Workers Association of Detroit (WAWAD) will bring out hand-crafted, human-powered wire cars.

Also this year, the cockroach from 2016 will be joined by several other Art Cars, including a new “Bubblemobile” out of Southwest Detroit, and Scrubby Bubble, which has represented Detroit at the Annual Burning Man Festival in Nevada. Plus, Caribbean Mardi Gras Productions will return with feathery floats and giant sparkly costumes ready to accompany their Pans of Joy steel drum band. And our friends at Gabriel Brass Band will return to lead the Marche with their authentic New Orleans second-line sound.

Adding to the spectacle, the Marche du Nain Rouge is inviting all cosplayers and costume-lovers to put on their best capes and wigs and join the fun. Prizes will be offered at the after-party festivities inside the Masonic for the best cosplayer/costume and neighborhood float. There will also be entertainment from DJs, dancing food, drink, official merchandise, a kids zone, and more.

To get Detroiters in the right spirit to meet the Nain, businesses are taking part in Fete du Nain with a full week of merriment and good city vibes. Check www.marchedunainrouge.com and our Facebook page for  participating businesses.

More than 6,000 people attended last year’s parade, compared with 300 who came to the first parade!

Revelers are encouraged to come in costume. The event is free and open to the public.

Parking will be available on the street, and for $7.50 at nearby Wayne State University lots and structures (Lots 60 and 72 and Structure 8). Visa and Mastercard are accepted.

Some history

In 1701, legendary founder of Detroit Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac met a fortune-teller, who warned him to beware of the Nain Rouge, the “Red Dwarf” who appeared to Cadillac in a dream. She warned Cadillac that the the little red imp is the embodiment of his ambition, anger, pride, envy — everything that held him back. The Nain Rouge, she told him, is the harbinger of doom. However, when Cadillac first saw the fiend in person, the Nain taunted him mercilessly and Cadillac chased the Nain away with a stick.

Unfortunately, the fortune turned out to be true and Cadillac died penniless after he left Detroit for France. The city he founded, however, fared better, endured and prospered (mostly), against the fiendish efforts of the Nain Rouge.

For 300 years, Detroiters memorialized Cadillac’s actions and willingness to persevere and hope for better things, combined with the determination to rise from the ashes. At Detroit’s worst moments, the Nain has been there, cackling or taunting the city’s residents. And so every year, Detroiters celebrate liberation from the Nain, a new beginning, and whatever is good and working in the city in a spring festival for the good and betterment of the city of Detroit.
# # #

BUT LET'S NOT FORGET

The jury may still be out on the little guy. A small but growing movement has arisen to play Nain's Advocate on the red side.


A band of contrarians — an attitude dear to the heart of any Detroiter — are leading the charge to reclaim the Nain and STOP NAIN SHAME.

They will be holding their own pre-Marche meetup at Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Company (3965 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48201) starting around 10:30am!

It Started With an Email

March 17, 2017 by  
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I was working as a long-term substitute with my own computer log in when the email came through: “Hey. Is everything Ok?”

I stared at the computer screen and then minimized my email, turned to the incoming students, and went about teaching for the morning because no, everything was no Ok. Nothing felt Ok.

When I had a minute to collect myself, I re-read the email. It was from my friend, Cortney, who shared an apartment with my boyfriend-now-ex-boyfriend. He was concerned because I had come over on Sunday and rather than using my key, I had knocked. I then disappeared into my boyfriend-now-ex-boyfriend’s room and he could hear serious discussion going on.  And my boyfriend-now-ex-boyfriend had seemed tense and weird and when Cortney asked him if everything was Ok, his answer was, “no,” and that was it.

So he emailed me because he couldn’t stop worrying about us.

I ended up spilling the entire sad sack story of the weekend and how it ended in the demise of my boyfriend-now-ex-boyfriend’s and my five-year relationship.

His response? “Don’t take this the wrong way, but that is actually a relief. I thought you were pregnant.”

Thanks, yo.

From there, we emailed back and forth sporadically for the rest of the school year. He had a tendency to worry about me–we had been friends for years, after all–and he wanted to check in to make sure I wasn’t making destructive choices (I was) and that I was eating (I wasn’t) and that I wasn’t holing up in my house feeling sorry for myself by crying to the cat (I was).

For awhile I only responded to his emails and didn’t initiate any threads because thinking about him made me think about my ex-boyfriend and it was just too much. But once school got out and I didn’t have a regular job to go to anymore, Cortney and I started emailing more often. He would stop over after work with a pizza to hang out–his way of making sure I got a decent meal since he knew I was broke and living on vodka and Doritos if left alone to make my own choices.

It wasn’t my proudest moment in life, Ok?

After my summer of wallowing, I ended up getting the full-time teaching job I am in now, and shockingly (to us anyway) Cortney and I started dating. The emailing did not stop; in fact it increased now that we weren’t seeing each other all the time due to my actually having to go to work. If I could look back on those emails, they were probably so sweet and carefree. It makes me smile to think about how young and starry-eyed we were back then.

We still email back and forth every day and I have been in this job now for almost fourteen years. One of us will start the daily thread with a “Good morning!” or “Hope you got in Ok!” Some days–like when my students are working on a test independently and Cortney is at his desk all day, we will go back and forth rapidly exchanging silly jokes or thoughts about anything from what next week’s dinners should be, when we should have our own date night, or even what is going on with our kids. Some days we only have the morning check in and then not much for the rest of the day because I am on my feet with students all day or he is out of the office or busy with calls.

Some days the topics get pretty serious. I tend to write out my feelings better than verbalize them, so there have been times I have spent my lunch period on my email typing out long messages about my mental health or other serious topics that I need to make sure I get my words just right. He will do the same. It has always been a way to give each other our thoughts and then let them sit before we respond either with another email, or in person later that evening.

We don’t do everything right as a married couple, but one thing I am proud of is our communication. Long before that first email, Cortney and I were friends who shared with each other and empathized with each other. We celebrated the great things, but we also cried about the bad things. His reaching out to me that day was just an extension of that.

We still reach out to each other every day. When Cortney was traveling for work recently, the loneliest I felt was during my work day when there were no emails coming through. After fourteen years of check-in’s and random banter, going a few days with complete silence was hard.

People who know us sometimes like to give me a little grief about how “chatty” Cortney and I can be–how we tell each other everything and send each other photos. When I was in Atlanta, Cort and I texted constantly, and my friend The Pastor’s Wife teased me a bit of being like a teenager. I know she was kidding and that it was actually out of love for us that she said what she did, because really, it’s that goofiness that has carried us for this long. It’s the easy way we communicate with each other that has made our relationship not just survive the past fourteen years, but actually build it up.

Why do we want to be like those states?

March 17, 2017 by  
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In my last post we looked at evidence that the most prosperous non-energy states were those with the highest college attainment, not the lowest taxes. In this post I want to look at the states the tax cutters in Lansing are telling us we need to emulate.

The argument of many advocating for an elimination of the state income tax was Texas and Florida don’t have an income tax and they are strong economy states. Think again! Texas is 24th in per capita income and Florida is 28th. Yes slightly better than Michigan’s 32nd. But not close to the Great Lakes’ best Minnesota at 14th or #1 Connecticut. Per capita income in Texas is nearly $22,000 lower than Connecticut. For Florida its more than $24,000.

Yes Texas and  Florida are low tax states, they rank 14th and 4th overall in the latest Tax Foundation  State Business Climate Index. Connecticut ranks 43rd.  Connecticut has a graduated income tax with a top marginal rate of 6.99 percent. Minnesota––which is ranked 46th by the Tax Foundation––also has a graduated income tax with a top rate of nine percent. So much for lower taxes leading to higher prosperity.

(Washington is the one top 15 per capita income state that does not have a state income tax. But they also are 11th in the proportion of adults with a four-year degree or more.)

As we saw in my last post what aligns with high per capita income is the proportion of adults with a four-year degree or more. On that measure Connecticut is 4th, Florida is 28th and Texas is 30th. Michigan is 32nd in per capita income, 32nd in the proportion of adults with a four-year degree or more and 12th in the Tax Foundation rankings.

Let’s move on to the case Business Leaders for Michigan is making for big new tax breaks for business making investments in Michigan. They claim we aren’t competitive with Ohio, Indiana, South Carolina and Kentucky. Which begs the question “why do we want to compete with them?”

Ohio is 30th in per capita income, Indiana is 36th, Kentucky is 43rd and South Carolina is 45th. It will come as no surprise that all four are low college attainment states. Ohio ranks 37th, Indiana 42nd, Kentucky 46th and South Carolina 36th.

To BLM’s credit one of their goals for Michigan is becoming a top ten state in per capita income. But its hard to figure out how we are going to get there trying to adopt the policies of states that are towards the bottom in per capita income.  For years we have said you can’t get Minnesota’s economy with Mississippi’s policies. Substitute Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and South Carolina for Mississippi and you still won’t get Minnesota’s economy.

 

 

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What Kind of Help You Should Hire First

March 16, 2017 by  
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If you’re looking to grow your business, or you’ve reached a plateau of some point, it may be time to hire help. (You can read more about that in this blog post: How to Know it’s Time to Hire Help.) But what kinds of tasks can you outsource? What kind SHOULD you outsource? Here are a few ideas of where to start:

  • Things that are critical to your business, but aren’t your expertise. Sure, you may have taught yourself some tricks of the trade, but if you could hire an expert for bookkeeping, marketing, order fulfillment, or other tasks, you’ll save time and be able to scale up. An expert may seem expensive, but s/he has the experience to do things faster and more effectively than you—covering more ground and doing more than you could.
  • Things you can outsource for a fraction of what your time is worth. A virtual assistant is a great tool for your business. From data entry to social media maintenance, order fulfillment to birthday card mailing, you can save SO much time giving these more mundane, time-expensive tasks to someone else.
  • Things that are a day-to-day part of your business, but take a lot of time. This is more for business owners with brick and mortar locations. It’s worth it to have a receptionist, office manager, or others who can be the “first line” when it comes to your customers.

You don’t have to delegate away everything you love about running your business. In fact, that would be miserable! The point of delegating is to make time for the parts you love, and dispense with the ones that you don’t like, take too much time, or just aren’t profitable ways for you to spend your time.

If there are parts of your business that aren’t necessarily your expertise, but things you love (like doing your social media or contacting customers) of course they can stay on your plate. But there are ways to streamline those so you can still participate without them taking too much time away from the activities and things that make you money.

Want to delegate, but aren’t sure how to get started? I’d love to talk to you about how you can grow your business with help. Contact me today for a free discovery call!

Educational attainment and the American dream

March 15, 2017 by  
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Late last year, Stanford economist Raj Chetty and colleagues published an important set of data that measured just how many Americans achieve the American dream. They define the American dream as the ideal that a child will earn more money, and enjoy a higher standard of living, than their parents did. Economists refer to this as the absolute mobility. And under that measure, far fewer Americans are achieving the American dream than they used to.

The period after World War II, up until the early 70s, is often pointed to as the golden era of economic growth in the United States, with average family income growing at an inflation-adjusted rate of 2.6% annually. And growth was not only high but evenly spread, with bottom quintile incomes increasing 3% annually, and the top quintile averaging 2.5% annual growth.

As you might guess, this meant a high rate of absolute mobility. 92% of Children born in 1940 did better than their parents. And those that didn’t were generally individuals who’d grown up rich, giving them a smaller chance of earning more than their parents.

As economic growth slowed, absolute mobility rates started to decline. And then as the mega-forces of globalization and automation took hold in the 80s, decreasing the number of well-paying jobs available to less-skilled workers and increasing inequality, the absolute mobility rate dropped precipitously. For the 1980 birth cohort – who are now in their prime working years – just 50% are doing better than their parents did at the same age.

So to recap, if you were born in 1940, you were almost certain to do better than your parents. If you were born 40 years later, you had just a 50/50 shot.

The question, of course, is what to do about this? One obvious place to look is educational attainment. And sure enough, the story of educational attainment in America mirrors, almost exactly, the story of economic mobility in America.

 

Educational attainment

In a 2014 article in the New York Times, Eduardo Porter lays out the numbers. Today, just 30% of American adults have achieved a higher level of education than their parents did. And this number is going down, not up. Among 25 to 34 year olds, just 20% of men and 27% of women have achieved a higher level of education than their parents.

This is a profound shift from that high-mobility 1940 birth cohort. When they were born, America was near completing the transition to universal high school enrollment. And between 1915 and 1960, the relative supply of college educated workers (compared to high school educated workers) increased at a rate of 3% per year. Americans were getting more education than their parents had, and earning more than their parents did.

Somewhere along the line, however, this stopped happening. Harvard economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz, authors of the book The Race Between Education and Technology, report that the relative supply of college-educated workers continued to increase at a rate of 3.8% annually between 1960 and 1980, before declining to just a 2% annual increase between 1980 and 2005. Fewer Americans are now getting more education than their parents had, and mobility has stalled.

It should be noted that higher educational-attainment is not a panacea for reducing inequality. An increase in the number of college graduates will not have much of an effect on the exorbitant earnings currently flowing to the top of the income distribution. But for those in the middle and bottom of the income distribution, increasing educational attainment is the answer to declining rates of mobility. Today, roughly a third of working-age Americans have a bachelor’s degree or more, with another 9% with an associate’s degree. This leaves a lot of room to grow, a lot of room for children to gain more education than their parents.

But this won’t just happen on its own. As Porter points out, in the first half of the 20th century, increasing access to education was seen as a national project, a national priority. We understood that universal access to a high school education would provide both greater equity and greater productivity, and we brought the needed resources to bear.

It seems we’ve lost this broader sense of purpose, both as a nation and here in Michigan. From anti-poverty policy to k-12 education policy there’s a lot we can do to attack the problem of slowing educational attainment. But a place to start is with properly funding higher education so that all Michigan students who want a college education have equal access to it.

The funding of higher education in Michigan is currently placed squarely on the backs of students and families, with 70% of state university funding coming from tuition, and roughly 20% coming from state appropriations.

What this means is that for non-affluent students, the math on paying for college simply doesn’t add up. Even after maxing out federal loans and family contributions, they’re often still left with a large gap that they can’t pay for without saddling their parents with long-term debt. So despite the fact that the investment in a four-year college degree is clearly worth it, college becomes a far riskier proposition than it should be, and mere sticker shock can distort students’ decisions.

We need state policy that ensures all students can pay for college, anxiety-free. This can be in the form of higher funding for institutions, or far more state aid to non-affluent students, to fill the gaps in a student’s full cost of attendance. But until we publicly commit to doing this, and turn higher education into the public good it should be, the American dream has little chance of becoming a reality in Michigan.

 

 

 

 

 

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How Michigan fails black college students

March 14, 2017 by  
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As a member of the Wayne State University Board of Governors, I have become very familiar with the various lists that organizations and publications compile to rank institutions of higher education. Many times when a new list is published, I tense up as I scan it looking for my school’s name.

Recently, WSU was at the top of a list that no university wants to be on at all: Education Trust ranked Wayne State at first place on its list of worst performing institutions for black students. Our ranking didn’t exactly come as a surprise to me. I was largely motivated to run in a statewide race to serve on the board because of Wayne State’s dismal African American graduation rate. When Education Trust released its report on racial graduation gaps in 2010, Wayne State’s six-year undergraduate graduation rate for black students overall was 9.5 percent and that statistic was even worse for black male students – an appalling three percent were earning their bachelor’s degree in six years or less. Education Trust’s most recent ranking combined Wayne State’s results from 2012, 2013 and 2014 to come up with an average six-year graduation rate for black students of 11 percent, while white students graduated within six years of starting a bachelor’s program at a rate of 44.3 percent over the same time period – a gap of 33.2 percent.

When Wayne State University President M. Roy Wilson joined the university in 2013, he and the university’s board immediately set out to prioritize strategies to boost African American retention and graduation rates. A team of academic leaders from Wayne State visited Georgia State University to learn about that school’s successful retention programs for underrepresented students of color. We learned that Georgia State eliminated its achievement gap for underrepresented students of color through “intrusive advising” programs that closely track and offer customized support to students who are struggling. Georgia State’s six-year graduation rate for underrepresented students of color is now actually higher than that statistic for white students.

Two years ago, Wayne State hired its first-ever Associate Provost for Diversity and Inclusion and established our first-ever Office of Multicultural Student Engagement, which is charged with building to boost academic outcomes for students of color. Since 2012, Wayne State has invested $10 million in programs designed to boost student success. As a result, as of 2016, Wayne State University’s six-year undergraduate graduation rate for black students is 17.2% — still nothing to crow about but a significant uptick from the nine percent black six-year graduation rate that motivated me to run for office in 2012 and the 11 percent three-year average African American graduation that is cited in Education Trust’s most recent report.

I have learned that when it comes to boosting outcomes for students of color in higher education, nothing is more important than having university leadership that prioritizes radical change. When our administration, board, faculty and students went through the process of drafting a strategic plan for the university a few years ago, many on campus encouraged President Wilson to set an incremental goal to narrow the racial graduation gap at Wayne State by 2021. President Wilson – and the board – instead set as our goal the total elimination of the completion gap between white and underrepresented students of color.

It should also be noted that Wayne State University is not the only public university in Michigan that is struggling with racial graduation gaps. Sadly, both Saginaw Valley State University and Oakland University are also ranked in the top ten of Education Trust’s list of the bottom performing institutions for black students, with black/white graduation gaps of 26.6 and 25.1 percent, respectively.

Despite Wayne State’s commitment to eliminating its racial graduation gap, there are external factors that need to change if underrepresented students of color are to thrive at Michigan universities that serve large numbers of them:

  • The state must change the way it funds and measures success for its K-12 schools. Michigan’s K-12 education funding system leaves most districts underfunded and a precious few flush with per-pupil spending options. As a result of funding disparities and lackluster education policy, Education Week’s 2016 Quality Counts state report card gave Michigan a “D” score for K-12 educational attainment.
  • There is also a preponderance of evidence that students’ grade point averages are more predictive of college success than test scores, yet, as my colleague Patrick Cooney explains here Michigan policy makers continue to prioritize test scores as the most important metric of college readiness. If we really want to see students thrive in college, we need to steer educators away from engaging in rote standardized test-driven instruction to curricula that help students develop critical thinking skills, creativity, strong writing abilities and other skills that aren’t measured on standardized tests but are critical to college success. This kind of instruction will require an overhaul of K-12 curricula and significant state investment and energy.
  • Michigan lawmakers need to reinvest in higher education to ease the tuition burden that causes many students to drop out before they complete a degree. In 1985, Michigan public universities received about 60 percent of their operating budgets from state appropriations. Today, the state provides about 20 percent of funding for public universities, with about 70 percent coming from student tuition. Lack of affordability is a major barrier to college completion for black – and all – students.
  • We need to rethink Proposal 2, the anti-affirmative action ban that has made it more difficult for universities to provide specialized educational supports – including scholarships – for students of color.

All of this matters because as my colleagues and I have written repeatedly, a four-year college degree is by far the most dependable credential for long-term economic stability. According to a 2012 Pew Research Center study of median annual earnings for full-time workers between the ages of 25 and 32, holders of an associate’s degree earned $15,500 less than bachelor’s degree holders. Additionally, bachelor’s degree holders are more likely to retain employment even when the economy suffers. As my colleague Lou Glazer recently noted, it’s no coincidence that Michigan is 32nd in per capita income and 32nd in four year degree attainment.

Knowing how important having a degree is and will continue to be in an increasingly knowledge-based economy, we cannot afford to leave black students behind: Not at Wayne State University nor at any university in Michigan and not at the K-12 schools that should be preparing them to succeed in life and college.

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Hamtramck Music Festival 2017

March 12, 2017 by  
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The 4th Annual Hamtramck Music Festival took place on March 2-4, 2017.
(I wasn't at the opening night for its limited offerings on Thursday)

Friday Night
I'm grateful for the early evening offerings at places like Cafe 1923, Bank Suey, and the Hamtramck Public Library. Even though there wasn't much else to choose from at the time, I would've made it to see Lac La Belle no matter where they fell on the schedule. Their American folk sound at the library didn't need a lot of amplification, and it sounded great. I stuck around for Panch Villa Skull afterwards.
Cabin 7 exhibitied their big band ska sound at New Dodge Lounge, adding some variety to the night.
Vespre was the first band scheduled to play PLAV Post 10, and they still hadn't started twelve minutes after they were scheduled to, thus causing me to lose interest and go elsewhere.
At Polka Dot, the former Atlas Bar, Remnose made a better impression. Their softer sound made it easier to focus on their lyrics. It's clear they put a lot of thought into them, as they don't fall back on using the word "like" every other line.
The corner of Yeman and Joseph Campua must be a tough spot to keep a bar open at. Mars Bar became Temptation Louge, which has now become Hamtramck Korner Bar. What's different now is that they've annexed the adjoining space and knocked a few holes in the wall to double their floor space. Sidewatcher was having some troubles with the sound system, but I think they're worth seeing again.
I couldn't pass up seeing Prude Boys at Planet Ant Hall. After seeing them for the first time two years at this festival, I try to see them whenever they're on a festival schedule.

The Planet Ant Hall is a great addition to the lineup of venues for the festival. If the small stage at the adjourning Ghost Light Bar was thrown in, it could fill the role played by the Knights of Columbus Hall for the Blowout.
After circling a few other places and not being impressed by what I saw, I came back to Planet Ant Hall for Mexican Knives to close out the night.

Saturday Night
It's hard to get into Kelly's Bar to see bands, because they play so close to the door. It was worth the sacrifice of personal space to try out Dear Darkness. They play with a lot of heart, and make you forget that they're formed from only two musicians.
Coming back to PLAV Post 10 on Saturday felt like an awful choice. Twenty minutes after The Sugar Bombs were supposed to start, and they still hadn't begun. I don't know if it was the venue's fault, or they just had the bad luck to book acts that don't respect the festival goers and the festival's tight schedule. I just crossed the whole lineup at that place off my list.
The Detroit Party Marching Band caused the crowd to spill out of the front door at Jean's last year, so having them at Planet Ant Hall was a wise choice.
Tart at New Dodge Lounge delivered with their hard sound, and made me glad I wasn't at the PLAV.
Despite Lo & Behold backing out of the festival officially, they still had live music going there. I'm not interested in adding my opinion on the related controversy, but you can read about it at the Metrotimes if you care to. What's lacking from the piece is that the HMF was started to fill the vacuum left by the Metrotimes Blowout trying to expand out of Hamtramck and shifting to the month of May, before that festival had its last installment in 2015 and quietly went away.
I haven't made an effort to to see Qween Kwong before, as it seems like they've been getting a lot of coverage stemming from their story, and not their sound, which tends to discourage me. I won't make the choice to miss them again, even if they get covered for the wrong reasons.


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 With a face for radio, a voice for print, and the prose of a new immigrant, I'll stick to amateur blogging

Five Alive

March 12, 2017 by  
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Dear Charlie Bird,

Today you are five. We had this conversation recently:

Me: Charlie! Next week you will be FIVE!
You (holding up all five fingers on one hand): I’ll be a whole handful!
Me: Oh buddy, you’ve been a whole handful for quite some time now.
You: Well then I will be a whole MIT-FULL!

Buddy, you have been my least easy child. And I say this with all the love in the world, my Birdie. You started this life in a sleepy, easy way. You spent your first year as a cuddly little guy who loved his sleep and who was super easy going. By the time you were two, you were very stubborn, did things your way, and communicated in screams and outbursts. Your feelings have grown so big that sometimes your small body just cannot contain them.

Now that you are five, you are starting to be able to vocalize those feelings. Your fits are fewer and your words, hugs, and helpfulness is plenty.

You tend to be reserved when you are in a new place, preferring to hang back and observe. Once you’ve warmed up, you are pretty independent, choosing to play on your own because you can have full control that way. You get along with other kids, you are just quieter and prefer to do your own thing.

You and Eddie can play super nice together, especially as you get older and you are not just a pesky little brother, but an actual playmate to him. However he is bossy and you like to do things your way which can lead to some fierce disagreements. The one person who you seem to have the most patience for is Alice. Yes, she can bug you from time to time when she wants to play with the cars you just set up in perfect rows, but if she seems interested in what you’re doing, you gladly make room for her. And when she asks you to play babies or tea party with her, you get everything set up and help her have fun.

She learns so much from you. Miss Carolyn even tells us that she watches you at daycare and will only eat her lunch if you are eating yours first. She looks up to both you and Eddie, but Eddie is more of her helper where you are the one she wants to play with and learn from. You two have a special bond I never would have guessed would happen, but that I hope will last forever.

You started Preschool this year! I admit I was nervous about how school would go for you. You go four afternoons a week. Because of your tantrums and lack of patience with yourself, Daddy and I braced ourselves for phone calls telling us you were under a table or in a closet and wouldn’t come out. But it never happened.

School has been probably the best thing that has happened to you. You love it and you are thriving! I know the fact that you have amazing teachers who love you help, but you, my Charlie, have been a natural. Your teachers tell us you are a “quiet leader” who always does the right thing. You struggle a little with writing (you are a leftie like daddy), but you know all your letters and their sounds and are ready to start sound-spelling! You catch on very quickly to anything with numbers; you can count to over a hundred!

You are most obsessed right now with Batman! You love dressing like him and having Batman everything! We even did a Batman birthday theme for you and Alice’s party (well, she had Mini Mouse). I probably shouldn’t read too much into it, but I feel like Batman fits you well. He also likes to be in control and have cool gadgets to tinker with. I can see why you are drawn to him. Plus he wears a cool mask, and I know wearing a mask helps you feel less “seen”, which is more comfortable for you.

You and Daddy are a lot of like in many ways, but you and I have a pretty close bond. I’ve finally figured out that I can’t make you talk about something you don’t want to talk about–very much like your Dad Dad. When you are feeling BIG FEELINGS, the best thing I can do is just sit next to you. Sometimes you want me to hold you and hug you, but most of the time you just want me there. At your birthday party this weekend, you didn’t get your way about something and you flipped out. You went into Alice’s room to have a fit, and I came in and just sat on the floor while you whined and tantrumed. Eventually you got quiet and I asked you, “Do you want me to make you a plate of food?” And you wiped your eyes and said, “will you sit by me?” And that was that. I did sit by you, but only for a few minutes. Then you were comfortable with all the people in our house and you were great!

You are intensely loyal and loving. For such a small, quiet guy, you are fierce with your love. When you are happy, you are very happy. When you are tired, hungry, or hurt, you are very cranky. I’ve learned that you can become overwhelmed by too much of anything. You need quiet, alone time. You need someone to just be there. You need to know you can count on your family.

I try to make sure you know always that you are safe and loved.

You can break my heart and heal my heart like no one else, my Charlie. Your words are hilarious and wise beyond your five years. I never want to forget how you say that you’re “halmost” done or you’re “halready” done or that you love everything “becept” something. Or how you make your army guys “HATTACK!”

I love how you like random things like egg cartons and pretty stones. I love that you can line up army guys on your fire truck for over an hour and make up dialogues and scenarios with them. I love the way people think you’re not paying attention, but you are paying attention to every word said.

I love the way you jam out to Kidz Bop in the car and announce that every song is your 56th favorite song or your 4th favorite song or your 15th favorite song. I wouldn’t put it past you to actually have a mental list of all the songs you love.

I love your big feelings. All of them. I love that you say to me, “You are the best Mom Mom” and I know you mean it. Even on days when you are having lots of negative feelings, I know that at the end of the day, you want to cuddle up to me before bed because I play with your hair and do the voices in your favorite books.

I love that you know Eddie better than Eddie knows himself and that you pronounce his name, “Uddie”.  I love your love for your little sister and that you call her “Beans” like Daddy does.

I love your love of cuddly comfy clothes and cozy blankets and warm spots. I love that you love chocolate more than anything in the world.

But most of all, I just really love you. All of you: the easy parts and the difficult parts, the sunny parts and the cloudy parts. You are my best Bird.

I hope your 5th birthday is wonderful!

Love,
Mom Mom

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