Home Social Justice Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist talks race relations and Detroit for “90 Minutes” series

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist talks race relations and Detroit for “90 Minutes” series

5 min read

Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial journalist Stephen Henderson candidly discussed issues of race and urban policy in the first installment of “90 Minutes” Wednesday evening.

After 25 years of reporting in Detroit, Henderson is an expert on the largest city in America to go bankrupt.

“Our problems in Detroit were depopulation, they were deindustrialization, and frankly there were racial tensions that defined the relationship between inner Detroit and the suburbs,” Henderson said.

At its lowest point, the city owed 33 times its value, according to Henderson. He wrote in his column for The Detroit Free Press about how his daughters had to walk from the parking garage to their building in the dark because streetlights didn’t work.

“I wrote about how what we were really doing with the bankruptcy was really refashioning life for Detroiters,” Henderson said. “My focus was that it was no longer acceptable to come up with reasons that people in Detroit had to live the way we do.”

He added that solving the city’s financial problem won’t solve all of its problems, citing the Federal Housing Act that purposefully excluded blacks.

“If you were black you couldn’t buy a house out in the suburbs. Whites left the city for what they thought were better places and better communities and blacks were left behind,” Henderson said. “You still have a racial tension left behind.”

His commentary on the cultural differences within Detroit led Henderson to discuss the national topic of police shootings, such as the highly publicized deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille.

“The shootings get a lot of attention and they should. They get people worked up,” Henderson said. “The relationships between police departments and black people is the kind of stuff that’s not making the news. Pretty much every black citizen in Ferguson had an encounter with the police over a 10-to 15-year period. These are the things people need to talk about.”

He also criticized both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump for their proposed presidential agendas. Trump, Henderson said, does not recognize the structure of the presidency or of the Constitution.

“I would be almost equally critical about Hillary Clinton, who has not articulated to me a concrete agenda on the question… of the tremendous fear and anxiety that black people have in this country right now over the relationship with the police, over the relationship with any sort of authority,” Henderson said.

Henderson summed up his panel by taking questions from the audience and talking about how his columns translate to diverse community of readers.

“People think that talking about race is racist, and that’s part of the problem. But that is how a lot of people genuinely feel,” Henderson said.

Erik Threet II, a junior studying journalism, moderated the panel, which he said was interesting because it concerned him and his race.

“It was interesting to hear about the amount of crime in Detroit and the relationship between cops and black people,” Threet said. “It was cool to get inside information on the city.”

The next “90 Minutes” event is “A Conversation with Yvonne Pointer,” a community activist and global voice for today’s youth, on Sept. 14.


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