FRIDAY, June 19 — A consortium of leaders from Greater Lansing’s African American community are pushing for a new “Black agenda” in Mid-Michigan amid a growing call for racial justice, police reforms and increased social equity in Lansing and across the United States.
Dozens gathered today, the afternoon of Juneteenth, at the former Black Child & Family Institute on Genesee Street to chart out a more equitable path forward in Michigan — including a continued call to divest from police departments and reinvest in black and brown communities.
“Our community, from Lansing to Dewitt, to Delhi to Delta townships and to Okemos and everywhere in between, must tackle systemic racism head on,” State Rep. Sarah Anthony, who helped to organize today’s event, announced at the beginning. The crowd broke into applause.
Today’s gathering assembled dozens of leaders and activists under the broad umbrella of “Black Lansing United,” including representatives from the Lansing ACLU chapter, ACTION of Greater Lansing, the Lansing NAACP chapter, The Village Lansing, Turning Point of Lansing and more.
“We have leadership here looking at issues such as policing, but also looking at issues such as education and health and the welfare of our people because we know that all of those things are interconnected,” said Barbera Roberts Mason, the first African American woman elected to statewide office in Michigan and co-founder of the original Black Child and Family Institute.
“Even though this is Juneteenth, the day of our emancipation, we were not truly emancipated,” she added. “We were given a promissory note, and that promise has not yet been fulfilled.”
Anthony and Roberts Mason were joined at the event by Ingham County commissioners Brian Crenshaw and Derrell Slaughter. Lansing City Councilman Brian Jackson and local activist Paul Birdsong made an appearance, as did philanthropist and former footballer Todd Duckett, former City Councilwoman A’Lynne Boles Duke and Firecracker Foundation founder Tashmica Torok.
“Everything happening today is going to fall on these young people to carry on, so we have got to teach them, lead them, guide them and, in some cases free them, to do what they need to do, to not only find out what is the right fight but also how to fight the right fight right,” said Wayne Lynn, board chairman of the Turning Point of Lansing, a mentorship program for Black youth.
Anthony said the group hasn’t yet assembled a comprehensive list of demands for racial equity in Mid-Michigan, but they have big ideas. And the spirit of reform is alive and well in Lansing.
“This issue is so multi-faceted, it’s so big. Systemic racism is the air we breathe. It’s the water we drink. It’s the schools we send our kids. It’s who gets resources and when,” Anthony explained. “The thing that charges us to be out in the sweat and the sun? We’ve had enough. We’re tired, and we’re resolved to solve this problem in our community. And we need allies.”
Speakers addressed a need for investment in the Black community, which was particularly symbolic at the site of the old Genessee Street School, the former Black Child and Family Institute. Roberts Mason said more community programs — like BCFI — are needed in Lansing.
Robert Easterly, president of the Davis-Dunnings Bar Association, spoke about a need for criminal justice reform. Slaughter, who recently proposed and voted on a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis in Ingham County, also called for more decisive and thoughtful leadership.
“When we say the system is failing us, it assumes the system is supposed to be working for us,” Easterly explained. “It’s not. It’s not a broken system. It works exactly as it’s been designed to.”
Torok said that many activists present today weren’t yet prepared to make a call to “defund” the police. She was. Black people, she said, have already been protecting their own for years.
“We can create ways to intercede on violence without law enforcement because Black people know that police are not here to save us and we’ve been doing it for generations,” Torok explained. “We cannot discuss stopping violence without talking about police violence.”
“Not only must reforms be put in place, but police departments must be held accountable if they do not actively enforce those reforms,” Boles added. “There are laws against this stuff that’s happening, but they’re not being enforced. It’s vital we be a part of those discussions. We must have a seat at the table. And let it know that the problem does not stop with police brutality.”
Meanwhile, an afternoon of food, pop-up vendors, music and performers continued during today’s Black Lansing United event at Adado Riverfront Park. Signs posted there echoed national sentiments — like an end to police brutality and injustice in local Black communities.
“Defund the police, celebrate our community,” read light-post flyers advertising for the event.
The Lansing Black Lives Matter chapter, which didn’t appear to be directly represented at either event, is hosting its own “call to action” at 5 p.m. tomorrow at Lansing City Hall. The two overarching national demands: defund police and invest in Black communities.
Many activists have also called for President Donald Trump and Lansing Mayor Andy Schor to immediately resign from office. Schor, whose office was notified of the event, didn’t attend today.
Schor announced the city’s first concrete response to the recent unrest earlier this week in the form of a one-page document titled “Racial Justice and Equity Community Action Proposals.” It’s only an outline, but he hopes it’ll give birth to some broader reforms in the city of Lansing.
The latest plans from Schor’s office call for the hiring of a diversity officer and the creation of a diversity, equity and inclusion plan, in addition to a review of policies and procedures both in and outside the Police Department and additional staff training on racial biases citywide.
Long-term city plans call for continued community input, as well as a deeper look at the budget amid a growing call to shift resources away from police enforcement and into more community- and education-based programs in local neighborhoods, particularly for Black residents.
The ideals listed in the city’s plans largely mirror the demands from local and national activists. Only time will tell if they actually address ongoing racial disparities in a meaningful fashion.
Schor isn’t opposed to reallocating resources and services, but he also isn’t prepared to make any immediate cuts to police. His latest proposal suggests budget changes may be necessary to ensure proper “resource allocation” for enforcement, services and a “social safety net,” but it stops short of any direct suggestions for divestment. That conversation will continue, he said.
“We’re listening. We know that there are issues and we’re formulating action steps,” Schor told City Pulse. “This is the time to address these issues. We’re in a state of heightened awareness right now among all citizens. This is a time to listen, and this is only just the start.”