New Detroit was built on community engagement the old-fashioned way: roll up your sleeves, look eye to eye, be at the table, and confront, but always respect.
Shirley Stancato, President and CEO of New Detroit, Inc., joined the organization over 15 years ago, after a long career with Bank One where she was Senior Vice President and an officer of that company. Now,she is the longest serving CEO of New Detroit, the first urban coalition and the only organization in our community dedicated exclusively to race relations—and nothing more.
She is the last in my Leadership Lessons interview series I did with The Senior Solution.
“New Detroit is not a diversity organization,” Stancato said. “We don’t use the D word. While diversity is important because diversity embraces gender and age, our organization is solely focused on race.”
New Detroit believes that it is important to focus on structural racism and institutional change. That kind of change is long term. So, in order to do that, New Detroit makes sure that they engage the educational community, the health community, and other grassroots civil rights organizations.In addition to African-Americans and whites, New Detroit is also representative of other racial communities in and around the city, including Latinos, Arabs, Native Americans and Asians, working together to improve race relations for people of all cultures.
“We believe that if we improve education, people of color will be able to move forward,” Stancato said. “So, we focus on education, on minority business development, to improve race relations to achieve our overall mission.”
It’s all about the people, not the process.
“At New Detroit, we say relationships first, issues second,” she said. “What we mean by that is if you develop relationships with people, and oftentimes folks who look like you, but also people who don’t look like you, then when you work on a project, when you’re trying to develop a solution, that solution will be a better solution because you’re working with people who know you, who understand you and understand your journey.”
Indeed, New Detroit is all about relationships.It’s about dealing with people from all walks of life, all races.
“We believe that everybody needs to be at the table, as we say at New Detroit, providing their experience and expertise, in order for us to move our community forward,” Stancato said.“At New Detroit, we’re about closing the gap.”
In addition to being a fertile ground to break past the barriers of race relations, youth development is a key component of the work at New Detroit. Some of them believe that marching is important. Some of them believe that sitting around the table is important. But they also believe that authenticity is important.
“They’re looking for a place to be able to have authentic conversations, a safe place where they can ask questions and not be judged about people who don’t look like them,” Stancato said. “In the eyes of some of their parents, racism doesn’t even exist.”
Stancato urges that the relay method won’t work well in this season. Running the race with our heads down, passing the baton, and sitting down won’t fly.
“I believe that the model should be very much the model where everybody is at the table so that young people, instead of waiting until we’re finished, they sit at the table with us so they can learn from us and so that we can learn from them,” she said. “Rather than passing the baton, I suggest that we hold the baton together—running this race together.”