Many black and Latino residents are asking billionaire Dan Gilbert and his company today, “Is this really how you see Detroit?”
The uproar on social media came after a large ad banner depicting an virtually all-white crowd was posted across a downtown Detroit building with the words: “See Detroit like we do.”
In a city with a population that is more than 85% black and Latino, the banner raised questions about the leadership of a company that owns more than 90 buildings in downtown Detroit and is embarking on large loft projects in Brush Park and Eastern Market. The booming downtown real estate market, which has predominately displaced African Americans, has drawn the largest influx of white residents to the city since the 1950s. Meanwhile, most of Detroit’s neighborhoods are still battling decades of poverty, disinvestment and home foreclosures.
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So what’s the deal with the banner?
According to city and company sources, Bedrock posted the advertisement on a high-rise building at Woodward and Congress over the weekend. The banner was supposed to be part of a larger advertisement that included more diversity and stretched across the side of the building on Congress. But employees posted the offensive banner – the only one facing Woodward – and went home for the day. The other advertisements have since been erected, and the one facing Woodward has been taken down.
Aaron Foley, who is Mayor Duggan’s chief storyteller, defended Bedrock in a Facebook post, saying he’s “going to rule this as PITCHFORKS DOWN.”
Foley, who as a journalist often slammed all-white depictions of Detroit, surprised some city residents with his position now that he’s making $75,000 a year in the mayor’s office.
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“That they claim to have pulled the ad because a panel wasn’t sticking properly, not because it was at best tone deaf, or at worst, patently RACIST, seems impossible to spin,” Nadir Omowale wrote on Facebook. “50 years after the uprising, they are taking the city back. It’s a clear statement. A line in the sand. A declaration of intent.”
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Other members of Duggan’s administration weren’t as forgiving and demanded an explanation from Bedrock. Speaking on condition of anonymity, some members of the administration said the advertisement was “ill-conceived” and sent the wrong message about promoting diverse, inclusive Detroit.
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Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.