Celebrating Diverse Voices Town Hall: Michael S. Rafferty, New Detroit, Inc.March 3, 2021
Michael S. Rafferty is president and chief executive officer of New Detroit, Inc., a nonprofit coalition of leaders working to achieve racial understanding and racial equity in Metropolitan Detroit. Rafferty joined the Detroit Regional Chamber to discuss his experience in social justice work, address systemic and institutional racism, and offer advice to business leaders on implementing policies and procedures in their organizations to improve economic equality.
Rafferty’s career in social justice began in economic development. After a while in that space, he realized that though increased economic opportunity can be a rising tide, economic development won’t work unless there is cultural cohesion and investment in advancing people toward equity. Rafferty’s work with New Detroit is now focused on ending racism and scaling up interventions and resources to help the community get involved.
The War on Racism
New Detroit declared war on racism last June in an effort to focus on the subject systemically and draw a line in the sand to define and initiate action to end racism once and for all.
“Far too long we’ve been…focusing on the symptoms of racism,” said Rafferty, explaining those include things like income disparities, gaps in education attainment, unequal treatment by law enforcement, among others. This declaration puts emphasis on racism as a root cause of these issues.
“We acknowledge life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness isn’t and hasn’t been for all Americans, that was an important thing for us to say as we’re talking about trying to achieve our mission of racial understanding and racial equity,” Rafferty continued.
Progress Through Self-Examination
“Making the acknowledgment that racism is still a problem is the first step,” said Rafferty. “Committing yourself to not slowing down on it, committing yourself to examining every flaw and opportunity for growth is the next step.”
Investing in the racial justice ecosystem and ensuring that your organization and you as an individual are part of that ecosystem is key to meaningful action. Rafferty encourages businesses to bring in support to audit the culture and have a third party examine strengths, opportunities, weaknesses, and threats. This evaluation can inform a plan and ongoing evaluation and monitoring.
As far as what progress looks like, Rafferty hopes Americans, especially decision-makers, will focus on racial equity as an imperative and have fewer debates about things that seem obvious to those that want to see equity.
The 1960s vs. Today
In comparing the civil rights movement of the 1960s to today’s racial justice efforts, Rafferty noted that anti-racism is the common thread in the natural evolution of progress. The objective 100 years from now is to not see gaps in outcome by race.
“The best way we can do this is to define this moment as anti-racism,” said Rafferty.
To continue advancing this movement and seeing real results, everyone has to accept their role to play.
“We need leaders to step up, and we need to acknowledge that we’re all leaders.”