Friday, September 9, 2016

Talking About Tension

Heather Willard

The atmosphere in Morton hall on Ohio University’s campus Wednesday night was charged with excitement, or maybe just a lot of caffeine. Stephen Henderson, Pulitzer winner and editorial writer for The Detroit Free Press, host of daily talk show “Detroit Today” on WDET and host of a weekly talk show called “American Black Journal on public television, among other notable achievements.

From right to left: Max McDulin, Stephen Henderson, Erik Threet II, unkown, in Morton Hall at Ohio University

Henderson answered questions on the current status of Detroit, including racial tensions and how the police interact with the community. His frank and friendly speaking style drew the audience in as he spoke on the depopulation of Detroit, its definitive racial dynamic and the history that led to its current plight.

The interviewer, Erik Threet II, asked how Henderson would compare Detroit’s issues to the one’s the country is facing. With thought and deliberation, he answered by first explaining where Detroit came from.  “We made stoves before cars, and clothes before that,” he said. As he spoke about how Detroit was a city that made things, and the difficulty they were having now that manufacturing was shipped overseas, there was a silence across the crowd. Although some people could not identify with depopulation and living with racial tensions every second of every day, everyone seemed to be able to connect with the problem of losing jobs.

He went on to explain that yes, the tensions will look familiar, because across the country, black versus white, rich versus poor, they face similar struggles and thus their tensions will be similar. He compared Baltimore, another place he has lived, to Detroit. Baltimore police have reportedly acted as poorly as Detroit police did in the past.

Detroit has been eyed for a while now as a possible flash point for the mounting tensions between blacks and police, but Henderson said that what once would have definitely become a bitter fight, is not very likely anymore.  He explained that in the 1990s, there was a exposition of what the police were doing to black citizens, and eventually the U.S. justice department involved itself.  “But now the Justice Department oversight is done and there’s an uneasy peace.”

The conversation moved on to politics, and the election might effect the future of blacks and whites in Detroit. “It goes beyond campaigns,” he explained.  “There’s a larger context.” He spoke further on the subject, growing candid. “My great fear, as an African American, is for African Americans,” he said.  “I have to sit down with my 10-year-old and talk about the police and how to not get shot.”

For a while the conversation switched to simply the election, and while informative and interesting to hear an educated opinion, it was fairly obvious that he was very biased against Trump, but also seemed a bit biased against Hillary.

Henderson is more than just a great journalist, but a great citizen, exercising his freedom of speech and working hard to bridge the gap between just saying something should be done, actually doing something.  Because of one article written about how a man had to walk 21 miles a day just to get to work, they managed to bring the community together and give him a better job and a car, just through donations.  While more always can be done, such as redesigning the public transit system, Stephen Henderson is helping new journalism lead the way.

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