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My Michigan Roundtable Internship Experience
March 7, 2012
When the Michigan Roundtable was the first organization to pop up in my search on the Internet for a winter internship, I thought there had to be a hitch somewhere. Nonprofit, civil rights, racial inclusion, community, Detroit—these were the exact words I was looking for, and they were right there in the mission statement. After a phone conversation with Steve and then a Skype interview with the team, I was fortunate enough to be welcomed in for an 11-week period. And believe it or not, there was no catch—sometimes things work out just the way you want. I could not have asked for a more worthwhile place to work and learn.
Social justice as a field has always appealed to me, but I think it has been some of my experiences growing up in Grosse Pointe—a suburb notorious for its history of white privilege and racial exclusion—that has drawn me to racial injustice in particular. This is not to say that all residents of Grosse Pointe are racist, but the jokes, intolerance, prejudice, profiling, and ignorance that I have encountered and witnessed living there are deeply disturbing.
Individual acts, then, led me to where I was first Skyping in with the Roundtable. Working under Freda and Stacey on the Race2Equity Project, however, taught me that individual racism is only one face of the problem. I never comprehended the extent to which structural racism exists—in government policies, lending institutions, business, and real estate, to name a few. Before my time here, I had never even heard of the Point System, nor did I realize that the first black family in Grosse Pointe did not move in until 1966—aspects of Grosse Pointe’s history that make me ashamed to call it my home.
Not to mention the volumes I learned about Detroit—where it’s been and where it’s going. One thing that made my internship so unique was that half the time it was like taking a history class, providing me with the opportunity to research the backgrounds both of the Roundtable and of the region. For instance, because Freda wanted to ensure that I would get the opportunity to check out the Burton Historical Collection at the Detroit Public Library, she sent me along one day with Rozenia Johnson, the curator of the Roundtable’s traveling exhibit. Rozenia suggested I search for documents on McGhee v. Sipes, the case that eventually went to the Supreme Court, in which Benjamin Sipes charged Orsel and Minnie McGhee, an African American couple, with breaking the restrictive covenant that barred them from moving onto his block. I stumbled upon an oral history of Minnie McGhee, and it was fascinating. She talked about the hardships her family faced before and after the case, which they eventually won. Most intriguing, I thought, was that although the majority of white families moved out after the verdict, the Sipes family remained—and became lifelong friends with the McGhees.
The other half of my time at the Roundtable involved opportunities not afforded to all interns. I was lucky enough to attend the opening retreat for the Metro Detroit Truth and Reconciliation Commission, for one. Taking notes and even participating a little, I got to listen in on the opinions of the commissioners, their backgrounds, and the direction their work will be headed.
Like I said, I could not have hoped for a better internship—I could also not have asked for better people from whom to learn. Everyone was kind and friendly from the first day. I am especially grateful to Freda and Stacey, both tireless in their work and inspiring in their efforts. They have challenged me while always treating me with respect. Although my time here is coming to a close, I know it will not be the last time I am involved with the Michigan Roundtable.