New Detroit President & CEO Shirley Stancato issues statement on Charlottesville, Virginia

This is a very ugly moment in our nation’s history.

We have a president whose public pronouncements equate activists protesting racism with neo-Nazis and white supremacists. His words are welcomed and praised by those neo-Nazis and white supremacists, the same people who conducted a torch-lit parade in Charlottesville, Virginia chanting slogans like “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us.” Some of those marchers, he says, are “very nice people.”

This country has had other ugly moments in our history: the original sin of slavery, the Jim Crow era, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, lynchings, the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II. But we have never had a president who so completely abdicated his responsibility for moral leadership by defending the voices of bigotry and hate.

The immediate issue in Charlottesville was the question of whether to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, who, it must be remembered, was in fact a traitor who led a rebellion against the United States of America that resulted in the deaths of more than 600,000 people.

Most Confederate “memorial” statues in the south were not erected after the Civil War as memorials to the fallen. Rather, as James Grossman, the executive director of the American Historical Association, noted this week, most Confederate monuments were constructed in two periods: the 1890s, as Jim Crow was being established, and in the 1950s, during a period of mass Southern resistance to the civil rights movement.

So, what can we do to turn back the forces of hate?

New Detroit has worked for 50 years to bridge the racial divide in this city and region. It is hard work and can be exhausting. But we have made progress. We have a much more inclusive society in this city and this region than existed 50 years ago. It is far from perfect, but the momentum is in the right direction. That progress is the result of work by many people of all races and backgrounds who see the moral imperative of knocking down barriers and building relationships that will last.

We also should take encouragement from the overwhelming reaction of outrage and condemnation that has closely followed the president’s comments at his Tuesday news conference. That reaction has been uniform from across the political, social and business spectrums. Clearly, the vast majority of Americans do not approve.

Dr. Martin Luther King said on many occasions, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Each of us can do our part, in our own way and in our own communities, to help bend that arc toward justice.

At New Detroit, we will continue to create constructive dialogue – to create a no-fault environment in which real conversations on race lead to healing and reconciliation. That is the only way this country will, however long it takes, truly come to grips with and move beyond our deeply troubled racial past and create an environment in which all truly are seen as having been created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.