Diversity Is Fundamental Business Practice

April 17, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — If there was widespread respect and appreciation for the contributions that people of different color, ethnicity and faith have made to both world and American civilization, race wouldn't be an issue. If we didn't have to spend time on that issue we would have more time to do definitive, positive things within our respective communities and as a country," Dennis Archer, former mayor of Detroit and current chairman of Dickinson Wright, told members of the Economic Club last week.

It's projected that by the year 2056, the majority of people living in America will be people of color or ethnic minority.

Corporate America was quick to grasp that and to incorporate diversity as a fundamental business practice, Archer said.

"It makes good economic sense to start focusing in on how we demonstrate to people who will be buying our products that we believe in celebrating diversity."

He said he has seen evidence across the country and across all areas of corporate practice promoting diversity, from the vendors that companies are using to the joint ventures they're forming.

The legal profession, in comparison, has been slower to embrace diversity, he said.

"Typically we find that we of color are by ourselves in trying to promote diversity," Archer remarked. He said people of color represent about 7 percent of the legal profession.

"We have to do something about this thing called race," Archer said. "It's not something people of color have the responsibility to do." Rather, it is the responsibility of those who started it and who have perpetuated it to remove it.

"We need to sit down and dialogue together and come together and be together, because it will make us a better country."

Archer said he's encouraged by the work that is being done but cautioned there's a lot more to do.

"If we can come together on this thing called race and understand and appreciate the contributions that each of has made, then we will be a stronger America and we will be better for it," he said, adding that future generations will be the beneficiaries of whatever action is taken now.

He said his biggest fear is that people will do nothing to remedy the situation.

"I don't want to even imagine what could occur if we do not reach a resolution on this thing called race and have the majority of Americans in 2056 to be people of color and have our children and grandchildren being the victims of reverse ethnic insensitivity."

Reflecting on his two terms as Detroit's mayor, he said Detroit was a very dysfunctional city when he originally took office.

In 1990 Detroit led the nation as the city with the highest number of people — 32.2 percent — living below the level of poverty. Of those, 46.6 percent were children.

He attributes his success as mayor to his reaching out to the business community.

"I reached out to people just like you and said 'We need you to invest in our city.' Jobs don't create jobs, businesses create jobs, and it was very important to have that kind of working relationship."

An estimated $20 billion was invested in the city under his watch, and included the development of Comerica Park, Ford Field, DaimlerChrysler's Mack I and II engine plants, the renovation of General Motors world headquarters at Renaissance Center and the opening of three interim casinos.

He said he was disappointed by the 2000 Census because it didn't recognize that Detroit's population had surpassed 1 million — but the federal government "never could count anyway," he added.

The Census did recognize that Detroit businesses had created 10,000 jobs and it also revealed that Detroit had dropped from first place to 16th among cities with the highest poverty level.

Archer has served as a Michigan Supreme Court Justice, as president of the National League of Cities, as a member of the American Bar Association Board of Governors, and on the Executive Committee of the United States Conference of Mayors.

He has been nominated to lead the 400,000-member American Bar Association. If elected in August, he would become the association's first black president, serving the first year as president-elect and the following year as president.

He said he would spend his entire year as president "talking about undoing racism."

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