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Michigan Humanities Council Newsletter

Davenport Hosts Exhibit Exploring Housing Segregation

Kevin BoyleAs students flood the library at Davenport University’s Grand Rapids campus, a new exhibit will greet them throughout December.

Stories of Black Bottom, the 1967 Uprising and the Sojourner Truth Housing Complex will be on display in the W.A. Lettinga Campus Library from Dec. 3-19. The exhibit, We Don’t Want Them, is part of the Michigan Humanities Council's Great Michigan Read program.

“It will be very informative for folks,” said Rhae-Ann Booker, executive director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Davenport. “Especially for us Michiganders, it will feel familiar. This is part of our world, our state, and represents a shared history.”

This exhibit, made possible by the Council and Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion, explores the history of housing segregation in Detroit through reproductions of historic documents and photographs, mounted on freestanding displays.

Prominently displayed in the exhibit is the subject of this year’s Great Michigan Read, “Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age,” by Detroit native Kevin Boyle. “Arc of Justice” tells the story of African American physician Ossian Sweet and the chain of events that occurred after he purchased a home for his family in an all-white Detroit neighborhood in 1925.

Though it will be housed on Davenport’s campus, the exhibit is open to the public. Visitors will be able to take a self-guided tour using a handout guide and will also receive a take-away worksheet called “My Community.”

“My Community” is intended to get participants thinking about their neighborhood makeup. A number of neighborhoods are represented, and questions are posed such as, “Which rectangle represents the community in which you currently live?” or “Identify the rectangle where you may feel the least comfortable living.”

Davenport article“The exercise is a takeaway from the exhibit,” Booker said. “You think about your own current environment and housing in 2012. You make that connection that perhaps what you’re viewing from this exhibit is not too far in the distant past.”

Considering all that Davenport has planned for 2012 as a Great Michigan Read partner, Booker felt hosting this exhibit was a great opportunity to involve the student body.

“(The exhibit) was a great way to supplement and enhance the Great Michigan Read efforts being led by Dr. (Terri) Tomaszek,” Booker said. “It provided another opportunity for engaging students and the employees around the issues of injustice and discrimination that exist in our everyday lives, and it provided a way to involve surrounding communities.”

Looking Ahead to 2012

Dr. Tomaszek, a Davenport professor, has spearheaded the Great Michigan Read program on campus, which kicked off during Boyle’s statewide author tour, where he made a stop at the Lettinga Campus to speak to students about his book. More than 120 students and community members came out for the morning discussion.

“This is very exciting for us,” Tomaszek said. “Kevin (Boyle) came in October, we had the bus trip in November, and We Don’t Want Them in December. It really is a year-long thing and we just love the idea of engaging people all year in an issue.”

This spring, in addition to student trips and film showings, Davenport students will host a campus- and community-wide read of “Arc of Justice,” partnering with the Kent District Library System – Kentwood Branch.

“The book focuses on residential discrimination, and a lot of what we’re doing is tying in to that idea,” Tomaszek said. “In April we’ll be having a bus trip to the Wealthy Street area to talk about gentrification. Dr. (Randal) Jelks will refer to issues of neighborhood discrimination in January. It just seemed like a nice thread to have We Don’t Want Them this semester, as we push ahead for next semester.”

In February, Davenport will be showing the film “Lines: The Lived Experience of Race,” which was a play written by a Grand Rapids professor.

“We deeply appreciate the opportunity to bring all of these things together,” Tomaszek said. “There’s a synergy in being able to connect those things … and use it all year. If not for this opportunity, we wouldn’t have thought about it in that way. This just ties them all together and goes out into the community too.”

This traveling exhibit began its nine-city tour in October in Flint. Next month it will make its way to Marquette. For more information on this exhibit and the Great Michigan Read, contact the Council at (517) 372-7770.


Davenport 2012 Events
C= campus only, P= public welcome

January 12
Student Development Breakfast (C)

Dr. Randal Jelks will be on hand for this discussion on “What can we learn about leadership from the Civil Rights Movement.”

Community Forum (P)
Dr. Randal Jelks will provide this community-wide forum with discussion on “Historical Perspectives on ‘Arc of Justice’, residential segregation and redlining.”

“Lines: The Lived Experience of Race” (C)
This filmed performance of the play by a Grand Rapids professor will be shown at five Davenport campuses.

Tunnel of Oppression (P)
This event will highlight issues of oppression that exist in society, while challenging and educating students, faculty and staff about the issues of privilege, power and oppression.

Public Lecture (P)
At the Kentwood library, a lecture by Dr. David Pilgrim, curator of the Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University

DU Book Read (C)
Discussion on “Arc of Justice,” residential segregation and redlining

Panel Presentation (P)
A community read of “Arc of Justice” begins and includes discussion on residential segregation and redlining at the Kentwood branch of the Kent District Library.

Walking Tour (C)

Students, staff and faculty will take a walking tour of the Wealthy Street neighborhood with discussion of segregation and gentrification.

We Don't Want Them
2012 Schedule

– Peter White Public Library (Marquette)
February – TBD
March – Interlochen / Traverse Area District Library / Dennos Museum Center (Traverse City)
April – Castle Museum of Saginaw History / Saginaw News (Saginaw)
May – Old Mill Museum (Dundee)
June – Artworks (Big Rapids)


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