Words hold incredible power, and that is especially true when it comes to the word “riot” in Detroit. Civil disturbance. Conflict. Public disorder. Urban revolt.
Bob Bury is the Executive Director and CEO at Detroit Historical Society. He is leading the Detroit 67: Looking Back to MOVE FORWARD project, a community engagement project of the Detroit Historical Society that aims to “bring together diverse voices and communities around the effects of an historic crisis to find their place in the present and inspire the future.”
Bury is on Mackinac Island this week as part of the Mackinac Policy Conference. The 1967 Project is playing a key part in the event, helping participants from Millennials to Gen X to Baby Boomers recall those days, learn from the city’s past and hold evocative discussions about how Detroit can understand that moment and racial issues going forward.
Here is a Q&A with Bury about this Conference, the project and more.
Q: What has been your biggest surprise or take away from the 1967 project and why do you think it is relevant to this year’s Mackinac Policy Conference goers?
A: The Detroit 67: Looking Back to MOVE FORWARD project is unlike anything the Detroit Historical Society has ever done in its nearly 100-year history. While a comprehensive, balanced and experiential exhibition (opening in Spring 2017) is at the heart of it, we are breaking new ground for how a cultural institution works collaboratively with local and national scholars, experts and community members – and that includes the business and community leaders who gather at the Mackinac Policy Conference.
There have been many surprises along the way. First, there are many myths out there and significant misinformation about what happened and why. We will be bringing the facts to light in a balanced, fair and comprehensive way, which, in my opinion, is critical. Second, on a more positive and encouraging note, in the vast majority of cases, people are ready to talk about it—what we have done right and where we have fallen short—and are ready to take action to move forward. Detroiters are resilient and ready to build upon the positive momentum that Detroit is finally beginning to experience.
Q: What is new at the Museum/Society that has you thinking, “We still have so much as a city/region to learn from our collective history”?
A: Most people would agree that the challenges, achievements and success of our past can provide important lessons for our future. Using the 50-year commemoration of the summer of 1967 as point of reflection really makes that point. When we began this project, we called it Detroit 1967 with a primary focus on the actual disturbance that took place during July of that year. We quickly realized, however, that to fully understand and learn from 1967, we had to take much broader and comprehensive view. We renamed the project Detroit 67: Looking Back to MOVE FORWARD. The project now has a 150-year scope, covering the 100 years from 1917-2017, but also forward to 2067. Most would agree much remains to be done to realize our full potential as a region, and if we know our history we can create a better future.
Q: Why did the Museum/Society want to participate in the Mackinac Policy Conference and what do you think the event contributes to your overall mission as an organization?
A: At the 2015 Mackinac Conference, Chamber President Sandy Baruah and Conference Chair Mark Davidoff made a commitment to continue the discussion of economic inclusion and to feature the work of a nonprofit organization that was doing good work in the community. Aside from just being the right thing to do, from a business perspective, economic inclusion is critical to the development, growth and overall health of our region. That’s the Chamber’s business.
With the 50-year commemoration of 1967 approaching next year, it just seemed like the perfect timing and opportunity, and we were honored to be invited to be participate. It’s a great forum for having the honest and often difficult conversations we need to have – followed by commitments to take action by the leaders of our community.
Our mission is advanced when our community members including business, philanthropic and community leaders better understand how we, as a community, have arrived where we are today, the realities of our present and how we move forward. I believe the Detroit Historical Society being part of the Mackinac Policy Conference can provide an important historical perspective and provide a catalyst for moving forward.