The City of Hamtramck is facing a serious problem.
It is not the matter of the brief arrest of Rev. Wayne Little. That matter is being worked out by the parties involved. Nor is it the matter of relations between the police and the city’s many communities although that it is an issue that must be at the forefront of public concern on a daily basis. Nor is it whatever was the focus of the March 23 rally at Zussman Park. As political theater with a traveling cast that event is interesting, but as a venue for addressing the current major problem of the city it has no real value.
The key issue Hamtramck faces can be summed up in the ancient question “How shall we live with one another?”
We are a city with many newcomers from diverse backgrounds and languages strange to each other as well as to the older residents. Many of us have perhaps not lived long enough together to develop fully ways of accommodating ourselves to the other. This problem is playing itself out most dramatically and often violently in the confrontations between the young people in the city. The current economic distress, as it did in similar crises in the past, only sharpens the conflict.
The only way to address this issue is to bring leaders and representatives of the city’s major religious and ethnic groups together in an intense, honest and long term dialogue to build the bonds of trust that make solutions possible.
The city’s communities together must create a new civic culture that draws on the best and most generous values of each of our traditions. That culture must register strong disapproval of violence and create cultural barriers against it. What we must seek together is not a utopia but workable mechanisms for living with each other and informal and even formal structures for resolving disputes.
The city, the schools and the police department cannot solve this problem. They can help but only if we, the members of Hamtramck’s many communities, come together to work out how we shall live with each other and then provide them with the direction and oversight that would maximize their ability to support our joint efforts.
Without the grassroots efforts to build community an asymmetrical dialogue between individual groups and official institutions are useless at best and divisive at worst.
We have successful examples from the experience of the people of this area in the recent past to guide us. The Black-Polish Alliance that emerged after the terrible events of 1967 in the neighborhoods adjacent to Hamtramck is recognized as one of the most successful coalitions in the U.S. during that period.
It had an important impact on neighborhood life and city and county policy for a decade. The press conference, Prayer Service and Community dinner that brought together the people of Hamtramck of all religious faiths but in particular Poles and Bangladeshi, at the Pope Park in May 2004 is another example. They brought about a successful conciliation in the Call to Prayer issue. Out of it was born Hamtramck’s Children of Abraham Council which is still in existence. The Council can provide the initial framework to begin the new dialogue.
If we are going to truly address the serious problem of community strife and growing violence among our youth we need to avoid diversions and led by our most committed community representatives, collectively address Plato’s question: “How shall we live with one another?”
The Piast Institute with its commitment to the creation of a vital and livable pluralism and its experience with building community coalitions such as the Hamtramck Drug Free Community Coalition, Census Complete Count Committee and Lead Abatement Coalition as well as in designing community building strategies such as the one which brought a solution to the Call to Prayer issue, stands ready to join our neighbors in this effort.
Thaddeus c. Radzilowski, Ph.D
President, Piast Institute