From Chaos to Clarity: How the Lessons Learned After the Detroit Riot of 1967 Can Impact Effective Leadership Today

Rita Fields, Ph.D.

Abstract


 

The city of Detroit, Michigan has some level of distinction due to its current challenges with its public school system, recovery from bankruptcy and the stain of an ex-mayor who was convicted of corruption charges.  Perhaps less well known is the fact that Detroit has had a rich and complex history with struggle and social unrest, culminating famously during July of 1967 in a bloody riot. The city was arguably as close to its destruction as it has ever been. Still, amazingly, the city faced the crisis head on and slowly rebounded from its devastating impact. History is said to repeat itself when humans don’t digest its lessons, and if this is indeed true then a careful examination of the past is not only prudent but critical.  This article offers an overview of the history of the city of Detroit and the aforementioned riot. In addition, there is a focus on three organizations born of the devastation that still remain in some form nearly 50 years later.  These organizations were pivotal in the repair of the damage to the city’s image and both the physical and psychosocial safety of its residents in the immediate years following the riot. Specifically, they spearheaded community dialogue, economic development, and enhanced sensitivity to race relations. Future leaders, not only in Detroit but also in other urban cities, may glean valuable lessons from this pivotal event in order to learn how to become effective leaders when faced with crisis.

 

Keywords:  chaos, clarity, leadership, leadership in crisis, Detroit, Focus:Hope


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