Capturing the culture that makes Detroit what it is.

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What if …

What if ... I create fiction based concepts of opportunities that could have and would have changed Detroit history.

What if … Detroiter’s had our Retro Hustle (The Entrepreneurial Spirit of past Generation’s)

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Attorney Todd Russell Perkins has built Perkins Law Group in the style of his Father’s business and Grandfather’s business. Perkin’s Grandfather was born in Arkansas in 1889. In the 1910’s he moved to Detroit to explore his entrepreneurial ambitions. In Detroit Perkin’s found a home and business. Opening, owning, and operating a restaurant and barbershop on Hasting’s Street in Detroit’s Black Bottom. His barbershop was located next door to the legendary Bosky’s Drug and General Store on Hasting’s street.

In the tradition of the family Perkin’s Father carried on as an entrepreneur. Perkins’s Father expanded his Father’s barbershop into a chain of seven barbershops throughout Detroit. Throughout the 1960’s this business provided the stability for Perkin’s to explore more business ventures. As a collective of businessmen and burgeoning Detroit leaders Perkin’s Father, Judge Damon Keith, Judge Fred Bird (of 36th District Court), and Hall of Fame Football Player & Chicagoan Buddy Young all inspired one another. Perkin’s Father eventually settled into the business of contractual construction, clean up, and development. This business flourished as a foundation for his family, friends, and community.

“Detroiter’s always have had a swagger different than any and all. When I was at Dartmouth as an Ivy Leaguer my Detroit style attracted, engaged, and captured my peers and professors alike,” Attorney Perkins. “I believe if what I learned from my Father was taught and applied today, there would be no limitations for the Black Detroiters of today. I’ve never seen some of the things that are happening in Detroit till this day. I think many of Detroit’s Black business people are not imposing our wills into the business sector of what’s happening in our city,” Attorney Perkins.

Detroit's Black Bottom
Detroit’s Black Bottom

Editor’s Note – Attorney Todd Russell Perkins had the honor of working with the late Mayor Coleman Young before his passing and after his service as Mayor of Detroit. His legacy and impact on the city established institutions of Black leadership that are unparalleled to any American standard (DC, Atlanta, Chicago, Oakland, etc). This reality I witnessed as a child is the reasoning behind why I feel it’s unjust and out of context when many, and most campaigns highlighting today’s development in Detroit as Detroit’s only progress in over 40 years. This marketing ideal I first recognized propagated with the last Gubernatorial campaign of current Michigan Governor Rick Synder I think unjustly dismisses decades of Black political leadership that has routinely had to operate local governments with less resources than adjacent and formerly White run administrations.

Attorney Perkins was on the legal team bringing Coleman Young’s vision of a Black owned and operated casino to Detroit. The casino would have been named Paradise Valley. A collection of Black business stakeholders would have been involved in breaking ground on this venture. But the casino would have provided jobs, contracting, and investment opportunities for Detroiters. “Coleman Young wasn’t even into gambling. He knew that the commodity done correctly in Detroit in the 90’s would have provided an economy for Detroiters,” Attorney Perkins. “He was such a visionary in his understanding of process. He pinpointed the location for the casino to be where the MGM Grand is located now. Also he was negotiating the expansion of the people mover to reach not only the casino but throughout Detroit,” Attorney Perkins. “Having the foresight to include everyone into the Detroit was the genius of Coleman Young. Today using talent, skill, and process the same success is achievable in Detroit,” Attorney Perkins.

“Today Detroit is starved for attention. The Meijer that just opened on 8 Mile Rd is their most profitable store in the state. This is operating on less than the 24 hour cycle that all other Meijer stores operate. The Whole Food’s store in Detroit is the most profitable store in the state albeit is the smallest Whole Food store in the state of Michigan. These are examples of the services and goods Detroiters seek. It’s unfortunate that many Detroiters aren’t taking advantage of these business opportunities,” Attorney Perkins.

“I believe through faith and vision so much is possible. If Detroiters collectivize and invest in one another the resources are available to have our city flourish,” Attorney Perkins.

What if … Mike Willingham designed the ‘Spirit of Detroit’

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One of the most symbolic figures in Detroit is the ‘Spirit of Detroit.’ Today artist Michael Willingham gives his interpretation. What if … Mike Willingham designed the Spirit of Detroit?

In 1955 the city of Detroit commissioned artist Marshall Fredericks to create the ‘Spirit of Detroit.’ The statue was completed in 1958 as the second largest bronze statue in the world. Fredericks created the piece inspired by the 2 Corinthians 3:17 quote ‘Now the Lord is that Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Liberty.’

“My vision for the Spirit of Detroit is the Warrior,” Michael Willingham. “(Rapper Young) Jeezy says Detroit is the home of the hustler. The hustler has a warrior spirit, and that’s a spirit that won’t stop,” Willingham. The make-up of the Detroit warrior has many components: the athlete, the fighter, the endurance, and the look.

Spirit of Detroit, Antonio Gates
Spirit of Detroit, Antonio Gates

If Detroit were represented by an athlete, Mike’s would be Antonio Gates. Gates is the NFL superstar Tight End for the San Diego Chargers. He also is a Detroit born hero. In 1996 he led the Central High School Trailblazers to the only PSL won championship of the decade. “GOAT is from the hood. I remember hooping with him back in the day when I played more,” Willingham. Even in high school Antonio was recognized as an all-around athlete. The nickname GOAT carried with him throughout the city. He stands today as one of the only future NFL hall of fame football players who did not play college football. Antonio’s story of walking on to the San Diego Charger team for a Monday Night Football game and catching multiple touchdown passes matches Detroit’s spirit. Detroiters have always been unexpected, phenomenal, and world renown.

“300 Spartan’s have the uniform I’d have on a Detroit warrior. The cape and the shield protect you, but you can easily battle without it,” Willingham. The film 300 which chronicles Spartan battles displays a soldier shielded and cloaked for battle. The ease to maneuver with or without both is the versatility of Detroiters.

300 Spartan, Zulu Spear, Shaka Zulu
300 Spartan, Zulu Spear, Shaka Zulu

“A Detroit warrior would have a weapon that’s used for close kills. Hand to hand combat and tough situations is what Detroit was built n. I see the Detroit warrior having the Zulu spear,” Willingham. The African general Shaka Zulu that ruled an empire of southern Africa created a series of weaponry and war tactics to excel in battle. The Zulu spear was specifically designed for close kills in combat. Detroit’s harsh winters, hot summers, and tempered culture builds tough people ready for battle.

I believe Mike’s image of this warrior is an example of the fight Detroit has. This warrior would have the tools to win any war. This will match the struggles Detroit’s endured.

What if … Paradise Valley were still in Detroit

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Through the 1930’s and 50’s Detroit’s most active cultural district was Black Bottom’s Paradise Valley. Detroit’s Black Bottom was a bustling district full of restaurants, businesses, mix of migrants/ immigrants, and music. Duke Ellington, Pearl Bailey, Count Basie, Dinah Washington and a host of other premiere performed in Paradise Valley.
As Urban renewal struck Detroit in the 1950’s, Paradise Valley was demolished. Freeways were built in place of Detroit’s cultural gem.

Today I share Thornetta Davis’s take on: What if … Paradise Valley were still in Detroit.
Thornetta Davis is Detroit’s Blues Diva. I met her and her husband, (percussionist James Cornelius Anderson) for lunch last month at Cass Café. Cass Café resides in Detroit’s establishing Midtown district. Midtown is anchored by Wayne State University. A mix of coffee shops, restaurants, and boutique are currently flourishing the streets of Cass, Second and Third Ave. Music is missing! “It was so good to see you out at the Hop Cat for my show. I hope that it can stay open. Detroit needs places for music,” Thornetta.

Traveling America provides Detroiters the rare opportunity to witness how tourism. All destinations where tourism is prevalent, music is essential. Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Miami, and Chicago feature musical performance, performers, and venues. The wealth of musical genius throughout Detroit is unparalleled. Detroit venues featuring Detroit music are few and far between. If Paradise Valley were still here, that would be completely different.

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Duke Ellington, Joe Louis, and Dinah Washington


Thornetta Davis’ Paradise Valley

“I love colors so I see a mix of it throughout Paradise Valley,” Davis. Reds, Blues, Greens, and other colors would fill window seals welcoming in guests. “Detroit is so divided. Races, ages, and most groups stay to their own. I know music could, and would bring everyone together. I see Paradise Valley being a place like that. I imagine it being like the Blues scene in Chicago,” Davis. Music as a main attraction would welcome Metro Detroit into Paradise Valley to hear what Detroit makes best … MUSIC!

Bourbon Street in New Orleans would be blown out the water by Paradise Valley’s Hastings and St. Antoine. The history is full of the storied performances from Big Mama Thornton, Joe Louis partying nights away, and Sarah Vaughn singing in clubs at dark and church in the day. Recognizing the past, while providing a stage for the present would be the role Paradise Valley would play for Detroit music.

“St Andrews Hall/ the Shelter play Alternative Rock and Hip-hop. Cliff Bells and the Dirty Dog do Jazz. Bert’s Warehouse has Blues. If Paradise Valley were here it would be a place for all music. I see Reggae clubs, next to Blues bars, next to Rock halls, and Hip-hop clubs too. All these places would feature live music. National acts would visit, but Detroit acts would be given the same billing, pay, and support,” Davis. “It’s so much talent in Detroit amongst players. I think the music industry would stay in Paradise Valley to keep a list of artists ready for tours,” Davis.

Thornetta’s role in Paradise Valley would be her owning, operating, and performing at “Thornetta’s.” “It’s always
been a dream of mine to run a Blues bar. BB King and Buddy Guy have places in Chicago. So I know I’d have one in Paradise Valley,” Davis.

Davis described ‘Thornetta’s’ as a Blues bar built on live music. A collection of acts from across Detroit, and the nation would bring their bands and shows. “I would want to have featured shows Vegas style for Blues. I’d give all acts the opportunity to create, and give a unique show. I wouldn’t give a standard set, and nobody else would either,” Davis. ‘Thornetta’s’ would feature a mix of healthy Soul food. The specialty would be turkey delicacies. All the food would be complimented by a full bar with a ‘Thornetta Davis Daiquiri’ full of color, fruit, and flavor.

That’s what would happen if Paradise Valley were still here in Detroit today!

What if … Detroit had a Mixed Drink

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Bars and nightlife are an intricate part of Detroit’s culture. The mix of sports bars, dive bars, cigar bars, and wine bars capture the dynamics of Detroiters. Nightly downtown Detroit welcomes tens of thousands of guests seeking contrastingly different experiences to enjoy a drink. This Detroit is Different post welcomes that diversity by asking four bartenders … “what if Detroit had a drink?”

As a hip-hop artist / song writer names and titles have always intrigued me. The names of mixed drinks at bars have run my imagination for years. The bartenders who decided to title ‘Long Island Teas,’ ‘White Russians,’ and ‘Cadillac Margaritas’ I could talk to for hours. So I decided to question some of my favorite bartenders about what would the mixed drink ingredients be in a ‘Detroit Drink,’ and why?

Cheryl (aka Strawberry) is a native Detroiter who began bartending in Tampa FL in 2006 at Gameworks Sports bar & Arcade. Soon after Cheryl transferred to the now closed Gameworks in Aurburn Hills MI. Today she’s one of the featured bartender at Thomas Magee’s Whisky bar in Detroit’s Eastern Market every Sunday.

8-12-2014 Cheryl
Cheryl of Advanced Mixology

Cheryl and business partner Desiree have now opened ‘Advanced Mixology Bartending School.’ Their bartending school is the first owned by women of color in Michigan. Their school teaches bartending in 24hrs (24 hours of class in either three 8hr days, or four 6hr days). Advanced Mixology provides job placement and certification for all students 18 years and above. Cost for the class is $300. Currently Advanced Mixology is running a $275 special. The Advanced Mixology school is located upstairs above 612 Woodward Foran’s Grand Trunk Pub in the heart of downtown. Classes are 7 days a week 9am – 5pm. If you’re interested in taking the class, contact Cheryl at (313) 656-7502.

Cheryl’s drink is the ‘Detroit Girl’ was based on the diversity and differences of Detroit. The ingredients in ‘Cheryl’s Detroit’ were Peach Amsterdam (Vodka), Amaretto (Almond Liqueur), Limeade, and Strawberry Faygo. The mix between the vodka and liqueur capture the differences in Detroit (Detroit is Different!). Limeade is Cheryl’s the bridge to the world, likening the International crossing of the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit. Strawberry Faygo is Cheryl’s favorite flavor, and a Detroit classic.

Eric is one of my best friend’s in music, and is an only original bartender for Slow’s BBQ who still works there. Eric joined the team at Slow’s BBQ when it was originally planned to be a Bourbon and BBQ bar. This is why the selection of Bourbon and Whisky at Slow’s BBQ is superb.

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Cheryl’s Detroit, and Proprietary – Eric’s Detroit

Eric appreciates the feel of Slow’s BBQ because of the bar. The horse shoe shaped design allows more guests in smaller spaces to delve into conversations. This unique configuration has led to the diversity Slow’s BBQ has welcomed since 2006.

‘Eric’s Detroit,’ is his ‘Proprietary.’ The Proprietary is a drink featured at Slow’s BBQ by a mix of bartenders. Eric’s ingredients are Angel’s Envy Bourbon and Cocchi White Wine Americano. Angel’s Envy Bourbon makes an exclusive blend of bourbon for Slow’s (it’s like Heinz Ketchup for McDonald’s). The Slow’s mix of Angel’s Envy has the strong kick all good bourbon needs. This represents the grit of Detroit for Eric. The Cocchi captures the creativity of Detroit.

Rob is also a bartender at Slow’s BBQ. Jokingly Rob suggested the ‘Detroit Drink’ should be a can of Stroh’s Beer. After a long laugh, Rob introduced me to the ‘Negroni.’ The Negroni is a drink that’s becoming trendy by the day. The taste is experiential.

Rob’s ‘Detroit Drink’ is the ‘Negroni.’ The ingredients are Two James Gin, Sweet Vermouth, and Campari. Two James Vodka, is a Vodka made in Detroit’s first distillery blocks away from Slow’s BBQ in Southwest Detroit. Two James Gin is the history of Detroit. Campari liqueur’s bitter and sweet orange taste matches the duality of the beauty and blight of Detroit. Sweet Vermouth is the smooth taste that represents the water and changes in Detroit.

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Negroni – Rob’s Detroit, and Phreddy’s Detroit

Phreddy is another one of my closest friends, and artistic supporters. Phreedy also is a featured bartender at the Bronx Bar every Sunday night. For a span of nine years Phreddy as a bartender has witnessed numerous memorable conversations and acts.

Phreddy’s ‘Detroit Drink’ is focused to give an encompassing premise of Detroit. ‘Phreddy’s Detroit’ ingredients are Old Grand Dad Whiskey, Grapefruit Juice, half fresh Lemon, and Sugar. Phreddy’s drink provides a context for the political entity for the original displaced natives of the area we now name ‘Detroit.’ This is represented by the grapefruit juice and lemon. The Old Grand Dad Whisky represents the history of the Black people from the American South (descendents of enslaved peoples) who came to Detroit during the Great Migration. The Sugar in the drink represents the resources Detroiters are striving for.

What if … Detroit hosted the 1968 Olympics

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Currently, Brazil is receiving international attention for hosting the World Cup. In 1968, many of Detroit’s politicians, businesspeople, and sports enthusiasts envisioned a similar spotlight on the city. Detroit made a bid to host the 1968 XIX Olympic Games, however, Mexico City was chosen as the host site. The 1968 Olympics were held from October 12th through October 27th. Detroit native and basketball legend Spencer Haywood (of the Pershing Doughboys) led the US team to a Gold medal. George Foreman made his world introduction taking the Gold as a heavyweight boxer. Perhaps most memorably, US Track & Field legends John Carlos and Tommie Smith delivered the iconic Black Power fist pose during the medal ceremony. I believe if Detroit had hosted the 1968 Olympics, it would have changed the course of the city’s history and further influenced national and global politics and culture.


Spencer Haywood, Tiger Stadium, John Carlos & Tommie Smith
Spencer Haywood, Tiger Stadium, John Carlos & Tommie Smith

1968 was a pivotal year nation-wide. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Richard Nixon was elected as US President. The tragedy of the Vietnam War carried on, highlighted by the TET Offensive. These events impacted America in various ways, but all were interconnected to the struggles against American injustice. The Civil Rights Movement challenged the hypocrisy of American Law, strategically appealing to the empathy of White Americans via a shared sense of injustice. The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a catalyst for the blossoming Black Power Movement, generating a more aggressive focus on building independence and solidarity amongst Black Americans.

By 1968, Detroit was deeply entrenched in both movements. Only one year earlier, the 1967 Detroit riots (or, as many here refer to it, the Rebellion) had driven a wedge throughout Metro-Detroit that continues to divide the region racially, culturally, and economically. Hosting the Olympic Games a year after the most devastating and costly American riot could have created an environment primed for healing, solidarity, and cooperation throughout Metro Detroit. The City of Detroit would have had to address the blight and ruins from the 1967 riots. This influx of contracting would require significant community engagement. I believe that with the involvement of the community, the voiceless feeling some Detroiters had would have begun to be addressed. Hiring, contracting, and planning within Detroit’s economy could have jump-started the process of finding solutions for the damaged communities affected by the 1967 riot.

The international presence throughout Detroit would have created even more opportunity for economic recovery and growth. I find that Detroit culture is often neglected by Detroiters, but history has shown that our food, music, and design of all kinds have impacted the world. Tourism and international business play a major part in that cultural exchange, and hosting the 1968 Olympics would have brought unprecedented global exposure to Detroit’s unique culture. In 1968, Motown Records and many subsidiary labels were at the heights of their success. Bob Seger was a year away from releasing his first album “Ramblin Gamblin Man” (my personal favorite). Aretha Franklin was reaching further musical success with two album releases and hit songs. Culturally speaking, Detroit had a feel and look that would have captured the world in a single visit.

Olympia Stadium, Robert DeNiro in 'Raging Bull,' 1984 Detroit Tigers
Olympia Stadium, Robert DeNiro in ‘Raging Bull,’ 1984 Detroit Tigers

In 1968, Detroit sports were held in three locations; Cobo Arena, Detroit Olympia Stadium, and Tiger Stadium. Legend has it that Cobo Hall and Arena were built in hopes of landing the Olympic games. The Detroit Pistons began playing basketball at Cobo Arena in the 1960s, soon after it was built. Detroit Olympia Stadium hosted the Detroit Red Wings, and the legendary boxing match between Sugar Ray Robinson and Jake LaMotta that inspired Martin Scorsese’s “Raging Bull.” Tiger Stadium was recognized historically as one of the best baseball stadiums in the world. At the corner of Michigan and Trumbull, the Tigers took the field for over 80 years. In 1968, Willie Horton and Denny McLain led the Detroit Tigers to won the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals mere days before the Olympics started. Imagine the local, national, and global impact of the world witnessing the Detroit Tigers win the World Series only weeks before Tommie Smith and John Carlos delivered their historical Black Power salute in the very same Tiger Stadium. The pride and economic influx amongst the citizens of Detroit  may have tipped the scales to enable the healing between communities to begin.

What if Motown stayed in Detroit

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In 1972 Motown Records officially moved from Detroit MI to Los Angelos CA. The move was primarily based upon Berry Gordy’s (Motown Record’s Founder and President) interest in the movie industry. The success of the most lucrative record label ever carried on. Performers like Rick James, Teena Marie, Lionel Richie, and Boyz to Men added to the legacy. Films such as ‘Lady Sings the Blues,’ ‘The Last Dragon,’ and ‘The Wiz’ expanded the legacy. Here is my take on if Motown were to stay in Detroit.

1972 was a pivotal year in American, Black, and Detroit history. The honorable Erma Henderson (RIP) was elected to her first term as a Detroit City Council member, Angela Davis was acquitted of murder, and Richard Nixon was re-elected as President of the USA. The pulse of the people (I believe) was charged up from a politically active close to the 1960’s. The Vietnam War, murders of: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr; Malcolm X; and John F Kennedy, and rebellions (or riots) in Detroit, Boston, and South Central respectively changed the course of American history. This time is characterized best in Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’ album.

Berry Gordy, Diana Ross in Lady Sings the Blues, Erma Henderson
Berry Gordy, Diana Ross in Lady Sings the Blues, Erma Henderson

The 1971 release was Marvin’s interpretation of expressing a relationship between consciousness, spirituality, and artistry (read the album notes which have Gaye’s letter to the Lord). The commercial success of ‘What’s Going On’ changed the imagery of the clean and friendly Motown Records artists, and music.

Motown records shelved ‘What’s Going On,’ for years as Marvin Gaye performed most of the album throughout Detroit in places such as Baker’s Keyboard Jazz Lounge. Experiences like this would have been abundant with the new music from Motown records in the 1970’s.

The foundation of the Motown sound was built on the production of Holland-Dozier and Holland, Barrett Strong, and Smokey Robinson. The 1970’s ushered in the styles of Norman Whitfield, Clay McMurray, Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, and Rick James. The changing of the guard in production brought Motown into the Funk. This matched Detroit’s political Black power structure developing in the 1970’s. Anchors like Ed Vaughn, Judge Claudia Morcom, and Congressman John Conyers were all setting their respective marks in Detroit. Funk mirrored the ‘take now’ attitude. Beginning music on the down beat captures the ears of a listener. Mayor Coleman Young’s 20 year reign in Detroit matched that spirit.

Rick James, Emanuel Stewart and Tommy Hearns, the Fox Theater
Rick James, Emanuel Stewart and Tommy Hearns, the Fox Theater

The gregarious demeanor of Rick James creating a record like ‘Street Songs’ is meant for Detroit. Detroit’s 1980’s prominent sports figures embody the Rick James spirit. Kirk Gibson, Isaiah Thomas, and Tommy Hearns (Motor City Cobra with the Jheri Curl and slow jab) are loved and hated. This individuality represents the ‘vs the World’ mentality Detroiters needed. After the rebellion in 1967 Federal and State funding due to the city of Detroit dwindled (this is a focus in Coleman Young’s autobiography Hard Stuff). Businesses, jobs, and educational programs subsequently vanished as well. I feel Motown records would have kept a social identity, and shared the America’s disparities through music.

The big opportunity of Motown staying in Detroit would have been in film. As Motown began producing movies the cinematic interests of many young Blacks would have been drawn to Detroit. Spike Lee, Denzel Washington, Pam Grier, Samuel L Jackson all studied and started their careers in the 1970’s. Films require huge staffs, facilities, and budgets which would have given Detroit assets.

Finally, Motown staying in Detroit would have led to ‘Motown 25’ being held in Detroit. Michael Jackson performance of ‘Billie Jean’ during ‘Motown 25’ is the greatest television performance the world has witnessed. That would have been fitting for the Fox Theater.

What if … Don Barden Owned a Detroit Casino

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Daily, Downtown Detroit welcomes thousands of guests visiting the MGM Grand, Greektown, and Motor City Casino. Today, the casino culture has ingratiated itself throughout America’s Midwest. Throughout Ohio, Michigan and Indiana 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, dollars and coins of broken industrial mecca’s are stabilizing casinos.

Casinos in Detroit have become a part of Detroit’s nightlife, entertainment culture and fine dining. In less than 20 years, three businesses have shifted the business identity of Detroit.

In 1996, Proposal E was a lead cause on the November ballot. Many Detroiters joined the cause gathering signatures and support to legalize gaming in Detroit. It was a big political issue. Michigan lawmakers outside of Detroit, business developers connected to Detroit, municipal and state politicians, and residents all made up the diversity of stakeholders in Detroit casinos.

Don Barden
Don Barden

In a resounding effort, Proposal E passed. Casino gaming was legalized in Detroit. Immediately following that, a frenzy of where, when, and who would receive the exclusive rights to Detroit casinos ensued. This politicized, polarized, and produced a climate that was fitting for Detroiters.

Then, Mayor Dennis Archer, along with a collection of supporters (primarily from the suburbs of Detroit) took on Detroit residents (abundantly made up of grassroots activists who led the charge to legalize gaming in Detroit). This chess match of will, wit, ignorance, and arrogance, I believe, helps define the complexity and fabric of Detroit. It’s fitting that a process involving business and political functionality became a personal matter. I feel, throughout my lifetime, Detroit politics have been destructively myopic.

Michael Jackson & Don Barden, Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer
Michael Jackson & Don Barden, Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer

Don Barden (R.I.P.) was an entrepreneur born and bred in Detroit. I met Mr. Barden in passing a number of times.  His demeanor and charm reminded me of a smooth maitre d’. Barden was most known to me and many Detroiters as the owner of Barden Cable. Before Comcast, (ughhh) everyone had Barden. (FYI: If you were willing to climb a telephone pole and hook it up you didn’t have to pay for it, but you ain’t read that from me).  Along with cable television, Barden’s business diversified in many ways. In 1996, a casino in Detroit was his business at heart.

Mayor Archer rejected Barden’s bid for a Detroit casino. This shocked Detroit! There were multiple reasons we believed Barden would build a casino in Detroit. Barden was born in Detroit. Barden was the only Black developer bidding on a casino, in a city that at the time was 85% Black (Barden would have held a majority interest in his casino, there are some Black people with percentiles of a percentage of casino ownership in Detroit). Barden brought in Michael Jackson as a co-developer of the casino as well. Barden also agreed to build an amusement park on the casino premises for families to enjoy.

What If Detroit …

I imagine if Barden would have won his bid for a casino he would have broke ground on a permanent casino as opposed to the temporary casino structures initially opened in Detroit. I think a permanent location would have been needed because of Barden’s amusement park. This development would have taken longer, but led to a grand opening.

Partnering with Michael Jackson heightens international attention and fame. Leveraging this partnership, I believe, the casino would have an entertainment theme. Naturally, the gala events honoring the 25th Anniversary of Michael Jackson’s Thriller album, Motown’s historic Motown 50, and Aretha Franklin’s birthday parties would be held at Barden’s casino.

Michael Jackson’s collection of rare and exotic animals would lend an attraction to the amusement park. I enjoy the Detroit Zoo, but have always wished for it to be more interactive. I see horse, camel, and even elephant rides available for younger children. The excitement of an interactive Zoo for younger children would be mirrored by the excitement of rollercoasters and water slides for myself and other older kids.

Michael Jackson & pet lion, Rollercoaster, Don Barden & Bella Marshall
Michael Jackson & pet lion, Rollercoaster, Don Barden & Bella Marshall

Matching Don Barden in style and savvy was his wife, Bella Marshall (R.I.P.). With Marshall I shared a few longer conversations about creativity and bringing things to action. I gathered a better understanding for the endurance and vision Barden had through Marshall. She was extremely theoretical about reaching goals and settling for less was unsettling for her.  Many women I meet acknowledge the marriage of Shawn ‘Jay-Z’ Carter and Beyonce Knowles as a power couple to aspire towards in business and relationship.  Detroit for years had that example in Don Barden and Bella Marshall.

Marshall’s influence on the casino would have been political and cultural. Politically, I believe, Marshall would have been instrumental in developing passages for the roads of travelers to meet the destination of the casino easiest. Culturally, I think Marshall would have been instrumental in developing a marketplace inside the casino that captures the essence of Detroit fashions, foods and nightlife. Till this day, every time I visit casinos in Detroit, I feel it’s clean and welcoming, but not Detroit.

Finally, I imagine the success of Barden’s Detroit casino would have pressured the other two Detroit casinos to take chances on hiring, contracting, and working with Detroit developers with business models catered to Detroit. I think the current business models look to make the Detroit casinos adapt to Las Vegas concepts. Business is a copycat model towards success. In copying Barden’s model of success, opportunities for more savvy Detroit business people with Detroit ideas would have been created.

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