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On Thursday, November 12, a panel of prominent leaders and scholars will come together to discuss “City on the Edge: Ypsilanti, African Americans, and the World of Work,” centered around Dr. Alford A. Young’s latest book From the Edge of the Ghetto (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2019).
Young, who is an Edgar G. Epps Collegiate Professor of Sociology Afroamerican and African Studies, and Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, was drawn to Ypsilanti because of its unique geographic and cultural identity.
“Ypsilanti has been interesting to me personally because it was the place that people told me to go to find African-American cultural institutions like barbershops and take-out restaurants. I was also interested in the fact that the city was so small. Even before I determined to settle there for research I was curious about how exactly black community-building is enacted in such a small place,” Young says.
Young’s book features one hundred interviews with African-Americans in the Ypsilanti community about how they navigate the world of work, showcasing voices which are not often heard when discussing these topics.
“Professor Young’s book takes on the question of labor and dignity because he understands that more is at stake than just the future of work. The individuals he spoke to and wrote about hanker, in many instances, for a world that has long passed. They want the security and financial rewards that went with a unionized job in the automobile industry -- the jobs held by their grandparents. Those jobs provided a visible means of supporting a household and the equally important means of explaining to others what you did for a living,” says Dr. Earl Lewis, founder and director of the Center for Social Solutions.
A brief interview with Dr. Young about his book will be followed by a panel discussion featuring Dr. H. Luke Shaefer (Professor of Public Policy and Social Work & Director of Poverty Solutions, University of Michigan) and Derrick Jackson (Director of Community Engagement, Washtenaw County). The panel will be moderated by Dr. Carla O'Connor (Director, Wolverine Pathways; Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Education, University of Michigan).
The panel and its central themes revolving around work and African American communities in Ypsilanti provide a unique opportunity to bring together people from different backgrounds.
“I hope that members of the Ann Arbor community may become more curious about Ypsilanti and more willing to learn about it. I hope that some of the assumptions about that city, which too often fall on the negative side, can be suspended as people come to know a bit more about how African-Americans residing there think about jobs, upward mobility,and the good life, which are concerns for every kind of American,” says Young.
The event will also highlight the role of research institutions like the University of Michigan in grappling with social challenges.
“In a world where educational attainment stands to increase in significance and remuneration, Dr. Young discovered that many of his participants feared institutions such as the University of Michigan, suggesting that the social distance between Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor was far greater than the physical distance. If universities are to be resources for all communities, it is essential that we address this problem,” Lewis says.
“We are happy to sponsor this book event because it gives us an opportunity to work with Dr. Young in recognizing and addressing the problem of individuals looking for answers to today's challenges by seeking to go back to the future. That's not a workable or sustainable model for developing social solutions,” Lewis says. “The only way forward is to design new solutions based on informed understanding of the issues.“
The event will take place at 6:00 PM on Thursday, November 12 via Zoom.