March 1, 2004 - Detroit News: RPCV Dick Thibodeau says Guts needed to revive Detroit

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Headlines: March 2004 Peace Corps Headlines: March 1, 2004 - Detroit News: RPCV Dick Thibodeau says Guts needed to revive Detroit

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RPCV Dick Thibodeau says Guts needed to revive Detroit

RPCV Dick Thibodeau says Guts needed to revive Detroit

Guts needed to revive Detroit, booster says

By Luther Keith / The Detroit News

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"For God so loved the world, He didnít send a committee."

- Dick Thibodeau, 2004

That quip, only partially tongue-in-cheek, reflects Dick Thibodeauís concern as ideas tumble forth from all sectors in Detroitís renewed effort to cut crime, improve its image and become a more livable city for residents and visitors.

A former director of the Detroit International Institute and now a writer for Troy-based Corp! magazine, Thibodeau is a Detroit booster, but he also brings a critical eye to Motownís flaws and grows impatient with what he views as endless efforts to define the problems rather than fix them.

His conversation is peppered with the word "gutsy." He uses it to refer to the kind of actions to make the cityís long-sought revival more than a pipe dream.

"Everyone knows what the solutions are," said Thibodeau, who grew up in Union Lake in Oakland County. "There are gutsy creative solutions out there that are doable, but people say we we need another task force, another assessment or letís do another study.

"Around the world, Detroit is not viewed as a visitable city. We need to change that."

Pushed by the crime surge since the new year began, projects and programs are being rolled out across the city by the police department, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, the U.S. Attorneyís office, the Wayne County prosecutorís office and by scores of community groups, block clubs and churches.

This expression of energy and resolve is laudable.

But many times, Thibodeau contends, the ideas and energy to make gutsy decisions are thwarted by committee-driven approaches that get bogged down in political, racial and geographic differences.

He comes by this view based on extensive experience in working with youth programs, international affairs and on urban issues. He spent 25 years with Oakland Countyís juvenile court system, is a former director of the Metropolitan Detroit Youth Foundation and spent a number of years studying for the priesthood at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit. He also did a stint in the Peace Corps.

Hereís a sampling of some of his ideas:

* "We need more African-American and Hispanic men involved in the helping professions. Ten years ago, I proposed a plan to get more of them in the Wayne State University School of Social Work but the dean at the time said it wasnít a priority. Iíd like to take $4.5 million and use it for paid internships and have the men work with young people when they get out of school."

* "Thereís no reason why Wayne Stateís School of Dance couldnít sponsor courtesy performing safety patrols. When they are not performing, students could be involved in city beautification projects and street patrols. It would make Detroit a more walkable city."

* "We have a lot of people in the suburbs who grew up and went to school in Detroit. Letís get them to partner with groups that are already doing housing restoration in the city with a goal of restoring 1,000 homes. Itís a way of giving something back to the city and helping it attract something it really needs - more people."

* "We need to do a much better job with tourism. You call some local travel agencies here and they donít even know where the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History is. We donít do a good job selling African-American culture. We canít even tell people where to go to hear Motown music. Detroit has been called the Gospel Capital of the world, but how many people know it?"

* "Iíd like to have suburban kids come to the city not just for a few hours to visit the Detroit Institute of Arts, but spend an entire day and really learn something about the city. Iíd have young people from Detroit as tour guides on the bus."

Although he is a big booster of diversity efforts, Thibodeau said itís important to move past racial hang-ups to implement real change.

"People get tired of that," he said. "Letís go ahead, pat each other on the back and do something exciting."

That would be gutsy.

Luther Keith is senior editor of The Detroit News. His column appears Mondays and Thursdays. He can be reached at (313) 222-2675 or

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Story Source: Detroit News

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