AROUND year 2017, a community organizer named Chris Lambert leased a soon-to-empty school building for $1 in one of Detroit's poorer African neighborhoods.

The plan was to pour $5 million into remodeling the building take on the $1-million-a-year operating expenses and turn the place into a vibrant hub for the surrounding community, with nonprofits, culinary training programs, after school programs and artists.

Lambert did not communicate this well to the people who actually lived in the community.

When neighbors learnt Lambert had acquired the building for a dollar, many people wondered why a white outsider, not somebody within the community had gotten such a deal.

They assumed that he was the cutting edge of gentrification, that he was going to pour money in and push the current folks out.

This kind of outsider exploitation is the lived history for many Detroiters.

That month, Lambert hosted some community meetings to mollify fears. They did not go well. People called him colonizer. They called his black colleague Oreos.

''This white guy is going to subject us to more slavery,'' somebody declared.

Lambert wanted to argue back. But his black partner, Dwann Dandridge, advised him to just listen. It's a hazing process, Dandridge told Lambert. You feel Voiceless tonight. These people have felt Voiceless their whole lives. Just listen.

The fullest account of the episode can be found in Bittersweet Monthly in an article written by Anne Synder, my wife. I visited Lambert and Dandridge in Detroit a few weeks ago, a year and half after the grand opening.

The building, now called the Durfee Innovation Society, has children teeming the halls, a pizzera, training programs, yoga classes. Lambert is humbled by the mistakes he made, but his center is fantastic.

Some of his angriest critics have now taken part in neighborhood festivities held in the building. There is still distrust, suspicion, rage at injustice coursing through the neighborhood. But there is also life together, happening every day.

I see these messy clash-ups across the country, wherever people are trying to do racial reconciliation. You realize that coming together across the race is not a neat two-step process : truth and reconciliation.

It's an emotionally complex, thousand-step process, with moments of miscommunication, resentment and embrace. This is the hard process of trying to see each other across centuries of wrong.

The somewhat comforting truth is that it's been like this.

When you read David Blight's brilliant biography of Frederick Douglass, for example,, you see that Douglass passed through exactly these many moods in dealing with his countrymen of another race moments of fury and harmony, despair and hope.

The Masterly Wrings from author David Brooks, continues.


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