The Young Effect on Detroit

Coleman A. Young II, a state senator out of Michigan, looks forward to the Motor City’s rise from the ashes.

Posted: 06/11/2013 08:00 AM EDT

If you’re familiar with Detroit, it’s likely that when you hear the name Coleman A. Young, you’ll think of the city’s first Black mayor.

But fast forward to the 21st century, and his son, Coleman A. Young II, is steadily making strides for residents of the Motor City. Young is a state senator for the 1st District of Michigan, which includes Detroit.

"I love Detroit because of its never-say-die attitude," Young told BET.com. "No matter how difficult it gets, there is always promise for tomorrow."

With a voice that has the cadence and passion of a longtime politician or preacher, Young is just 30 years old and has been a part of Michigan politics since his early 20s, when he was elected to the Michigan House of Representatives in 2007.

But unlike other members of Generation Y, who are reaching out to their peers via social networks, Young reaches out to his constituents in what might be considered old-school ways. He hosts a live, weekly call-in show on Sundays called The Young Effect, where residents can ask questions and express their grievances on the air no holds barred. He also sends out mail about the latest changes in the city even going door to door to talk to his constituents.

But perhaps Young's way of politicking will do him and his constituents justice. And with Mayor Dave Bing’s announcement that he would not seek re-election, you’d think the ambitious politician would already be plotting to follow in his father’s footsteps. But Young says leading the city is not on his immediate to-do list.

One of his goals is to repeal the "unconstitutional, tyrannical emergency manager law." Earlier this year, Gov. Rick Snyder appointed Kevyn Orr as the emergency manager to help pull Detroit out of economic distress. Many critics of the appointment say it is undemocratic.

"This is the place where Martin Luther King gave his first I Have a Dream speech. It’s the place where Malcolm X came and he was talking about the bullet versus the ballot,” he said. "Michigan is a harbinger in terms of leaders of African-Americans who come and stand up for equality under the law and to have an emergency manager come in and take all that away, I mean, what was the civil rights movement for?"

Detroit, he hopes, is on the brink of its turnaround. Of course, getting more jobs in Detroit and reducing crime are both at the forefront of his priorities. He also wants to fix road and infrastructure problems, lower auto insurance costs and help homeowners keep their houses.

Young is particularly passionate about education in Detroit. He even had a few ideas that he relayed to the city’s emergency manager. Young is a proponent of "community schools," which would act as not just a place for education, but also a hub for residents for health, financial and employment services. School days and academic years should be longer, he says.

So far, his proudest moment as a legislator is introducing and passing the Tisha Prater Act in 2009. Prater was a Detroit police officer who was denied paid leave from work after she told the department that she was pregnant. The act bans job discrimination based on a woman’s pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, and was passed unanimously by the Michigan legislature.

Young says he's seen the resilience and determination of his constituents through several community-based programs in the area. There's Youthville, a youth development center that is more than just a place for recreation, but also provides kids with mentors who are actively engaged in their lives. Motor City Makeover, organized by the city, where residents help clean up much of the blight that has taken over the city. And there's the Skillman Foundation, which helps develop good schools for Detroit's youth.

Programs like these, he says, are the bedrock of what will help Detroit become the "shining city on a hill" that he knows it can be. His political participation in this rebuilding moment isn't the most important part.

"What I say as an elected official won’t be remembered, but what the people have done to transform the city, to revitalize the city, to rebuild the city, to mold and shape the city into a distinct jewel, that is something that will endure throughout eternity."

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(Photo: David Olds/Democratic Senate Photographer)

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