Orlando Bailey is changing the future of Detroit in real time.
Passionate about shifting the narrative of Black cities and neighborhoods, Bailey is using his voice as the Director of Engagement for BridgeDetroit, co-host of the podcast Authentically Detroit, and host of Urban Consulate to challenge the status quo and alter the trajectory of Detroit.
EXP: When did your passion for storytelling at the intersection of racial equity and Detroit begin?
OB: When I came home from school in 2012, Detroit was bankrupt under emergency management struggling to deliver basic city services. The national narrative that pervaded the media was that Detroit has Declined, Detroit is Bankrupt, accompanied by images of ruins and Black people. When Mayor Duggan was elected, the narrative shifted to Detroit is on the Comeback with photos of white millennial business owners and creatives. Both of those narratives were damaging and incorrect, and I made it my business to offer a counter-narrative about MY city that honored Black residents who had endured the loss of democratic power, policy afflicted violence, and scandal.
EXP: BridgeDetroit provides a platform for Detroit’s 700,000 residents to share and discuss issues they care deeply about. What topic keeps coming up in these conversations?
OB: BridgeDetroit is a journalism and engagement organization with a mission to produce news by Detroiters for Detroiters. We are in the process of building our communities priorities model by asking Detroiters about their experiences, information gaps, and concerns. We then tailor our journalism to provide solutions, accountability, and information toward those identified priorities. Priorities rising to the top are concerns about COVID and neighborhood development transparency and financing.
EXP : As the host of the Urban Consulate you bring people together to share ideas for building more just and equitable communities. What’s been the most profound ah-ha moment?
OB: There are so many profound moments that happen at the Urban Consulate! In our latest Candid Conversation series, I interviewed Devita Davision, the Executive Director of Foodlab here in Detroit. She said something so profound, “If you’re doing work in the city of Detroit and you’re doing it race blind or race neutral, then you are doing the work wrong.” This hit me so hard.
“Detroit is a majority Black and Hispanic city. We can’t afford to do race neutral work if we are aiming to build truly just and equitable cities.”
EXP: If you were given a magic wand and could change one thing about the City of Detroit, what would it be and why?
OB: Grant residents funding for home repair! We need to preserve our beautiful housing stock. Allowing homes to fall into disrepair is symptomatic of our city-wide problem that churns vacant structures to demolished lots. Let’s stop feeding the monster and start helping people.
EXP: If you could interview any person living or dead on Authentically Detroit, the podcast you produce and co-host, who would it be?
OB: I love how the podcast Authentically Detroit has taken off! When we started, we had no idea what we were doing and now people come to us asking to be interviewed! It’s remarkable. I would love to interview Dr. Ossian Sweet. His story fascinates me.
EXP: COVID has been hard on local businesses. Which Detroit entrepreneurs need our support right now?
OB: What’s hard for most people is almost always exacerbated in communities of color like Detroit. Our small Black owned businesses need so much love right now in the form of patient capital, exposure, and patronization!
EXP: You’ve had the privilege of interviewing and working with hundreds of visionaries and changemakers across the country. Who will you never forget and why?
OB: I recently had the opportunity to interview Dr. Cornel West as the facilitator of an event hosted by the Coalition for Property Tax Justice. Dr. West gave me the highest compliment that boosted me into another galactic universe. He said, “Brother, I salute you, because you’ve been like Count Basie and Barry White in terms of how you have conducted and orchestrated this cacophony of voices.” I am still grinning from ear to ear. The clip is out there somewhere.
EXP: You’ve been the recipient of the Marshall Memorial Fellowship, the Knight Foundation Fellowship, and the Martin Luther King Humanitarian Award from Eastern Michigan University, among others! What work are you most proud of?
OB: This is a hard question! I’m proud of all the work I’ve been able to do… Honestly, I am. I’m so fortunate to have had forerunners break down doors that allowed me to walk through and practice my work in the neighborhoods I call home. Growing up, I spent a lot of time in Chandler Park. When I started my career at Eastside Community Network in 2012, it was a privilege to be able to contribute to the conservation of Chandler Park and it was truly a full circle moment for me! What is my work without Marlowe Stoudamire? What is my work without Donna Givens Davidson? Or Maggie DeSantis and James Feagin? All of it has been a privilege. Not a chore.
EXP: What’s next for Orlando Bailey?
OB: Mission advancement! My mission is to provide under-represented Black folks platforms to express their power and expertise. I will continue to hold up every single opportunity against that mission.