Racial incident at downtown Detroit bar leads to community discussion about race


  • Steve Neavling

A racial incident at a downtown Detroit bar has evolved into a public discussion, called “Let’s Talk About Race,” set for Thursday.

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights will facilitate the community conversation at 3:30 p.m. at Checker Bar, 124 Cadillac Place.

The impetus for the discussion was a complaint by Wendell Fleming, a Black patron who said he was mistreated and called names by an unnamed white bartender. The bartender was fired the next day for making racial slurs. After the incident, Fleming reached out to the city of Detroit’s Civil Rights, Inclusion and Opportunity Office (CRIO).

Instead of forgetting about the issue, Fleming and CRIO wanted to confront racism head-on with a community discussion.

“Over and over, we’ve seen examples of resurging cities solve their economic issues while placing issues of race and equity on the backburner,” CRIO director Charity Dean said in a news release. “Detroit is not one of those cities, and will not be. That is why we are excited about this conversation. The only way to address these concerns are head-on and face to face.”

Fleming says he wants the conversation to lead to better racial relations.

“I want us as a city and community to come together and discuss what issues we have with each other in a friendly environment, so my experience doesn’t continue,” Fleming says. “I would like us to rise above this conflict together so that we may improve our community.”

Checker Bar owner Tim Tharpe called the racial incident “disappointing and unfortunate.”

“While the incident that happened was disappointing and unfortunate, it has provided us with an outstanding opportunity to have a deeper, more meaningful conversation to make Detroit’s business community even more inclusive,” Tharpe says. “We’re honored to hold this important conversation. It’s part of our role as a good neighbor.”

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