Hey, You’re Cool! Ingrid LaFleur, Detroit Mayoral Candidate
She's running on platform supporting the creative economy, legal weed, and Afrofuturism
When curator and artist Ingrid LaFleur threw her hat into the ring for this year’s mayoral race in Detroit, she believed the political scene was ready for something new. With Detroit’s primary election taking place on Tuesday, August 8. and the nonpartisan election Nov. 7., LaFleur is hoping her political platform—which supports the creative economy, marijuana legalization and, yes, Aftrofuturism—will resonate with the city of today. After all, Detroit seems to be at a crossroads. Much has been written about its revitalization in recent years as the city emerges from federal bankruptcy and rebuilds 50 years after riots (most prefer “rebellion” or “uprising”) devastated the city.
LaFleur was born and raised in Detroit but spent the past several years as a curator and artist, helping establish an artist’s residency program at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and founded an Afrofuturist art and film program, Afrotopia, in Detroit upon her return. The 39 year old recently returned to her hometown and is aiming to challenge Mayor Mike Duggan, the first white mayor of the majority-black city, who has announced he will run again.
How and why did you decide to run for mayor of Detroit?
When I returned home seven years ago I began teaching Afrofuturism to youth and this lead to substitute teaching in charter schools. That was my wake up call. Speaking with the students about their future in Detroit was quite disheartening. Their relationship to the city was altered by their current experience of hardship such as living without water. Also, I witnessed how much the mental health of our youth today needs radical attention. As a teacher, I ended up being a social worker, psychologist, and mother to my students. Totally unexpected. My teaching experience pushed me to learn more about these issues and others that are challenging Detroiters, so I went to the social justice community to find out more. Each issue is complex and interconnected with the other. It can be quite overwhelming. Perhaps most frustrating is that there are people and organizations that have presented viable solutions, yet our city government is ignoring them. That is when I decided to run for mayor, to give voice to the silenced, and present creative solutions that go beyond our current methods of problem-solving in city government.
Where in Detroit did you grow up and why did you decide to return to the city?
I grew up on the northwest side of Detroit, as well as Lafayette Park, Cultural District, and the eastside. I decided to return home to be closer to my father, who is a born and raised Detroiter and helped craft this love and loyalty I have for Detroit. I was also intrigued and excited to participate in the revitalization of my hometown. I’ve lived in numerous cities that either just finished their turn around or were successful in the midst of it. Detroit became my only opportunity to experience a city at its most difficult point and actually participate in its rise back to glory.
Tell us about AFROTOPIA, why is it important for a city like Detroit?
I created AFROTOPIA about 5 years ago. It is an ever evolving creative research platform that looks at ways the arts movement Afrofuturism could be used for psychosocial healing, especially in Detroit. I was inspired to create AFROTOPIA when I returned home and found a white man was crafting a future for Detroit, an 85% Black city, in his image without regard to the demographics. I also found that Detroiters still had a pretty conservative view of Blackness similar to when I grew up. I thought, and still do believe, that Afrofuturism would be the perfect way to expand our notions of Blackness, reduce the fear of the Black body and help us develop healthy sustainable futures for Black people. Afrofuturism is a liberation movement and I’ve seen how, in concrete ways, it has liberated not only Blacks and those of color but also whites. It’s been a beautiful journey to witness. Through AFROTOPIA I curate a film series at the Detroit Institute of Arts, host a monthly book club, host afroglobal parties, maintain an Afrofuturist archive, and teach youth about Afrofuturism.
Why are creatives so important for the city?
The traditional methods for resolving our issues have not been successful and the city is in a state of emergency at the moment. Currently, Detroit is facing a 64% poverty rate, this includes the working poor. Thousands of people are living without water, access to fresh food and proper transportation. The cycle of poverty has not been properly eradicated. It is important for not just creatives to understand how necessary it is to eradicate poverty in order for our city to be healthy and prosperous, but also the entire city no matter the background or chosen profession. Everyone is affected by all policy decisions.
Can you talk about the role Detroit’s musical legacy plays in your campaign?
Internationally-acclaimed and dynamic music producer Bryce Detroit of Detroit Recordings Company has written and produced a song for the campaign being released on July 22nd. The song, “Right In,” is sung by the soulful Coko Buttafli. This collaboration is such an honor for us. “Right In” is not only a song inspired by the LaFleur for Mayor campaign but also an anthem to empower Detroiters. Bryce Detroit is also an advisor to the campaign, and we’ve discussed at length about ways to increase visibility and reach a younger demographic often forgotten during the mayoral election because seniors historically vote the most. However, 18-35-year-olds have the largest voting block in Detroit, which makes them the most powerful voice. We are hoping to energize this group to vote thus taking control of their future and the future of the city.
How can the potential financial power of the marijuana industry help Detroit?
I’m an advocate for the full legalization of marijuana. Currently, medical marijuana is legal in Detroit. We have about 154 operating dispensaries within the city. Only 1% of those operating dispensaries are Black owned. In an 85% Black city, this is unacceptable. Especially once you take into consideration that, according to the ACLU, Black Americans are 3.7 times more likely to be criminalized because of marijuana possession or the intent to sell. I am part of a group of concerned citizens that want to address this racial disparity now before full legalization happens, which is currently being petitioned to be put on the 2018 ballot. In my campaign office, I’ve held a series of talks called, “Cannabis Conversations,” to help educate Detroiters about the laws, business, and benefits for the city. It was well attended. Many people are excited about getting into the industry and don’t realize the many opportunities the cannabis industry can offer. My goal is to begin the strategizing for Detroit to properly engage such a complex industry. If Michigan fully legalizes without Detroit being fully prepared we will face some detrimental effects, such as more gentrification, that Detroit can not afford. However, if we are successful in our strategy then we can see tax revenues increase and go towards some of the areas in need–neighborhood stabilization, school infrastructure, recreation centers–the possibilities are endless. With the legalization of cannabis, hemp will also become legal. Then we can see an increase in manufacturing jobs and an export of goods. More job opportunities as well as opportunities for ownership in the business, that is exciting. It is important to emphasize that the marijuana industry can not solve all of the city’s issues, but it can help Detroit and her citizens get out of survival mode and onto a path of economic growth. The future is bright for the cannabis industry in Detroit.
How can the “new” Detroit of creative transplants work with people that grew up there?
It is important that we first welcome those who want to move to Detroit and contribute in positive ways. In establishing Detroit as an international city, this is important. However, it is important for those who are new to the city to take the time to get to know the city, observe, listen, ask questions, learn more about our history in order to become better situated in being a productive member of Detroit. It is also vitally important that we get to know each other. Creating spaces for conversation, or spaces to just hang out together is also important, which is one of my goals with my afroglobal parties. All too often I’ve witnessed new Detroiters only hanging in the trendier areas. New Detroiters must move past their comfort zones and deeper into the city to really connect and have a more fulfilling experience.
Do you believe entrepreneurs are being properly supported and nurtured at the political level?
Small business owners definitely need more support, especially those owned by Black women. As I campaign throughout the city I hear so often that the city isn’t properly focusing on this particular group. In order for the city to prosper, the women, who are more than likely head of households, must prosper. With that understanding initiatives that nurture this will find success.