Flying Pan-African Flag is only start of progress in Ferndale

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Photo Credit: Casey Vanover
The Pan-African flag flies alongside the American flag above the Ferndale City Hall.

Ferndale is attempting to grow as a community and become better advocates for the Black residents that live in its city by implementing traditions that acknowledge the community and by recognizing its place in the journey for progress.

Last year, the city began flying the Pan-African flag for the duration of Black History Month, and this year, the city is continuing the tradition.

The start of a tradition

The idea to start flying the Pan-African flag came last year from a conversation Councilwoman Raylon Leaks-May had with a student at Ferndale High School. This student wanted to know what the city was doing to support the Black population of Ferndale and the visitors that will see the flag in the sky as they drive past city hall.

Last year, the student suggested that the Pan-African flag or the Black Lives Matter flag be flown during February as they fly the pride flag during June.

Leaks-May thought this was a great idea to further represent the Black population of Ferndale in addition to groups like Citizens for Fair Ferndale and the Ferndale Inclusion Network.

Leaks-May said she wants to take steps in the right direction to become a more inclusive city.

She said she brought the idea up last year to her fellow council members.

“I received the support of my council members. They thought it was a great idea to represent the Black population here in the community, and also I suggested that we do it for the whole month of Black History month so that we could show people who drive through Ferndale that this is an inclusive city, and we recognize the diverse populations that live here as well as celebrating Black History Month and all the contributions.”

All of the council members were very accepting, especially Kat Bruner James, who is the chairperson of CFF and a committee member of FIN.

She strives to educate the parts of the community who might not be as educated on the progress that still needs to be made, but these parts of the community do want to improve themselves and their city as a whole.

The steps taken

James said, “Ferndale pats itself on the back for being diverse and inclusive, but, historically, there have been some fair and reasonable complaints, and incidents and policies that were fairly called racist. It [community progress] really wasn’t a dialogue that was happening in a lot of Ferndale spaces.”

These groups would go over initiatives and break down what they mean on a deeper level so they can understand further and implement them into their own lives and the way they think about their community.

Photo Credit: Fair Ferndale
The Ferndale Good Neighbors Civility Pledge put out by CFF as an effort to better the community.

Although this is beneficial for people to further understand what is happening in their community and while this is, in fact, a step in the direction of progress, some activists, like Rebecca Phoenix, do not think this is enough.

The steps that still need to be made

Phoenix is a former Ferndale resident with an extensive history in activism who still is interested in the community and its future of it.

She promoted progress in her community by helping to organize the March for Black Lives in Ferndale in 2020 alongside fellow Detroit-area activists, Kyra Newman, Kendall Grayson, Mya Riccardi, Alex Lawrence and Nolan Handyside.

Although no longer a resident of Ferndale, she lives nearby and is active.

Phoenix said she loves the fact that the city is flying the Pan-African flag above city hall because it reaches out to the Black population of the city that they are pushing for progress in their community.

The flag may be progress, but progress does not negate criticisms of the other approaches to anti-racism in the city, Phoenix said.

“I think they are working to uplift black voices, but they are doing it by interrogating their own internalized racism,” Phoenix said in regards to what CFF and FIN have done, including breaking down Ferndale’s statement of anti-racism in 2020.

Screenshot by Arden Vanover
Rebecca Phoenix explains her upbringing in Ferndale and how that contributed to her activism for the Black community.

This statement acknowledged that racism is a crisis that is plaguing the entire nation, with Ferndale included and outlines what the citizens can do to better the community.

The way they approach racism can be improved on, she said, but she acknowledges it is a difficult thing to do and even harder to do well. 

Leaks-May, James, and Phoenix all agree that this should not, and will not, be the extent of Ferndale’s activism and showcasing of the Black community. 

Progress has been made and there is far more progress to be made, but according to the city council members, Leaks-May and James, the future for Ferndale is bright.

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