Dennis Archer speaks at SMCPublished 9:20pm Wednesday, October 9, 2013
When former Detroit mayor Dennis Archer grew up in Cassopolis, graduating in the 79-member Class of 1959, his home lacked running water. Saturday nights he bathed in a metal tub.
His father, who lost his left arm in an auto accident, had a third-grade education, while his mother graduated from high school. They insisted their only child attend college.
“You are much further ahead than me,” the former Michigan Supreme Court justice and American Bar Association president said at Southwestern Michigan College Monday.
“I congratulate you,” Archer said. “I told my counselor at Wayne State I’d like to be a pharmacist without knowing what was involved. It took a year and a half for me and pharmacy to not get along. There is no such thing as a free lunch, but if you’re willing to work and get a good education, the sky is absolutely the limit.”
“I started working at 8 as a caddy at Park Shore golf course,” Archer said. “When I graduated Cassopolis High School, I did not have a clue what I might do. Being a lawyer, a teacher or a pharmacist were not on my radar.”
Archer transferred to Western Michigan University, where a counselor discouraged him from becoming a history teacher because of job scarcity.
He switched to special education, teaching five years for Detroit Public Schools, attending law school at night.
Archer, named by Newsweek one of America’s 25 most dynamic mayors in 1996, felt unprepared for Wayne State.
Archer raised $1 million to help fund scholarships for Detroit and Cassopolis graduates who attend Wayne State or Western.
Speaking on “The Value of Education in a Global Economy,” Archer recalled visiting London, Lisbon, Shanghai, Moscow, Nigeria, Kenya and the United Nations. Twice during the Clinton administration he slept at the White House.
Archer serves on Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls’ board. “We’ve got 172,000 employees worldwide. Sixty-two percent of our $42 billion gross comes outside the United States. When you could wind up anywhere in the world, it becomes important you respect people who may not look like you.
“Of 300 million people in the United States, more than 30 percent of us are people of color. Demographers and social scientists have been writing since 1982-83 about the ‘browning of America.’ Because of birth rate and relaxation of immigration rules, by 2056 the largest single ethnic minority group would be Hispanics and the majority of people living in the United States would be people of color. Every day in 2013 the majority of babies born are of color.
“Businesses want to hire people who respect women. Before we had the huge recession, women started more businesses than men. Women-owned businesses hired more people than Fortune 500 companies combined. Women-owned businesses accounted for $1.9 trillion in sales. And women make 83 to 85 percent of all consumer purchases. Gentlemen, I urge you to respect your classmates who are women. If you underestimate the intellect of a woman, you will lose.”
Archer consulted for Walmart from 2006 to 2011.
“It’s the only business I know where you can start pushing carts and, depending on your desire to learn more and do more, become a store manager in five or six years making $150,000. The more education you acquire, the more competitive and successful you’re going to be. You can go worldwide right here from home.”
Archer, 71, was Detroit’s 67th mayor, succeeding Coleman Young from Jan. 3, 1994, until the end of 2001, when Kwame Kilpatrick followed.
“If you get a chance to be elected officials, remember what you feel about this moment” with the federal government shut, teetering at default.
“Don’t be an ideologue. Be willing to compromise.”
Archer grew up before Facebook and Twitter.
“I might have wound up, as some young people do, at a party with a lampshade on their head and a big bottle of something in hand,” he said. “Human resource people, who hire on behalf of companies to which you will apply, go to social media and look for anything that suggests you may not be the kind of person they want. Watch what you tweet or permit on Facebook. It will come back to haunt you if it’s inappropriate. You need to think now about how to avoid being hurt by a momentary lapse of temptation that appears to be cute.”