This past Sunday, my post here on The Civil Arab discussed the ongoing property tax dispute between HYPE Athletics and the city of Dearborn Heights. Read that post here to get the full background.
In short, I strongly implied that Dearborn Height’s denial of HYPE’s request to be considered exempt from property taxes has a racial element to it. Many readers messaged me, questioning how I could make such an insinuation. Although I noted that a city council member had called HYPE’s 104,000 square foot facility “that Arab center,” I presented no hard, solid evidence. Now let’s be clear about one thing. Discrimination, especially in the 21st century, rarely happens out in the open. It happens behind closed doors. It is subtle, delicate, and silent.
But I simply felt that things didn’t smell right. But since I didn’t have a smoking gun, I did a little investigative reporting.
Right next door to HYPE’s recreation center we can find the Sokol Cultural Center. Sokol calls itself “the oldest nonprofit organization still in existence” in greater Detroit. The organization has existed in the US since 1865 and has roots in the Czech Republic. According to the group, “SOKOL is Czech for ‘falcon.’ SOKOL is English for a great group of people bonded by a common ethnicity, heritage or interest.”
Sokol claims it is “a safe place for children to learn personal discipline, physical fitness and gymnastic skills,” and offers “gym classes and social activities for teenagers.”
The Sokol Cultural Center is a membership-based organization. It charges a membership fee because, as the group states, “nothing comes for free in life.” Members have access to the center, but must pay extra fees for gym classes and some other activities. Further, in order to gain membership, a petitioner must be sponsored by an existing member, then accepted at a general meeting. It is not clear on what basis membership is granted, but there are clearly some restrictions. If you are granted membership, you must survive a one-year probationary period, whatever that means.
Sokol owns it facility in Dearborn Heights, is a federally registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, and… ready for this… pays no property taxes to the city of Dearborn Heights. Yes, according to the city of Dearborn Heights, the Sokol Cultural Center meets the requirements to be exempt from property taxes.
Let’s take a minute to compare Sokol and HYPE:
- HYPE charges membership fees. So does Sokol.
- Sokol’s members must be “approved.” HYPE’s prospective applicants suffer no such restrictions.
- HYPE offers athletic, fitness, and youth services. Sokol does too.
- Sokol was started and built by an immigrant community. So was HYPE.
- Sokol’s immigrant community was white. HYPE’s is definitely not.
Smells a little fishy, doesn’t it?
I guess I still can’t say with a 100% certainty that the city of Dearborn Heights is acting in an anti-Arab, discriminatory manner. But 99% isn’t that bad.