The Chinese Community Center in Madison Heights offers a variety of resources, including English-language classes and citizenship classes. Madison Heights is home to more than 200 businesses owned by Asian Americans.

The Chinese Community Center in Madison Heights offers a variety of resources, including English-language classes and citizenship classes. Madison Heights is home to more than 200 businesses owned by Asian Americans.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Madison Heights rallies behind Asian-American community

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published April 2, 2021


MADISON HEIGHTS — Officials in Madison Heights are pledging support for minority groups amid a recent spate of hate crimes targeted at Asian Americans in Michigan and across the U.S.  

While nonwhites account for a minority in Madison Heights, this percentage is expected to increase with the next census, said Madison Heights Mayor Roslyn Grafstein. There are hundreds of businesses in the city that are owned and operated by Asians, and Madison Heights is also the home of the Chinese Community Center, part of the Association of Chinese Americans, or ACA.

Shenlin Chen is the president of the ACA. She said her organization is mourning the loss of life in the Atlanta-area shootings that occurred March 16, where a lone gunman launched attacks on three locations, killing eight people, including six women of Asian descent. In February, a man of Asian descent was walking home near Manhattan’s Chinatown neighborhood when a stranger ran up to him and stabbed him in the back.

There are examples Chen said are closer to home: A Chinese senior citizen in Washtenaw County was shopping for food when someone spit on his cart; a Chinese woman in East Lansing was pumping gas when she was approached and told to go back to China; a young Chinese couple were denied service when they tried to order takeout at a restaurant while on a road trip Up North; a Korean dance instructor in Detroit was shouted down and accused of starting the pandemic during a virtual dance lesson she conducted on Zoom; last year, in the early stages of the outbreak, an Asian-American woman in a protective mask was taunted at a store in Detroit; a customer attempted to remove the mask of an Asian-American woman while she was shopping in Ann Arbor.

Chen said that, nationwide, there have been 3,800 reported instances of hate crimes against Asian-Americans during the pandemic. She said it’s obvious these incidents are underreported.

“The use of the phrase ‘China virus’ and other racially charged rhetoric triggered and worsened existing anti-Asian sentiment across the country. There is no reason to attach a racial, ethnic or country moniker to a virus other than to divide and distract,” Chen said in an email. “COVID-19 does not recognize borders. Ascribing a racist or misleading name to the virus, even informally, serves only to fan the fears and biases that exist among us.

“It harms the Chinese community, and it harms the larger Asian-American community. We are all worse off for it,” she said. “Instead of seeking to blame and scapegoat, we should all be working toward our common goal of ending the pandemic. Everyone deserves to be safe. Everyone deserves to be respected. We are not a virus.”

The ACA provides many services through the Chinese Community Center, located at 32585 Concord Drive in Madison Heights. The 10,000-square-foot building occupies a 2.5-acre lot and hosts classes on the English language and U.S. citizenship, Medicare and Medicaid, and more. The center offers activities such as a choir class, tai chi, pingpong, ballroom dance and urban gardening, and provides health screenings, and social work and naturalization services.

All are welcome at the Chinese Community Center, which also serves as a USDA hot lunch congregate meal site. During the pandemic, the center has collected and distributed personal protection equipment and care packages geared toward frontline personnel, as well as individuals and families in need. The center has partnered with Rite-Aid Pharmacy to serve as a mobile COVID-19 vaccination clinic. The ACA estimates that the center reaches more than 2,000 people each year through its services.  

“Our center has become a centralized hub and permanent home away from home for many in the area,” Chen said.

She explained that her group is currently working to get local governments to issue statements and take action to stem the violence against the Asian-American community. The ACA is also working with its national partners to push for a federal interagency task force to combat anti-Asian hate.

“This task force should support the development of in-language resources and coordinate the government’s response to the crisis directly with (Asian-American and Pacific Islander) advocates,” Chen said. “We are also seeking support for linguistically and culturally accessible resources dedicated to hate reporting, mental health and victim assistance.”

She encourages anyone who has experienced discrimination, harassment or xenophobia to report their experience using the ACA’s hate-reporting tool at

Madison Heights City Councilman Mark Bliss said discrimination is unacceptable.

“Anti-Asian hate has no place in our city,” Bliss said in an email. “In fact, the opposite is true: Asian-Americans are a key part of what makes Madison Heights great. With 200-plus Asian-American-owned businesses people flock to from all over Michigan, we’re the home of a Chinese Community Center and thousands of Asian-American residents who deserve our continued support. We must leverage the work of our (Human Relations Equity Commission) to amplify their voices and ensure that our community is as safe and supportive as it can be for all of our residents.”

Madison Heights City Councilman Robert Corbett agreed.

“Madison Heights, as much or more than other communities, has pro-actively reached out to all facets of our diverse business and residential populations,” Corbett said in an email. “Certainly in no small measure, the work of the late Mayor Edward Swanson should be credited with initial outreach to the Asian community. … He was one of the first city officials to initiate such contact. In the years since, his successors aggressively pursued ensuring Asian Americans are always included in the lifeblood of Madison Heights. Now, years later, we find the Asian community under threat throughout the country. I think it is terribly important we double our efforts to maintain open lines of communication between them and the city.

“The city of Madison Heights will not tolerate acts of violence or threats of intimidation against members of the Asian community,” Corbett emphasized. “It’s important we continue to monitor and react to the situation going forward.”

Roslyn Grafstein, the mayor of Madison Heights, said she appreciates the ACA’s work.

“The ACA is an amazing resource, and we are lucky to have them located right here in Madison Heights,” Grafstein said in an email. “With so many people still homebound because of COVID … they have had to adjust and move most of their programming online, but they are still there, providing critical support including care packages to many of their members.

“I am saddened by the increase in hate crimes over the last year,” she continued, adding that she expects to see the city’s Human Relations Equity Commission prepare some activities and educational resources for Asian Heritage Month in May.    

Chen said that the Asian American community has long endured discrimination. She called for renewed efforts to push back against hate.

“We feel the pain of the punches in the nose and slashes across the faces of our fellow Asian Americans, especially the vulnerable elderly,” Chen said. “We were not absent when the (Asian-Pacific American) community united across the nation to fight for racial justice when Vincent Chin was beaten to death on the street in Highland Park by two autoworkers almost 40 years ago. Today, we stand together with all of our community partners once again, in condemning hate and bigotry against the Asian American community.

“This country is our shared home, and we all deserve to feel safe here,” she said. “We cannot let prejudice and ignorance destroy what we have worked so hard to build. We are not the virus and we will not be scapegoated. Anti-Asian hate must stop. All hate must stop.”