Date of Birth:
Date of Death:
Place of Birth: Detroit, Michigan
Champion of Detroit
The issue of race relations has emerged through many eras in Detroit's history. One of the Jewish leaders consistently concerned and involved with race relations in the city is Elaine Driker.
Elaine, born in Detroit, worked professionally and as a volunteer to benefit the city of her birth all her adult life. She attended Wayne State University, graduating in 1959, taught school in Livonia for two years, and then moved briefly to Washington, D.C., where her husband, Eugene Driker, practiced law in the Department of Justice. The Washington, D.C., experience “broadened her perspective,” allowing her to meet and make friends with people from all over the world.
Elaine and Eugene returned to Detroit to raise their family among the people they loved in their hometown. After renting a flat in northwest Detroit not far from where she grew up, Elaine became engaged with Pasteur Elementary School, where, initially, she taught literature enrichment after school to fifth and sixth graders. Living in the Greenacres neighborhood at Livernois and Eight Mile roads, Elaine became an active volunteer. As a board member of the Greenacres Woodward Civic Association, she spearheaded “Putting the Green Back in Greenacres” to re-forest the community after Dutch Elm disease decimated its trees.
Her neighbors, Senator Carl and Barbara Levin, became lifetime friends. As Carl moved from Detroit City Council to the U.S. Senate, Elaine worked on each of his campaigns and was inspired to a lifetime of political activism.
Eventually, the Drikers moved to the home in Detroit's Palmer Woods, where they continue to reside. Elaine developed new interests, first as a volunteer at the Central Business District Association. It was there that her eyes were opened to the municipal arena. This led her to pursue an advanced degree in urban planning. She commuted to Ann Arbor, where she attended classes at the University of Michigan and earned her master's degree in urban planning in 1981.
Her activities drew the attention of executives at Detroit Edison and soon she was given a position staffing the volunteer activities of Walter J. McCarthy, Jr., then chairman of the board. This position brought her into contact with the broader community, including corporate leaders and nonprofit executives. After three years in this position, Elaine was "loaned" by Detroit Edison to the Detroit Strategic Planning Project and was named manager of the Race Relations Task Force.
Following a year of analyzing race relations and diversity issues in Detroit and beyond, Elaine became involved with the implementation of the plan. From this process Elaine developed the Detroit Orientation Institute at Wayne State University, which she directed for twelve years. This institute was dedicated to educating new-to-Detroit corporate and nonprofit executives and members of the media about their new community. The orientation was honest and transparent and involved encounters with Detroit's public education and criminal justice systems, art and culture, economic development, and politics.
At this time, Elaine became active with the Jewish Community Relations Agency (then called Jewish Community Council), where she chaired the Black-Jewish Initiative, a program to reinvigorate the relationships between the Jewish community and the city of Detroit.
She was also involved with Hillel of Metro Detroit, eventually becoming president of its board. This position, she states, combined three of her primary interests, “young people, Judaism, and Wayne State.”
Always drawing inspiration from her husband, Eugene, who offered encouragement and support, Elaine Driker hoped “to leave a small footprint toward making the world a better place.”
She has done that through her persistent dedication to the city of her birth and its people, culture, and institutions.
Written by Jeannie Weiner in collaboration with Elaine Driker