By Jeremy Selweski

For one evening, the city’s downtown district became a center for debate about of the recent struggles of Detroit’s Big Three automakers and the thousands of local workers impacted by them.

On May 27, the crew of the Public Broadcasting Service’s “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” visited AJ’s Café, 240 W. Nine Mile Road, for a roundtable discussion about the current state of the American auto industry. PBS News correspondent Paul Solman led the interview with five
United Auto Workers members and various PBS News pundits, focusing on, among other topics, the future of the union’s pension fund if General Motors files for bankruptcy. Lehrer himself wasn’t there.

At press time, the segment was scheduled to air on PBS at 6 p.m. on either May 29 or June 1.

“It was great to be a part of that,” said café owner A.J. O’Neil. “I really appreciate them coming out here to our little café. It was a lot of fun.”

O’Neil believes that PBS selected AJ’s Café as the location for the newscast after learning about its recent Assembly Line Concert, the continuous 288-hour musical tribute to the Big Three and Detroit auto workers held at the café from March 20 to April 1.

“It doesn’t surprise me because of all the activism we’ve been a part of,” he said. “We’re one of the Main Street faces for this challenge. We try to be as proactive as we can: We put on events that create international interest and hopefully make a difference in the world. I think that’s why we resonate with people.”

For O’Neil, the biggest hope is that the efforts of his business will shine a positive spotlight on Ferndale and bring more awareness to the plight of autoworkers throughout the region.

“I really believe people should take time to pay attention to the AJ’s (Cafés) of the world,” he said. “It’s not just about supporting your local coffee shop — it’s about coming out and helping to make an impact. This is something that’s way bigger than me.”


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