“A WHOLE NEW CULTURE”

Michigan Citizen, March 6-12, 2011

At a recent meeting of Detroiters planning a People Festival to celebrate “Bringing the neighbor back into the ‘hood”

Wayne Curtis noted that we are creating “a whole new culture.”

His remark suggests to me that we need more discussion and understanding of the cultural revolution Detroiters are now making in response to the devastation of deindustrialization. It is transforming how we view our selves, our surroundings and our institutions. We are making a life and not just a living by feeding ourselves, educating our children and taking more responsibility for each other and our communities.

This cultural revolution is very different from the cultural revolution involving the education of mostly illiterate Russian peasants advocated by Lenin after the Bolshevik seizure of state power in 1917. It is also very different from Mao’s 1966 cultural revolution which sent millions of educated Chinese youth to work in the countryside and learn from the peasantry. It goes beyond the cultural revolution of the 60s which began to redefine race, gender, generational relations.

Today’s cultural revolution, which is emerging from the ground up especially in Detroit, is as awesome as the transition from Hunting and Gathering to Agriculture 11,000 years ago and from Agriculture to Industry a few hundred years ago,

Forty years ago Wayne Curtis was a Black Panther. Now a softspoken man with gray dreadlocks, he and his wife Myrtle Thompson are co-founders of Feedom Freedom Growers, a community garden which is revitalizing their east side neighborhood, supplying fresh produce to local restaurants, and energizing and educating schoolkids by giving them opportunities to be of use now by doing work that is real, like growing food.

They are also growing hearts and minds.

For example, this year on Martin Luther King Day, Feedom Freedom Growers hosted a neighborhood gathering at Hope Community Church. A four year old told a joke, a seven year old rapped, and Myrtle’s son, Tyrone, a twenty – some th ing veteran, directed participants to MLK’s April 4, 1967 speech on the Vietnam War “If you never read any other speech, please read this one.”

He challenged everyone, especially young people, to accept responsibility for right thought fulness, conscience, a n d r i g h t actions. To have faith and to seek guidance when we have questions. To establish just values in terms of human lives and the consequences of taking a life.

He was profound in his wisdom and understanding of how war injures all of us. (For more on this gathering , see Gloria Lowe’s report in my January 30- February 5 column).

This wide-ranging transformation is taking place in response to the devastation and disaster of our deindustrialized city. Instead of viewing our selves as victims, grassroots Detroiters are discovering and embracing the power within us to create ourselves and our world anew.

More than a thousand community gardens have been planted. Neighbors are coming together to look out for each other and to turn war zones into peace zones. Inner city churches which became “parking lot churches” during the 70s as upwardly mobile parishioners fled to the suburbs, are transforming themselves into “place-based churches,” seizing the opportunity to become meeting places for young people struggling to bring the neighbor back into the’ hood.

Detroiters are carrying on the African American tradition of “making a way out of no way.”

Charles Johnson, the philosopher and artist who won the National Book award in 1990 for his novel The Middle Passage, has described this re-creation of ourselves as “collective transformation through disaster.” It is a black narrative in sharp contrast with the narrative of blacks as victims that made Richard Wright’s Native Son a best seller in the 1940s.

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