Thinking for ourselves
Doing different things
By Shea Howell
December 17-24- 2011
Something new is emerging in Detroit. In quiet, patient, persistent ways people in our city are developing a culture of strength and compassion. Far from the media glare and the often cynical notions of elected officials, Detroiters are probing deep questions of our humanity and how we will live together.
Last week the Coalition Against Police Brutality held its annual holiday party at the international institute. About 60 people came together to celebrate with one another and to draw support from a deepening sense of community. At first glance, this was a gathering like many at holiday times. There was music, people danced the hustle, told stories, and played with children. There was wonderful food, and warm, festive decorations. But this was a gathering of people who had experienced almost unimaginable loss. Children taken from life by thoughtless moments, or lost to us in the course of senseless anger. Opening to the pain of parents was central the gathering.
Cora Rena Mitchell spoke about the loss of her son, Robert Tazzy Mitchell, 16, in the spring of 2009. He died after being tased by a Warren police officer. Ms. Mitchell said that when she lost her son she faced a choice about what to do. Instead of blaming everyone, she decided to work with the Coalition to reach out to the people of Warren and in her own neighborhood in Detroit. She turned her grief toward creating a safer community, so that no one else would have to lose a child in such a way. She is committed to creating Peace Zones for Life, helping neighbors find ways to resolve conflicts with peace and respect.
Ron Scott talked about the journey of the Coalition form protesting police brutality to restoring peace in neighborhoods. For more than 16 years the Coalition has been responding to the excessive force and violence that people in the community often suffer at the hands of police. The Coalition noticed that often these situations began when police were called to deal with domestic violence, arguments among friends and neighbors, or when drugs or alcohol were involved. Mr. Scott talked passionately about how we have the ability and responsibility to stop this kind of violence. We can call upon one another to resolve conflicts, to find solutions, to de-escalate violence and to solve our problems with respect.
People not only shared stories of loss. They also spoke about the kind of community we are able to create together. At one point a small group of young men who were part of a comedy performance near by stopped in to pay their respects to the Coalition. One young man offered to talk a bit, replacing the tears of sorrow with laughter, remembering a time when his greatest fear was missing the last boat home from Bob-lo.
It is in the corse of these kinds of gatherings that Detroiters are making new communities.
Margaret Wheatley, whose work on new science and social change formed the heart of the Reimagining Organizing, Movements and Leadership gathering a few days later, talks about the transformative power of grief. In her latest book, Perseverance, she quotes a Zen Teacher: “If we are able to give ourselves to the loss, to move toward it—rather than recoil in an effort to escape, deny, distract, or obscure—our wounded hearts become full, and out of that fullness we will do things differently, and we will do different things. Our loss, our wound, is precious to us because it can wake us up to love and to loving action.” New, loving actions are emerging every day as people chose to “do things differently” and to do “different things.”