Boggs Center – LIVING FOR CHANGE NEWS – JUNE 10TH 2019

June, 10th, 2019

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“Men don’t need to show our manhood, we need to show our humanity” — James Boggs, 1990


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headshot of James and Grace Lee Boggs outdoors, with trees in the background

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Thinking for Ourselves

Commencement Days
Shea Howell

This is High School graduation season in Detroit. Across the city new graduates are walking around with caps and gowns. People driving by in cars honk in acknowledgement. In neighborhoods, lawn signs are sprouting up congratulating the students and naming the schools they attended. Front porches display balloons and decorations announcing a high school grad lives here. These celebrations mark the mixture of pride and hope in the achievements of young people. They reflect the enduring faith in our community that education matters.

The joy of graduation was on my mind last Monday at the Detroit Independent Freedom Schools meeting. We had a conversation about working with young people conducted by soon-to-graduate student activists from Detroit Area Youth Uniting Michigan (DAYUM).

One of the questions the students explored was about their worst experiences working with adults. A young woman who had been in the leadership of the school walk outs over the inadequate response to the contaminated water crisis in the schools, shared stories of harassment and intimidation by her school officials. She talked about being called into the principal’s office, made to wait for three hours while an armed guard paced around the room. This happened repeatedly, and she began to see her grades suffer from being forced to miss classes.

Also on my mind was the courageous speech by Tuhfa Kasem, who took the opportunity of her commencement speech to demand a quality education from her institution that she says puts profits above the needs of students and staff. The response by the Universal Academy in South West Detroit was to cut off her microphone.

She gave the speech anyway and a former teacher at the school made the entire event available online.

These instances reflect something we all know about our current system of schooling. It is not helping young people become critical, independent, and creative thinkers. It is intended to silence and control criticism. It advances some individuals at the expense of the larger community. Over and over again young people hear the message that the purpose of education is to get good grades, so they can get a good job. Usually, that job is assumed to be outside of Detroit. A diploma is billed as a ticket out of town.

To achieve that diploma, young people often endure over-crowded classrooms, dilapidated buildings, lack of basic sanitation, and lack of basic resources. They are subjected to forms of control similar to those found in prisons, and given little encouragement or faith in their ability to be creative, caring human beings.

Many of the schools charged with the responsibility of educating our children are nothing more than profit centers for distant corporations. Many make their money as landlords not educators.

The young people of DAYUM represent a very different view. They are concerned about how we develop together to create strong, healthy, compassionate and productive community life.

They are asking us to rethink the distinction between schooling and education and to commit ourselves to finding new ways to develop people as we develop our communities toward a more just and sustainable ways of living.  These young people have already commenced on that journey.

The Renewable Energy Subcommittee invites you to a special evening session. Add your voice to the growing solar movement in Detroit.

6/13 @ 5 pm




Boggs Center – Living For Change News Letter – June 4th 2019

June, 4th, 2019

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“My vision of a new society in the United States comes out of my life in the United States and my reflections on my experiences and on the history of humanity as I, in my small way, have been able to grasp that history… I have many turning points in my life. I have won some battles, and I have lost a great many. But I would never say that I have won any great victories or lost any war. Because it is out of these struggles, my historical experiences and my reflections on the past and the present that I have arrived at my vision of a new society in America. My life and my struggles have always been full of passion and hope because I believe that wherever human beings are, there resides in them a desire to strive to become more human.” — James Boggs, 1979



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 Thinking for Ourselves

Assaults from Mackinac
Shea Howell

For 39 years, Michigan’s business and political elite have gathered on Mackinac Island to discuss plans and policies for our state. Hosted by the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, this gathering produces some of the most vicious and damaging ideas effecting people. For example, as the Detroit bankruptcy was unfolding, the Mackinac gathering was credited with framing the “Grand Bargain,” pitting pensioners against the DIA and stiffling any creative thinking about how to address financial issues in the city.

This year is no different. The gathering is troubling both for what it addresses and for what it evades.

Education got a lot of attention on the agenda, but there was little sense of urgency. The sessions on education offered no new thinking about our common responsibilities, the kind of education our children need and deserve, or the destruction of local control via emergency management laws. There was no reflection on how the decades of meddling by state level entities have done nothing but destroy public schools and create an abusive environment for children and teachers. To pretend that this gathering has either the intention of the capacity to advance the education of our children is foolish and dangerous.

It is under the leadership of the Regional Chamber, the assembled foundations, and the Mackinac Policy Center that we have endured the drive to “improve” schools through a false “accountability” based on punishing and controlling teachers. They have encouraged the opening of “schools of choice,” and pushed for profit-making charter schools.

Michigan was among the top centers for public education in the early 1990’s and was developing impressive new ideas about urban education. Creating programs that supported children and their families, working on curriculum that emerged from addressing real issues in the community, and fostering African-centered educational philosophies and practices, Michigan’s urban centers offered serious perspectives on moving education away from the factory models of the earlier century.

But as these new ideas of education started to reflect concerns for social justice and cultural integrity, right wing forces reacted. Under the influence of ideologues like Betsy DeVos and the legislators she helped elect, Michigan has fallen to near the bottom in comparison to other states.

Our children, teachers and schools have been under assault. Most of it led by the people highlighted in this Island gathering. The very people who created the problems we face are not likely to have any answers for the future.

Meanwhile, the legislature is refusing to eliminate its most recent weapon, the third grade reading law. This law mandates the retention of children who are falling behind in reading.  Almost anyone who cares about education knows this is a disaster. We are likely to see a six-fold increase in the number of children who will be forced to repeat the third grade. The Governor is quickly backing off of her effort to repeal the law and has come out against a “right to literacy.”

In sharp contrast to the gathering on Mackinac, people around the state are looking for new ways to develop our children rooted in love and compassion. For example, as elites gathered on the Mackinac Hotel porch, the Detroit Independent Freedom Schools begin their summer gardening program with the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. Here is where progressive thinking and commitment to children can be found.



A message from Russ Bellant (

Despite clear campaign positions supporting school districts in African American, Latino and low-income districts, Gretchen Whitmer followed her last three predecessors practices by ordering the Benton Harbor school board to close their only high school and send those students to nine surrounding white districts and charter schools. Those districts want those students to boost the state funding to their schools, which guts the Benton Harbor district. Her staff also let it be known that if they do not do what she demanded, she will close down the entire school district ! To add insult to injury, no Benton Harbor school board member was consulted before this edict.


Despite pledges last year from the State that the Benton Harbor school board would return to control of their school district July 1, the Whitmer administration from its outset was privately threatening the school district if they did not retain the school district superintendent previously put in place by Lansing. Many thought that matter was resolved but instead Whitmer is now escalating.


By way of background to Lansing education dictation, only African-American districts have had “emergency” managers and only African American school districts have been completely dissolved, with others near dissolution.


Whitmer’s actual constitutional authority to do this does not exist. The Michigan Constitution gives no power whatsoever over K-12 education to the Governor (see Article V). All power over K-12 is vested in the the State Board of Education (Article VIII), which says that “Leadership and general supervision of all public education…is vested in a state board of education. It shall serve as the general planning and coordination body for all public education, including higher education, and shall advise the legislature as to the financial requirements therewith.” Already some Board members are in opposition to Whitmer’s move and more may speak out..


Yet governors and legislators corrupt the Constitution in order to run over Black students, their families and communities. This abuse today is a warning that Detroit schools are not immune. During her campaign, Whitmer said that Detroit schools need a “Detroit solution,” which was not elaborated upon.


There is a response forming to stand up to these racist practices, this corruption of power and related looting of community resources, to threats of future abuse and injustice. This Tuesday people from across the state are going to Benton Harbor’s school board meeting to uphold the right of their school district to exist and control their schools. From my point of view it is a message to the Governor to not go down the path of her predecessors or play to the racist corruption of Berrien County, the De Vos empire and their delegation in the Legislature.


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Boggs Center – Living For Change Newsletter – May 29th 2019

May, 29th, 2019

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Thinking for Ourselves

Mayors Matter
Shea Howell

Mayors can make a difference. Chicago’s new Mayor Lori Lightfoot took office this week, becoming the first African American, openly queer woman to head the city. A few days before she took the oath, she announcedshe would stop water shut offs. In unequivocal terms she said, “Water is a basic, basic human right. If you’re turning off water, you are effectively evicting people. And we know that that disproportionately affects low income people of color who are going to be shut off from water services.”

Mayor Lightfoot called water shut offs “heartless,” and said, “When you cut somebody off from water, you’re effectively evicting them and putting them on the street. We will not do that in the city.”

As with Detroit, Chicago has experienced rapidly accelerating water bills. They have tripled in the last decade. In the past 12 years 150,000 households have received shut off notices. Illegal reconnections have actually outpaced the legal ones.

The decision by the Mayor to move Chicago systematically toward a water affordability plan was based on a thoughtful report prepared by her transition team. It is a document worth reading. I especially recommend it to our own Mayor and City Council.

The report also provides a basis for the Mayor Lightfoot to “(resume) leadership in Great Lakes issues” such as climate resilience, restorative infrastructure and aquatic invasive species. “Chicago City government has an absolute responsibility to protect Chicagoans from environmental harms,” Lightfoot said. “This starts with bringing back the Department of Environment to combat climate change and ensure that residents have clean air to breathe and safe water to drink no matter their race, economic status, or zip code.”

These actions are important because they bring into the public sphere values that are badly needed as we develop policies in the face of increasing challenges around access and safety of water.

The values behind the choices the new Mayor is making are essential as we prepare for long term struggles around the role of cities and democracy in our country.  Increasingly we are coming to understand that right wing, corporate forces are aggressively limiting direct democracy in cities. Pursuing state level preemptive actions, right wing, corporate financed legislatures are blocking direct democratic actions by local governments.

The rate of preemption bills introduce by state legislatures has spiked dramatically with the rise of conservative power. For example, “six out of 10 Americans now live in a state where a city can’t pass a minimum wage that’s higher than the state minimum wage,” according to Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, an assistant professor of political affairs at Columbia University and the author of the new book, State Capture: How Conservative Activists, Big Businesses, and Wealthy Donors Reshaped the American States—and the Nation.

We in Michigan have seen plenty of this doctrine in action, from the effort to  limit residency requirements, to forced cooperation with ICE, and emergency management, the State has deemed cities, especially Detroit, as nothing more than administrative units.

Yet the growing power of progressive cities will not be stopped. For centuries, cities have been the natural site of politics.  Part of the deep, structural changes we are finding our way to creating, begins with a new understanding of the power of cities, the purposes and responsibilities of local governments. The new Mayor of Chicago is helping make clear what kind of values are at stake for our futures.



NO NEW JAILS DETROIT newsletter first




(A Father’s Day letter from our friend, Rachel Elizabeth Harding)
Dear Folks,

Today I am honoring my daddy, Vincent Harding, who passed into glory on this day, five years ago – May 19, 2014.

When I think about my daddy and my mama, Rosemarie Freeney Harding, at this juncture of my life, what comes most strongly to my mind is the way they embodied together a tremendous warmth, dedication and depth of spirit in the midst of struggle. They wrapped faith and resistance very beautifully in imagination and a wide, inclusive understanding of family. And they gave me room to find my own way in the world with their support. I am grateful every day to Creator and Creation for my parents. My mama and daddy’s work is, in many ways, the model I take for my own life.
Daddy was a historian in love with the best possibilities and most humane potentials of this nation. He believed that any TRUE democracy the country could claim was created by the great river of struggle of Black people and many allies who were able to envision the United States of America beyond the limited and stultifying sights of the “founding fathers.”

Daddy was a teacher with a marvelous gift of encouragement. He credits my mom with recognizing, sustaining and modeling that gift for him/in him. Over the course of his life, Daddy developed the capacity to listen carefully and intently and to offer guidance, sometimes in just a few words, that sent students in the direction of deep introspection and in search of ancestors (blood and chosen) who could be models for them in “freedom work.” And he LOVED young people and liked to be in the midst of their questioning, probing, challenging, risk-taking energy.

My prayer for this day, is that Daddy’s spirit will enliven and protect the youth in Denver, Bahia, Rio de Janeiro, New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia, Barbados, Boston, New Mexico, California and all the places between and beyond where young folks are looking for new ways to care for one another, to be human with each other, to stand up for poor people, for Black people, for Native people, for the water and the land, for the wellbeing of plants and animals, and to imagine healthy ways for us all to live together in this beautiful, suffering, tenacious world.


Today is Jimmy’s 100th birthday (May 28, 1919 ).

Today is Jimmy’s 100th birthday (May 28, 1919 ).
This is part of a statement he made 30 years ago about his vision for a new society:
“My vision of a new society in the United States comes out of my life in the United States and my reflections on my experiences and on the history of humanity as I, in my small way, have been able to grasp that history… I have many turning points in my life. I have won some battles, and I have lost a great many. But I would never say that I have won any great victories or lost any war. Because it is out of these struggles, my historical experiences and my reflections on the past and the present that I have arrived at my vision of a new society in America. My life and my struggles have always been full of passion and hope because I believe that wherever human beings are, there resides in them a desire to strive to become more human.”
— James Boggs, 1979

Boggs Center – Living For Change News Letter – May 20th, 20198

May 20th, 2019

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6/29 – 7/6

Thinking for Ourselves

A Path Towards Life
Shea Howell

The city of Northville MI faced a boil water advisory this weekend. Over the last few years these advisories are becoming more common. This latest directive to boil water before drinking it was because of a water main break on Friday morning.

Just a few days earlier, images began to circulate revealing the extent of the damage done to the oil pipeline that runs under the Straits of Mackinac. In April 2018 a tugboat anchor dragged across line 5, creating gashes in the pipe, allowing oil to spill out. Enbridge, the company that controls the pipeline, tells us there is nothing to worry about. “Everything’s fixed and operating.” It took them nearly 4 months to complete repairs on the line. There is no repair for the oil that seeped into the lakes.

Nor is there any repair for a newly documented group of chemicals, called PFAS. They are appearing in people’s water systems in Michigan and the Great Lakes Basin. They’re used in our waterproof clothing, nonstick cookware, food packaging and industrial waste. Communities that were home to shoe manufacturing and military bases show especially high levels of contamination. Dubbed the “forever chemical” in a new documentary, they’ve moved into our home water supplies, wells and communities’ water systems. These chemicals have been linked to fertility issues, high cholesterol, thyroid and liver problems and cancer.

Along with newly discovered toxins, we have known for decades that lead and other heavy metals lurk in our waters. We have known that more and more people are finding it impossible to pay ever escalating bills to provide safe water and maintain the system.

It should be obvious we cannot continue to segment the issues of providing and protecting our waters. Safe, affordable water is no longer a taken for granted part of life anywhere in Michigan.

The PFAS that flows from the cleaners and fire suppressant in Selfridge Airforce Base finds its way into ground waters and Lake St. Clair. The oil from the pipeline spill mixes in. The infrastructure that carries our water and waste is deteriorating rapidly. And the technologies of testing for contamination cannot keep up with the new toxins we are dumping without thought.

Jeffrey Insko recently gave a picture of just how vulnerable the 4 million people who depend on the Detroit water system are when he wrote:
Hundreds of chemical spills over several decades contaminated Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair River, released cancer-causing toxins into the air, and produced increased levels of cancer and low birth-rates among First Nations inhabitants of the region. That pollution also—as a Bridge Magazine report explained in 2017 and as the City of Detroit warned in 1953 — poses a serious threat to the drinking water of millions of Michigan residents. Detroit knows this story all too well. Having also suffered from decades from a polluting oil refinery, it is Sarnia’s own twin brother, linked, literally and metaphorically, by the St. Clair River like a poisoned umbilical cord.
The water crisis we face cannot be fixed quickly, nor with small patches attempting to respond to each emergency. We need to shift how we think about the way of life that is literally poisoning us. This shift has been given a new framework in the Green New Deal. It is an opportunity to think holistically about the interconnections of our waters, the earth, the ways we make a living, and relate to one another. The Green New Deal offers the possibilities of reimagining how we can live in ways that acknowledge the intricate connections that form the web of life that sustains us. It is an invitation to look honestly at the horrors we are creating and to choose a path toward life.

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Community organizers Rami Nashashibi and Lucas Johnson have much to teach us about using love — the most reliable muscle of human transformation — as a practical public good. Nashashibi is the founder of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network, a force for social healing on Chicago’s South Side. Johnson is the newly-named executive director of The On Being Project’s Civil Conversations Project. In a world of division, they say despair is not an option — and that the work of social healing requires us to get “proximate to pain.”






A note from our friends at Veterans of Hope…

We hope all of you are very well.  As the summer unfolds, the Veterans of Hope Project is excited to announce a series of programs we are coordinating/co-sponsoring over the next three months. It’s a busy time for us but we are looking forward to a rich set of experiences and we invite you to join us – and please support our work.

As part of our ongoing collaboration with the Terreiro do Cobre Candomblé community in Salvador, Bahia, we are hosting three Afro-Brazilian ritual leaders and activists this summer – Iyalorixá Valnizia Pereira, Ebomi Marilene de Jesus Cruz and Ogãn Claudio Santana de Freitas. The visit of the Brazilian elders is a partnership with our friends, Daniel and Marcia Minter, who have recently founded the Indigo Arts Alliance, in Portland, Maine, a wonderful center for artists of the African diaspora.  Our principal events this summer (May and June 2019) are:

·      May 19 @ Campbell Chapel AME church in Denver.  2-5pm. Invisible Knowledge. An interfaith conversation circle with African American and Afro-Brazilian elder women on resources of spirit and community for social justice work.
·      May 29 @ the Iliff School of Theology in Denver.  5-7pm.  Women’s Handwork– a panel and demonstration of Afro-Indigenous women’s cultural and spiritual heritage traditions.
·      June 8 @ Indigo Arts Alliance in Portland, Maine.  All day. The Welcome Table – a celebration of creativity, community and culinary brilliance in the African Diaspora.

For more information on these programs, please see our website: