January 29th, 2019
Thinking for OurselvesHistorical Divisions
Shea HowellThe celebration of Martin Luther King makes it clear how difficult it is for many people in our country to look at the fullness of our history. People in power have a vested interest in turning Dr. King’s life and legacy into a shallow dream of a future where race does not matter.
Increasingly, efforts to reduce Dr. King to a few lines from a single speech are being challenged. Scholars and activists are insisting that we look at the deeper lessons and complexities of his life, including his organizing, his sermons, his speeches, writings, press conferences, books, and lectures. They are demanding we put him in the context of his times and that we acknowledge that a movement is always more than an individual. They apply his most bold and radical challenges to today.
The tendencies to distort our history, to narrow its focus and ignore the contradictions were captured by Tim Wise this week speaking at the University of Michigan King Celebration. Wise, sharing the stage with Detroit’s Julia Putnam, talked about the threads of injustice forming a “blinkered historical memory—an inherently flawed understanding of who we are as a nation and who we have always been.” He explained that “At root, much of what ails us is an acute case of misremembering, selective amnesia. He explained “What we remember, what we forget, and what we never learned as people has profound impact on how we celebrate this day and this man and this legacy of which he was such a central part, but also how we understand our current political crisis.”
If we are to become a people capable of mature, moral judgements, of evolving a culture that places people over property, sustainability over greed, and peace over violence, we are going to have to come to terms with the realities of living in a country founded on genocide, slavery, and death. We are going to have to find a way to the future that does not begin with lies.
Facing this reality is not easy, especially for most white Americans. In Where do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? Dr. King wrote of the refusal of white people to “re-educate themselves out of their racial ignorance.” He explained, “It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn.”
“These are the deepest causes for contemporary abrasions between the races,” he wrote.
Loose and easy language about equality, resonant resolutions about brotherhood fall pleasantly on the ear, but for the Negro there is a credibility gap he cannot overlook. He remembers that with each modest advance the white population promptly raises the argument that the Negro has come far enough. Each step forward accents an ever-present tendency to backlash.”
Understanding that the present and future are distorted by mis-remembering of history, is why the work of the Black Legacy Coalition is so important. The Coalition is calling on all Detroiters to oppose the decision by the current board of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History to host the exhibit Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello: Paradox of Liberty. The coalition is calling on the Museum board to cancel the exhibit and to expand the board membership so that future decisions reflect a greater understanding of the complexities of history.
The Board defends its decision as an opportunity for “constructive conversation” and “seeks to emphasize the perspective of the slaves who endured Monticello rather than that of Jefferson.” One need only look at the title to see this is a lie. Jefferson controlled the lives and deaths of more than 600 human beings on his plantation. There is no paradox nor liberty there.
The Power of Community Beings with the Power to Create Community
Myrtyle Thompson-Curtis Monique Thompson & Rich Feldman
“People may be moving in but we are not movin out”.
On Saturday January 12 under the call of MLK: Community or Chaos, more than 125 people representing community groups and organizations, churches, urban growers, and visionary activists came together at UAW Local 7 to share their work and stories. They came together to network, inspire and seriously break down the silos that have emerged in the past decade.
There was Suzanne Cleage of the Eastside Community Network, to Myrtle Thompson-Curtis and Monique Thompson of Feedom Freedom Growers, Carlos Nielbok of Can-Arts and his wind energy initiative to Ali Duril and his Solar Work. We felt the spirit and we see the future of Detroit from organizations such as Soulardarity to Detroit Summer, The Treehouse Initiative, and Michigan Roundtable as well as many others from Alter RD and Jefferson to Gratiot and Mt. Elliott, there were so many others. There was a young woman Author of Poetry and young Entrepreneurs who sell their value added products.The conversations and networking was most definitely inter-generational and connecting. There was a soulful bluesy musical number done by Pastor Robert Jones to show how we are all connected, one thing grows from another. Then there was impromptu but powerful Lyricist who shifted the energy into high gear with his lyrical spoken word, his name is Dwight Roston of the Messiah Church. Honoring the belief that everyone has a gift and people were shining and sharing brightly! The Rev. James C. Perkins of Greater Christ Baptist, Rev. Homer Jamison of Jamison Temple, joined with Pastor Barry Randolph of Church of the Messiah, Pastor Robert Jones of Sweet Kingdom Church all shared their commitment to their work in the community now and into the future. Kesia Davis from the Heidelberg Project shared the amazing story of art and vision work being done in MLK and Southeastern High Schools. Yes our friend Tyree Guyton was there to absorb the good vibes in the space as well. Students and staff from the Boggs School shared their commitment to placed based education and becoming critical thinkers and solutionaries. Linda Campbell and her group of committed organizers, The Peoples Platform was in attendance to introduce people to the Community Benefits Law and the importance of organizing in the community.This gathering was gifted with the presence and voices of some real legendary organizers form the Eastside, from Alberta Tinsley-Talabi and Mack Alive to the Charlevoix Village to Jocelyn Harris of Jefferson Chalmers Advocates. These are the voices of wise organizers joining with a new generation of visionaries and organizers. The power of the community begins with the power to create community. What is power? Power is the ability to define phenomena and then make it act in a desired manner. People may be moving in but we are not moving out!The gathering was hosted by UAW Local Pres. Reginald Griffin who was raised on Marlborough, North of Jefferson. His commitment and energy to create a new relationship and love between the UAW-Fiat Chrysler Workers and the longtime residents was warmly received. As Myrtle Thompson-Curtis of the Boggs Center and Feedom Freedom and Jerry King of the Metro Detroit A. Philip Randolph Institute clearly stated…this gathering was to bring together folks from the neighborhood that have been creatively doing community work for decades and the local workers at the Chrysler Plant. The leadership of Torrey Green and Sheree McLaughlin kept the meeting spirited and moving forward. This work is about creating a vision of networks and leadership for the decades to come. This gathering of leadership and visionary networks was initiated by the James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nuture Community Leadership, The Metro A. Philip Randolph Institute, Coach Kellog of GEMS(Gration,I-94,Mt.Elliott. & St. Aubin) and The Feedom Freedom Growers, as well as many friends across the eastside.