Cuba and Detroit: Kindred evolutionary Sprits
Tawana “Honeycomb” Petty
For 9 days I sat in living rooms, walked streets and rode in taxis made in 1951. I climbed hills and reveled over the brilliance of organic farms. I learned about AfroCuban religion and culture, trekked through the Zapata Swamp, waded and meditated in the waters of the Playa Girón (Bay of Pigs), spoke with Cuban economists, nurses, doctors, students, farmers, revolutionaries, taxi drivers, permaculturalists, and agriculturalists. I visited a worker/owner cooperative restaurant, cooperative organizations, and an artist collective. I soaked up the sites of Old Havana and Havana, Varadero, Alamar, and other brilliantly fascinating parts of Cuba. I was mesmerized by brilliant young Cuban dancers, musicians, and Cuban jazz artists who sang a mixture of cover songs and original works. Visiting Cuba was a dream come true.
Halfway through my trip, I went to bed on November 25th feeling full emotionally and overwhelmed with the love and spirit I was receiving from the Cuban people. For me, just having the opportunity to travel to Cuba was historic. Plus, I was staying at the Martin Luther King Memorial Center in Havana, which meant a great deal.
I could have never imagined that I would wake on the morning of November 26th to learn that Fidel Castro had passed the evening before. What a historic time to be in Cuba! I witnessed elder men and women crying in the streets. I listened to younger Cubans speak about their conflicting emotions wrapped up in love, respect, and, at times, resentment. I gathered in the streets and broke bread with my newly gained Cuban family as they mourned and weighed in on their tremendous and historic loss. Many I spoke with had no idea how big a deal Castro’s passing would be in the US. I told them that I was almost certain that the story was flooding the airways in America with almost as much frequency as it was in Cuba. However, that with the exception of revolutionaries or social justice activists, the narrative and responses around Castro in the US were likely far different. I came home to find I was right.
There was no shortage of discussion around the most recent US presidential election and the future of US/Cuba relations. Most people I spoke with expressed concerns about Trump’s potential reversal of President Obama’s attempt to normalize Cuban relations. I shared similar concerns.
I spoke with economist Gladys Hernández who talked a lot about the big questions that faced Cuba at the end of the Soviet Union. “Was Cuba supposed to remain a socialist country? What do you do when the markets are changing?” and the big question that she feels Cuba is facing now: “How can Cuba develop infrastructure and increase efficiency in productivity?” She revealed that Cuba now has over 300 hotels, up from under 90 and growing.
I expressed my appreciation for the current Cuban culture, their preservation of history, and the “make a way out of no way” spirit that was reminiscent of my hometown Detroit. I talked about the kindred spirit I felt with the Cuban people who had figured out how to exist and maintain their dignity while struggling through resource extraction and marginalization. I referenced my anxiety around the US “coming back” for Cuba in ways eerily similar to the “comeback story” in Detroit that leaves out the people who have loved on and taken care of their hometown when the rest of the world abandoned her.
I talked about my fear around the young people in Cuba turning away from agricultural work in order to work in tourism. It made me think a lot about growing up with gardens on my street, only to witness a lack of food in those same neighborhoods within a decade.
I shared my concerns around the emphasis on development and infrastructure, which tends to mow over edible plants and trees for paved streets, buildings and commodities. I couldn’t help but mention my caution around the global corporate investors who would likely come to Cuba for cheap labor and trade rooted in capitalistic exploitation.
Gladys didn’t seem to be as worried as me. She referenced Cuba’s relationship with China. She said that China does not have a ton of products in Cuba and they have not exploited the Cuban labor force because they consider the Cuban labor force “hostile.” Cubans have an educated workforce and will negotiate their salaries. Cuba has also been trading with Venezuela, Canada, China, and others for many years and have managed to hold their own. Her assessment gave me some measure of comfort.
As I visited many parts of Cuba I was grateful to not feel pressured to eat at a fast-food restaurant, shop at a corporate giant, or be bombarded by corporate advertisers. It was fascinating to walk past billboards and businesses and not see much promotion about some new and upcoming item available for purchase. It was refreshing to be disconnected from corporate media and have time to reflect and appreciate the nature around me.
I miss Cuba already. It felt so much like home. It was warm. It was welcoming. It was love. I miss the smiles, the buenos dias and hola sounds I heard frequently throughout the day. Folks were greeting me just because I was there. That was also reminiscent of the Detroit I grew up in. The Detroit I love.
Before I left, I shared Peace Zones for Life signs with the Martin Luther King Memorial Center in honor of Ancestor Ron Scott, on the anniversary of his passing. I gifted Gladys and my Cuban guides at the Center a copy of In Love and Struggle: The Revolutionary Lives of James and Grace Lee Boggs, the films American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs and We Are Not Ghosts, a Spanish translated version of a discussion between Grace Boggs and Immanuel Wallerstein, a couple of evolution t-shirts (signature t-shirts of the Boggs Center), and my own book Coming Out My Box.
I wanted to leave Cuba with at least a fraction of what Cuba had given to me and I wanted to be sure that organizers at the MLK Memorial Center could feel connected to the organizing and evolutionary spirit in Detroit long after I left.
I definitely felt a kindred spirit with the Cuban people. It is my hope that they are able to preserve the warmth, culture, history, personal stories, and agriculture that is particular to Cuba, despite what promises to be a rapidly changing moment in history.
I know that I have made some lifelong friends there and I hope to go back someday.
Boggs School Dispatch
“If there’s a future you want to see…create it.” — Kim Sherobbi
The above quote was made at the Place Based Education conversation at the Boggs Center recently. A group of at least 30 people joined Greg Smith as he spoke briefly about how PBE supports inclusion efforts around the country, how of the 10 Bill Gates funded projects last year, 8 of them were place-based schools, and also how the time has come to look to our young people for the creative solutions to the current issues we face, including climate change–not to put the heaviness on them, but to expose them to the things that they can do in their classrooms, schools, and neighborhoods that allow them to practice the leadership and problem-solving skills that will be necessary in the coming decades.
The discussion was multi-faceted, expressing concern over how we as adults teach ourselves to learn from children; how we think of place as more global as digital natives have figured out how to have meaningful connections with folks all over the world using social media (and the contradictions of not allowing children in schools to use these mediums); the importance of our kids learning to be trustworthy by allowing them to practice being trusted; how we must distinguish schooling and education since education can happen anywhere and is accessible to all; the fear and pain we are all feeling (including children) and how important it is for kids to see us working through that pain so that they can learn to work through their own; the role that fear plays in loss of imagination in a time in which imagination is what we most desperately need; and the fact that, 15 years ago, in that same room, conversations were had about where to go with education and how now, 15 years later, institutions and programs were created that allow us to have practices and models to point to and learn from as we figure out next steps.
The conversation left me feeling more determined to heal and break out of my sense of doom and realize that some of the work that is required at this time on the clock of the world is being done by all of us at the Boggs School. We are not fixing all that is wrong and that is frustrating and painful. But our work is a light that shines in the dark and others will come along and use that illumination to lead them–and us–even further along. To that end, please keep up the good work and know that your efforts are contributing to the evolution of education and of our country.
WHAT WE’RE READING
Finding a Way Forward with Grace
Jia Lok Pratt
Things are heating up, literally and figuratively. This year will soon become Earth’s hottest year on record and the third consecutive year for which the record has been broken. Cultural, political, and economic tensions within and across borders are escalating worldwide. The election of Donald Trump as president has ripped apart the delicate patchwork of our nation. Somehow, amidst the uncertainty and dangers we face, I feel a peculiar and newfound sense of hope.
Just weeks ago, I felt as if we were more disconnected and divided than ever before despite our very survival depending on our ability to take collective action. Absent a common vision or sense of community, we seemed paralyzed. On Election Day, that all changed. The disruptive nature of the election has set the stage for radical social change. Never before, in my 40 years, has the sense of urgency been so heightened and the call for unity so pervasive and clear. Trump’s rise has erased the boundaries of disparate movements, thrusting us together to protect ourselves and prepare for the unknown dangers of the regime-elect.
We are at a pivotal point. How we choose to react in the coming days, months, and years will shape the future of our nation, our world, and, most importantly, the future of generations to come. In times such as these, I look to the Oracles, in search of wisdom and perspective that grounds me.
I can think of no better Oracle to call upon than the venerable revolutionary, Grace Lee Boggs, whose book, The Next American Revolution, should guide our response in the days ahead. Grace gave us the wisdom to understand the difference between rebellion and revolution, teaching us that while rebellion “is righteous, because it’s the protest by a people against injustice, … it’s not enough.” She cautioned us to understand that “organizing or joining massive protests and demanding new policies [will] fail to sufficiently address the crisis we face. They… are not transformative enough. They do not change the cultural images or the symbols that play such a pivotal role in molding us into who we are.” KEEP READING
“We beg for your forgiveness…”
Wes Clark Jr., the son of retired U.S. Army general and former supreme commander at NATO Wesley Clark Sr., was part of a group of veterans at Standing Rock one day after the Army Corps announcement. The veterans joined Native American tribal elders in a ceremony celebrating the Dakota Access Pipeline easement denial.
Lakota spiritual leader and medicine man Chief Leonard Crow Dog and Standing Rock Sioux spokeswoman Phyllis Young were among several Native elders who spoke, thanking the veterans for standing in solidarity during the protests.
Clark got into formation by rank, with his veterans, and knelt before the elders asking for their forgiveness for the long brutal history between the United States and Native Americans:
“Many of us, me particularly, are from the units that have hurt you over the many years. We came. We fought you. We took your land. We signed treaties that we broke. We stole minerals from your sacred hills. We blasted the faced of our presidents onto your sacred mountain. When we took still more land and then we took your children and then we tried to make your language and we tried to eliminate your language that God gave you, and the Creator gave you. We didn’t respect you, we polluted your Earth, we’ve hurt you in so many ways but we’ve come to say that we are sorry. We are at your service and we beg for your forgiveness.” KEEP READING