Boggs Center Living For Change News Letter – June 16th, 2018

July 16th, 2018

grace and jimmy

July 16th, 2018

Remembering Jim Jackson Rich Feldman and Stephen Ward

Our dear friend James Jackson of Muskegon joined the ancestors on [GIVE THE DATE]. James Jackson is now with his dear comrades James and Grace Lee Boggs. He was a founding member of the Muskegon Branch of the National Organization for an American Revolution (NOAR) and later a founding Board Member of the James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership.
Jim Jackson was a pioneering doctor and freedom fighter. He integrated the hospital in Muskegon, authored the Health Pamphlet for NOAR, and started the African American History Museum in Muskegon. In 1964, James Jackson was the Vice Presidential candidate on for the Freedom Now Party, the all-Black political party headed by Reverend Albert B. Cleage (Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman) who later formed the Shrine of th4e Black Madonna.
Jim was one of my elders and my mentors. He was also a friend who always shared stories of fishing and his commitments to being a long distance runner. I remember his commitment to health, jogging, and family medicine, and at the same time I remember him jogging in Northeast Harbor near Sutton Island (the setting for Conversations in Maine) and then eating a package of twinkies. I also remember when Jim Jackson challenged folks to stop littering because littering was such an anti-social act. As a young radical and revolutionist, I had no understanding of the importance of “small acts,” values and principles. Jim Jackson did.
I share these recollections because I want to remind myself and my comrades in Detroit and across the country that our elders, our ancestors gave us gifts of political struggle, theory, and reflection, and as we live in movement times again, we have a responsibility to share the gifts we were given.
Jim Jackson truly believed that we needed to change ourselves to change the world. As our comrade Ron Scott once said: if we were going to build a new movement we need to  transform ourselves and actually “put a picket sign in our head.” While the National Organization for an American Revolution never had more than a few hundred members and friends in 15-20 cities, it was an important moment in the history of revolutionary struggle of the 1960s & 1970s. Jim understood that it was the internal contradictions and our inabilities to confront our own weaknesses that laid the basis for our setbacks.
Jim Jackson was an essential part of the legacy and lineage of the work, writings, thinking, theory and reflection of James & Grace Lee Boggs, rom Black Power to the National Organization for an American Revolution and to the founding Board of the James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership. The commitment to place that Jim made in Muskegon stands as part of the legacy we are continuing through our commitment to create a movement for hope, which we named Detroit: A City of Hope.
While we now look back at the 1960s Black Power Movement and the revolutionary period of the 1960s which was 50 years AFTER World War, we now live in period of revolution and counter-revolution.  The revolutionary movement is emerging in our cities and across our country. Jim Jackson truly believed that this is a time for a new dream.
Thank you Jim. Love to your family.  We look forward to your memorial in the fall.

river 2

One of the primary missions of Riverwise magazine is to survey the sites where visionary organizing work is occuring in the city of Detroit. There are many examples of people who are transforming themselves and the stagnant institutions around them through fresh political and economic programs born in marginalized neighborhoods. This is where the social revolution we need to change the world is emerging. By putting these community-building efforts together, we are advancing the commitment to ‘community control’, which has long been an aspiration of many social justice movements.

Thinking for Ourselves     Shea Howell Risky Waters

Water seeks connections. Over this last week we were reminded of the essential role of safe, clean, affordable water for human life. While Donald Trump drew attention for his destruction and destabilization of international relationships, his new home town was suffering from a water crisis. Tens of thousands of people in Washington D.C. were warned not to drink their water. For over a week, a temporary drop in water pressure due to an infrastructure failure, resulted in a boil water advisory to much of the city. When water pressure drops, the possibility of toxins entering the water system soars.
The advisory in D.C. was poorly handled and many residents are concerned that children and elders were exposed to contamination long before anyone received word of a problem. The sheer dimensions of the contamination made it difficult for officials to contact people in a timely way.
Meanwhile in Detroit, people on the East Side once again faced massive flooding from failures in the water infrastructure. People throughout the northeast section of the city reported street closures due to flooding and basements with 4 to 5 feet of water in them.  At a time of year when temperatures soar, people will now have to cope with standing, stagnant waters, breeding disease.
Water not flowing in D.C. or flooding in Detroit are two sides of the same massive problem. Both put people at risk. Both demonstrate the lack of thoughtfulness in addressing how we as a people will protect one another and the waters that are essential to sustain life.
These problems of infrastructure are compounded in Detroit by the resumption of intensive water shut offs. After a brief suspension during the July 4th holiday when temperatures climbed above 90 degrees, water shut offs are back.
These shut offs put everyone at risk.  As in D.C. many neighborhoods face decreased pressure on their lines, accelerating the possibility of toxins entering the system for those where water flows.  At the same time, water shut offs make basic sanitation more and more difficult. Nearly 20 thousand households, more than 50,000 people, are at risk of losing water. Homrich Wrecking continues to drive through the city, turning off life giving water, earning its $7.8 million dollar contract. We spend nearly 3 times as much to turn people off than to keep people on.
Recent studies are now helping us see just how much this foolish policy puts all of us at risk. The Peoples Water Board recently released a study by George Gains, former director of public health in Detroit, documenting the increase in infectious diseases most commonly associated with unsanitary conditions created by lack of access to clean water.
Gains looks at public health data as well as the recent study by Henry Ford Hospital and notes that from 2012 to 2015 “GI outbreaks annually averaged 10.2.”  As water shut offs accelerated, “2016 had 45 and 2017 had 87 outbreaks.”
He concluded, “Water shut off city policy is ultimately setting up for compromised sanitation that feeds the disease agents.”  His recommendation is straightforward “Stop the Water Shut offs.”
Stopping the water shut offs is an essential first step. But the reality of providing clean, safe, affordable water to all people requires much more substantial changes in how we understand our responsibilities to each other and the waters upon which we all depend.


The pitfalls of patriotism are everywhere, and at some point those hazards must be honestly faced.

There is a River & The Inconvenient Hero: A Tribute to Dr. Vincent Harding  The Charles H. Wright Museum Wednesday, July 25, 2018 at 6 PM
Panel Discussion | Q & A | Book Signing
Speakers: Aljosie Harding, Teacher, Researcher, Librarian, Organizer, & Activist  William Strickland, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Department of Afro-American Studies, UMass-Amherst Shea Howell, Ph.D., Professor of Journalism, Oakland University Frank Joyce, Author & Activist


This event is free and open to the public. For more information call (313) 494-5800.

livegree 2

Thank you for taking the LIVE FREE Detroit Safety Assessment! This survey is being administered by Force Detroit in alignment with the PICO National Network’s LIVE FREE Campaign.

Boggs Center – Living For Change News Letter – July 3rd, 2018

July 3rd, 2018

grace and jimmy

Dear Friends of the James and Grace Lee Boggs Center,

We are writing to ask for your support during one of the most dangerous and turbulent times in recent memory. Internationally we are witnessing increasing brutality in defense of empire. The same disregard for life is a common experience everywhere in our own country.

At the same time, we know this violence cannot defeat the long push by human beings to create a more just, sustainable world.

Many of us know another world is possible because we see glimpses of it as people care for children, protect refugees, stand up to state violence and develop new ways of sharing and caring for one another and our planet.

We also know another world has never been more urgently needed.

For the past several years the Boggs Center has nurtured this new world’s emergence. From urban gardens to new ideas on education, we have fostered places and spaces that remind us of our capacity to create new centers of peace and power in the midst of a dying culture. Today, we recognize that we must move from emergence to convergence, connecting and deepening our abilities to advance toward a more just, sustainable future.

Over this past year we have emphasized creating tangible images of the future. Birwood House and Feedom Freedom Growers are vivid examples of efforts to create new community bonds.

The Center itself has hosted more than 30 tours and nearly 100 conversations, with well over 5,000 people moving through our doors. We have been humbled by the many visitors who have been strongly influenced by and even had their lives changed by the film American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs, and the book The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activist for the 21st Century. Members of the Boggs Center Board are writing about critical issues, engaging with community and university audiences, and developing independent programs fostering new ways of thinking about justice in our city. We continue to produce our weekly newsletter, Living for Change, sharing ideas and practices from Detroit, and are actively supporting Riverwisemagazine as it enters its second year.

We recognize this moment demands more of us and are committed to strengthening our capacities. We are beginning a strategic planning process and are moving toward finding people who can assume responsibility for the Center as their daily work.

The physical space of the Center has benefited from a number of repairs. Our roof no longer leaks, our steps are now sturdy, and the fence is being restored to its original condition. Increasingly the Center is a hub for activists seeking to think in bold news ways about this moment and our responsibilities to create the next American revolution.

We need your support to continue expanding our work, carrying our charge from Grace and James Boggs to advance our humanity. Please consider supporting us over this next year. For current supporters, we ask you to consider becoming a monthly sustainer by clicking the DONATE button at the top of our home page.

Send checks to:
The James and Grace Lee Boggs Center
3061 Field St. Detroit, MI 48214
TAX ID: 38-3267875
In love and struggle,
The Boggs Board

Thinking for Ourselves
Shea Howell
Do it for Love

People rallied across the country to fiercely denounce the horrific immigration policies of Donald Trump and his administration. New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, and Detroit saw large rallies. Smaller towns gathered as well. Here in Maine, Portland saw so many people come to the steps of the City Hall that streets had to be closed down to traffic. I went with friends to the tourist town of Bar Harbor where about 250 gathered on the Village Green.

Organized by MDI Indivisible most of the signs were home made. They carried simple messages. “This is just wrong.” “Call it what it is, ethnic cleansing.” “You can’t have family values if you don’t value families.” “Stop caging children.” “Families belong together.”

The bandstand was surround by stick figure cut out chains, connecting people. Bo Greene who opened the event encouraged people to think together, to reflect, and to commit to actions. She acknowledged that we are at the beginning of a very long struggle.

As I imagine happened in most of the more than 750 gatherings, a series of speakers followed, each offering a different perspective on why we needed to act in this moment. A priest-geneticist talked of faith and DNA, emphasizing the long scope of our human need for connection. A social worker followed. She asked us all to remember a time when we as children had feared the loss of our parents and to use that memory to imagine what so many young people are experiencing at the hands of our government. She reminded us that the trauma of separation echoes through generations, as we have learned from the experiences shared by Indigenous people, from people whose families were separated in slavery, from people separated from loved ones in the name of making us safe. Real safety, she said, comes as we find ways to connect, to love, and protect one another. A young woman followed, talking of her work in migrant communities. The core of this policy, she emphasized, is racism, disguised by a claim to security. All children deserve places to play, to laugh, to delight in a world of safety and protection. She was followed by a new African American citizen, a lawyer, mother, and minister’s wife who talked of how complicated it is to have chosen to love a country that is violating the most fundamental human rights, the deepest dictates of faith.

The speeches concluded with Bo Greene asking us to find ways to recognize that we come to this moment from different perspectives. Some of us are people of faith, some are activists, some are supporting candidates, and some are concerned parents. She encouraged us to find ways to honor the truth that each of us brings, and to find ways to move forward together.

All of us know that rallies will not stop Trump and his forces. But these demonstrations are essential steps in finding ways to move toward a just future as we learn together to take responsibility for making a different kind of country. In the course of these efforts we are opening ourselves and each other to the possibilities of creating essential connections.

In a recent article Rebecca Solnit observed:

In the short term we are working to protect the rights of immigrants and to prevent families from being torn apart at the border—and to address the relationship between our greenhouse gas emissions and the global climate, between our economic systems and poverty, between what we do and what happens beyond us, because the ideology of isolation is in part a denial of cause and effect relations, and a demand to be unburdened even from scientific fact and the historical and linguistic structures governing truth. In the long term our work must be to connect and to bring a vision of connection as better than disconnection, for oneself and for the world, to those whose ideology is “I really don’t care”—whether or not it’s emblazoned on their jackets. Somewhere in there is the reality that what we do we do for love, if it’s worth doing.

Water Is A Right - Joe Brusky_0

WATCH: Legacies of Emergency Management: Looking Back and Moving Forward

SEMIS Comes to Town
Rich Feldman

On Tuesday, June 26, 40 teachers and friends of SEMIS visited the Boggs Center, Noble School and also met with Birwood House.

SEMIS mission is to “create community stewardship through student citizenship.”  

Community stewardship transforms education and our future.The Southeast Michigan Stewardship Coalition (SEMIS Coalition) nurtures partnerships between schools and innovative thinkers in the community. We build ties with visionary community practices so that students can grow into citizen-stewards of healthy ecological-social systems.

Place-based education drives student engagement. Place-based education is more than taking a fun field trip. It’s a transformative approach that makes learning real and empowers students to create positive changes in their communities while mastering an integrated array of skills.

Our discussion focused on the need for a paradigm shift in education acknowledging that listening to students is essential to practicing democracy in our class rooms and our school community.  Teachers came from schools across Detroit and the metro area.

SEMIS is another expression of the growing movement to redefine education for the 21 Century.  Living for Change and Riverwise Magazine have shared the emerging visionary organizing and institution building that is emerging throughout Detroit. Examples include the James and Grace Lee Boggs School, the Detroit Independent Freedom Schools, the Birwood Block Club and the Community Lens program, Noble School, and Detroit Summer 2018.

Incite focus has an apprenticeship program for folks to learn advanced technology to create community, Feedom Freedom Growers on the east side of Detroit has another full summer program with young folks emphasizing garderns, art and community housing.

Some will say Detroit is coming back and point to Downtown, we say Detroit is birthing a new epoch based upon the need for a radical revolution in values and a commitment to be solutionaries in our neighborhoods where every individual has the opportunity to reach his and her potential.

This Tuesday visit to the Center and Birwood, ends an amazing month of more than 750 folks visiting the center and asking deeper questions about the future of our city and our country.



The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History will bid farewell to its long-time President & CEO Juanita Moore with a tribute at The Wright Museum on Tuesday, July 10, 2018 from 5 PM – 7 PM.

Remarks at 6:15 PM.

Join us for a reception in honor of Ms. Moore’s retirement as we come together to offer our best wishes and thank her for her 12 years of hard work and dedicated service to The Wright and metropolitan Detroit’s arts and cultural community.

This is a free event, but you must register by July 5th.

Space is limited.

For more information please contact 313-494-5851

Boggs Center New Letter – June 26, 2018

June 26th, 2018

grace and jimmy


Thinking for Ourselves
Shea Howell
The Cries of Children

Many of us hold a vision of a world without borders. We do this in the face of a reality where everything we call sacred is defiled. Only money and military might move freely. People and ideas are controlled and confined.  Our lives are distorted and disrupted by the effects of corporate money. People and places we love are desecrated and destroyed by bombs and guns.

This past week the brutality of these efforts to control people has been made vividly clear. The Trump administration policy to separate children from their parents has been carried on the cries of children, for all to hear. There is no evading this reality. But it is a great mistake to think this is only Trump, or his Attorney General, or his vice president, or his close advisors.  These cries have been echoing through the centuries. Only now they cannot be ignored.

They are the cries of the children wrapped in poison blankets by parents trying to protect them from the cold; of children stripped from their parents to be sold into slavery; of children watching parents go off to war, many never to return; of children learning their fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters have been killed by guns in the hands of police and guns in the hands of friends and lovers in moments of uncontrolled rage. These are the cries our culture has accepted as the price we are willing to pay to protect power, privilege, property, and the wealth of the few.

And these are the cries that some of us accept as part of our job. Of all of the recordings to come out during this past week, it is the conversation of the guards that is the most chilling. Moving through the cries of children, two men joke. “Quite the orchestra.” “Missing the conductor.” These casual comments in the face of the anguish of children reveal the deepest malady in the American soul. They reveal the bargain our culture struck long ago to place economic development above human and political progress.

Time and again some of us have handed out the blankets. Some of us have held the whip, pulled the switch, picked up the gun and pulled the trigger. In every era, confronted with the choices between keeping our jobs or protecting life, some of us have chosen our jobs. So now we have developed people no longer capable of hearing the cries of children.

These are the people we need to find ways to reach. They, not Donald Trump, are the most dangerous among us, for they, not Donald Trump, are the ones who power the death machines in our culture.

The great humanizing movements of the 20th century remind us that we are all capable of transformation. We are capable of looking at our history and choosing a more life affirming path. But these choices do not emerge spontaneously. They emerge as those of us still able to hear the cries of children organize to disrupt business as usual, to demand that everyone look at what we are doing and to consciously decide, what kind of people will we become? This is a defining moment.

Rebecca Solnit

Not Caring is a
Political Art Form

dont care

Detroit Performs

When Milwaukee becomes the Holy City of the Sweet Water Seas,
Perhaps only a generation or two from now,
Irish German Polish Italian American families
Will bike from the western suburbs through Washington Park,
Past the great bandshell, lagoon, and Urban Ecology outpost,
To the Juneteenth Day Celebration on MLK,
Some stopping on the way at the Highland Park Pies and Cafe,
Others at the wetland beneath the Wisconsin Ave. bridge,
For a picnic, to enjoy the ducks and wildflowers, and
A visit to the Humane Society’s precious kittens and puppies.

At the Amaranth Bakery and Cafe, near St. Michaels,
They will meet up with Hmong African Arab Indian American families,
For a feast of soups from the kitchens of the world,
With ingredients picked that morning in the Growing Power city farm across the street,
Where now stands an empty lot.

As they bike across Lisbon and Walnut
The sidewalks will be filled with families in their Sunday best
Walking a mile or two toward the festival,
Past family businesses and artist/artisan workshops that pay the bills.

At the LGBT Center the west and northwest throng
Will join some south and east side Mexican Cuban Jewish Bohemian American families
For last minute practice to prepare for the folk song, dance, and theatrical offerings
In honor of the day when freedom grew stronger, on Juneteenth Day,
Preparing the way for that great moment, when it dawned upon the people, that Milwaukee had made itself
The Holy City of the Sweet Water Seas.

And I, or my descendants, will not be judged chauvinistic for hoping that the dance choreographed
By the Kho Thi with the Trinity Dancers wins first prize! – 


Boggs Center Living for Change News Letter – June 11th 32018


June 11th, 2018

grace and jimmy



Black Bottom Archives, in partnership with MoGo is putting on a Pedal to Porch event for the area of Black Bottom. The purpose of this email is to provide information on our upcoming stakeholder meeting.


Check out the information below and let me know if you’re interested in getting involved! If you’re not able to take on a leadership role, we would still love to have you at our stakeholder’s meeting at Trinosophes (1464 Gratiot Ave)
June 11th from 5pm – 7pm. 


What is Pedal to Porch? 

Pedal to Porch is a neighborhood bike ride that includes stops along a route where residents use their front porch as a stage to tell their story. To give you a sense of what it looks like, check out the promo video: The impact of Black Bottom’s displacement and destruction requires us to get creative about where and how former Black Bottom residents share their stories.


What’s a stakeholder meeting?

We are gathering family members, former residents, and community leaders to a stakeholder meeting to discuss the project more in depth, go over the timeline, confirm leadership roles, and set project goals. Even if you are not able to take on a leadership role, please plan to attend this meeting. We want as many folks possible who have familial and direct connections to Black Bottom to be present to help shape this event.


We will meet at Trinosophes (1464 Gratiot Ave) on June 11th from 5pm – 7pm.


Thinking for Ourselves
Shea Howell
Majority-Black Detroit Matters

There is a new sign about town sparking a lot of controversy. In bold white letters on a black background it proclaims “Majority-Black Detroit Matters.” For some this simple statement captures the growing concern that we are not only becoming two Detroits, but increasingly a Detroit dominated by and for white elites.

Much of the power structure dismisses these concerns about the white invasion of our city as paranoia. The current administration and their corporate supporters proclaim the increasingly whiter, wealthier population growth as the only path for development. A large part of the Detroit “Come Back” is the coming back into the city of people of white suburbanites.

“Majority-Black Detroit Matters” interrupts this thinking. It forces us to ask what kind of development matters? At whose expense? For whose benefit? For what reasons?

Such questioning about the direction of our city is essential. Detroit has the opportunity to demonstrate to ourselves and the country that it is possible to create entirely new ways of living in urban areas. We have the potential of being a self sufficient city, reflecting new relationships with one another and with the earth that sustains us.

Signs of this new kind of urban life are everywhere in the neighborhoods. Urban gardens flourish to feed neighbors, elders open garages to share skills and develop art with children, storytellers find bicycles to roam neighborhoods and evoke memory and enduring values. Creativity and critical thinking abound.

Most of this energy is unseen and undocumented by mainstream media, but increasingly people are coming to understand that these ways of surviving and thriving at the neighborhood level hold the best hope for our future.
With this new energy comes a resurgence of African American political power. And that is what the corporate power structure finds so threatening in the statement Majority-Black Detroit Matters.

In the spring of 1966 James Boggs published, “The City is the Black Man’s Land” in Monthly Review. He said:

“Population experts predict that by 1970 Afro-Americans will constitute the majority in fifty of the nation’s largest cities. In Washington, D.C., and Newark, N.J., Afro-Americans are already a majority. In Detroit, Baltimore, Cleveland, and St. Louis they are one-third or more of the population and in a number of others-Chicago, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Oakland they constitute well over one-fourth.”
James Boggs went on to say these changes mean a new form of Black power. He wrote:
“In accordance with the general philosophy of majority rule and the specific American tradition of ethnic groupings (Irish, Polish, Italian) migrating en masse to the big cities and then taking over the leadership of municipal government, black Americans are next in line. Each previous ethnic grouping achieved first-class citizenship chiefly because its leaders became the cities’ leaders, but racism is so deeply imbedded in the American psyche from top to bottom, and from Right to Left, that it cannot even entertain the idea of black political power in the cities. The white power structure, which includes organized labor, resorts to every conceivable strategy to keep itself in power and the black man out: urban renewal or Negro removal; reorganization of local government on a metropolitan area basis; population (birth) control. Meanwhile, since their “taxation without representation” is so flagrant, safe Negroes are appointed to administrative posts or hand-picked to run for elective office.”
Over the next 40 years that white power structure struggled to reassert its political power in the urban centers of this land. By 2010 only 19 cities had majority black populations, and most of them are experiencing intense efforts at redevelopment. Detroit is the number one majority city, followed by Jackson, Mississippi.

The loss of African American political power in urban areas is no accident. The policies and processes to reassert white political power have been well documented.

We welcome Majority-Black Detroit Matters. It is a step in opening a critical conversation for all of us.


What Does it Mean to Live? Notes from the Zapatistas’ First International Gathering of Politics, Art, Sport, and Culture for Women in Struggle


Letter to the Activist Community: Thoughts on Ableism
gwi-seok (Peggy Kwisuk Hong)


Over the past year or so, I have been Baba Baxter Jones’s live-in caregiver, and have also had the privilege of being present as his friend, engaging in many in-depth conversations about activism, ableism, and much more. I’m writing this letter to share some of what I have learned, and hope it can be useful to y’all.


I was born in 1963 and have been an activist and organizer since the 1980s, working on campaigns to end wars, support women, dismantle racism, and much more. I moved to Detroit in 2013 from Milwaukee, WI, largely to be near Mama Grace Lee Boggs, and to join her caregiving team.


However, not until this past year did I really begin to understand and confront the depth of my ableism (bias against people who are differently-abled). Similar to my feminist and racial awakenings in my 20s and 30s, recognizing my inner ableist has been extremely uncomfortable and disconcerting, and, to be honest, I have fought it every step of the way. The very same way a racist person clings tightly to their prejudices, I clung tightly to my ableist way of seeing things.


It took 6 months of living day in and day out with Baba Baxter for me to begin recognizing how much I was imposing my ableist standards on him. For these first months, I constantly argued with him about why he did things the way he did. After all, I raised 3 kids, was married for 26 years, and ran households and organizations. I knew how to do things. Why did he want things done differently? Why couldn’t he see the logic and sense and efficiency of my methods, and comply?


What I failed to do was fully understand his experience as a Black man living with severe disabilities.


It took me months to understand the depth of his vulnerabilities and disabilities. Baba Baxter comes across as a robust, outspoken social justice warrior. He IS that person, but there is another side to him that he doesn’t indulge frequently, publicly nor privately, as a PSWD (person surviving with disabilities).


Baba lives with chronic pain, resulting from his 2005 car accident, and subsequent injuries since then. He doesn’t like to talk about his pain, because he says it makes it worse to focus on it. However, since I have been caring for him, I have been insisting that he tell me, so that I can take measures to help him alleviate the pain. Sometimes the pain is so bad he cannot get out of bed. He avoids taking pain meds because he hates the side effects, but is occasionally forced to. The chronic pain, which includes frequent headaches, prevents Baba from being as active as he would like to be, and can be preoccupying to the point that he cannot check anything off his to-do list. “Simple” things like returning phone calls sometimes cannot be completed. Disabilities can range from mental to physical, temporary or permanent, or severe or mild. Like others with chronic pain, he has good days and bad days, cannot predict what his condition will be, and must adjust daily.


Baba Baxter also is a survivor of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Even though he seems cognitively capable in many ways, there are gaps that show up regularly. He has been diagnosed with early onset dementia, and he has short term memory issues. He also can become quite frustrated, irritable, and confused, and has lost some of the coping skills he used to have before his injuries.


For these reasons, expecting Baba Baxter to do what able-bodied folks take for granted, like keep track of several calendars, keep up with emails and texts, return phone calls, meet deadlines, and other organizing tasks, without assistance, is unrealistic. Baba’s POV as a disabled person is invaluable and absolutely necessary to the community, but to ask him to function independently instead of INTERdependently is ableist and unreasonable.


In this day and age, we are rightly expected to ask for what we need. Baba Baxter is very experienced at asking for accommodations, but it becomes extremely tiresome, and sometimes he simply does not have the energy. It’s the same way POC get fed up trying to educate white people. Baba gets tired of painting himself as a “victim” and talking about what he has difficulty doing and what he needs, only to experience the same responses over and over. He gets frustrated because people apply ableist standards, about how and when things should get done, and fail to adapt plans to make accessibility a priority.


Furthermore, there’s a way in which we consciously or unconsciously attack PSWD, even in our movement spaces. Just the way the Nazis found PSWD threatening to society, we feel irritated by the presence, participation, and inclusion of PSWD. The accommodations they need are cumbersome, and their struggles come across as shortcomings, that resemble incompetence, weakness, inferiority, selfishness, or laziness. We have been trained in the culture and language of “equal rights” without necessarily being steeped in building equity. We don’t want to give someone extra help, and actually we could use some ourselves. In a culture that emphasizes INdependence instead of healthy INTERdependence, it makes us wriggle to see someone who is “needy.”


Sometimes we regard Baba Baxter as a thorn in our sides, because he’s always challenging us to do better, and be more inclusive, accommodating, and accessible. It’s human to react with defensiveness when we’re asked to go beyond what we perceive as reasonable, or what we’re used to. Sometimes in such situations, Baba Baxter ends up being a target of conscious or unconscious antagonism and hostility. When we antagonize PSWD, we deflect attention from a lack of accommodations to victim-blaming. Instead of taking responsibility for adapting conditions for greater accessibility, we may want to blame PSWD, for creating difficulties themselves.


I ask everyone receiving this to read this with an open mind and heart to uncover your inner ableist (no one in the world is exempt, including PSWD themselves), and be utterly honest about the range of feelings you experience in the presence of PSWD, and how your actions are shaped by these feelings. This is NOT to shame nor blame, but to help us understand how ableism works, so that we can dismantle it together.


I am aware that in Detroit, we have heard some of Baba Baxter’s requests many, many times, and some of us have become inured to them. Sometimes Baba Baxter’s requests are regarded as bothersome, or too much to ask, too difficult to fulfill. I understand this completely, and often feel overwhelmed myself. Yet, I have come to realize that Baba’s requests are not unreasonable; it’s the way our society and systems are set up that are unreasonable. For instance, it’s not at all unreasonable to request accessible transportation. Yet, the ableist society we live in makes it extremely difficult and costly to arrange this. Why do we allow bus and van companies to charge more money for accessible vehicles? If demand continually exceeds supply, shouldn’t transportation companies purchase more accessible vans? Aren’t these ableist policies? As activists, we must be the change we wish to see in the world. If we do not demand transportation for all, who will?


Creating an anti-ableist society requires creating a new culture of inclusion. To wait for PSWD to come forward and demand accommodations before we take the trouble to arrange it, is an ableist practice. That’s like a university saying, “We will create a Black Studies Department only when we have enough Black students who are interested.” No, the university should create the Black Studies Department anyway, because it’s the right thing to do, and very likely, will eventually attract the Black students to support it. Instead of saying, “we will have ASL interpreters if hearing-impaired attenders pre-register,” we should have ASL regardless, because it’s the right thing to do in creating a culture of inclusion. If our organizations provide accommodations, it sends the signal to PSWD that they are welcome. Why do so few people in wheelchairs show up at rallies, demonstrations, and direct actions? It’s not because they are disinterested. It’s because they don’t feel welcome, supported, or included. It may not have even occurred to them that they could come. Baba Baxter keeps showing up only because he is a born fighter, too stubborn to be deterred.


All of this is to say that I believe ableism is the deepest and most difficult to uproot of the “–isms,” because it addresses our most basic issues of survival and dependency regarding life and death. Being with Baba Baxter means confronting our own fears of dependency, pain, and disability. If we are lucky enough to live long lives, we will all face some level of disability. Officially 20% of us in the USA are disabled, but I believe this is a low estimate, due to our ableist shame that prevents us from admitting we have a disability, which could include mental illness, chronic illness, and more. If we can come to terms with our own disabililties, we can begin to dismantle the inner ableist, become more welcoming of other PSWD, and demand the accommodations that we each need and deserve.


I hope this gives y’all some food for thought. Ultimately, this letter is not about Baba Baxter, but about all PSWD, and making our movements stronger for all. I offer this in love and struggle,



(Peggy Kwisuk Hong)


PS here are some excellent resources for recognizing and dismantling ableism:
Craving Self-Care?

Join author Naomi Ortiz for a reading and conversation
Source Booksellers in Detroit

June 20th


Naomi Ortiz is a facilitator, writer, poet, and visual artist. She is a Disabled, Mestiza (Latina, Indigenous, White), raised in Latinx culture, living in the U.S./Mexico borderlands.

Boggs Center – Living For Change Newsletter May 29th, 2018

May 29th, 2018

grace and jimmy


A free and open web powers our ability to organize across communities, borders, and even the world. That’s why we’re joining more than 50 leading racial justice groups urging members from the tri-caucus to sign on to the House CRA to restore #netneutrality


Thinking for Ourselves     Shea Howell Who Benefits

Last week Dan Gilbert received the largest tax subsidy in Michigan history to support his private developments. The board of the Michigan Strategic Fund in Lansing approved $618 million for four linked projects that are estimated to cost $2.2 billion. For perspective consider that the Little Caesars Arena cost $863 million, of which $329.1 million was in subsidies. Or consider that the city gave Belle Isle to the State because it could not afford the $6 million in annual upkeep. Or the $7.8 million the City Council approved for Homrich Wrecking to shut off water.
RJ Wolney, vice president of finance for one of the Gilbert companies involved, Bedrock, said that “the incentives are needed to create catalytic developments to help fill the funding gap of building such projects that can’t be made up with current rents for downtown commercial projects.”
This is the central question. Is the public responsible to underwrite private development? Why? For whose benefit? What is the public good from such private ventures?
Dan Gilbert obviously thinks he is owed public money to achieve his private vision. He has been working at putting the legal structure in place to allow such tax subsidies for several years. In 2016 he was behind a series of bills, brownfield tax subsidies, that were so blatantly pushed by him they were informally dubbed the “Gilbert bills.” At the time even some republicans thought it was too much to ask of Michigan taxpayers. Then Speaker of the House, Ken Cotter (R-Mt. Pleasant) said, “If he can’t make a deal work without state aid then it is not a deal worth doing, and Michigan taxpayers should not be forced to invest.”
But taking a page from the DeVos and family playbook, Gilbert went back at the legislature with changes in the legislation that spread some of the potential benefits around.  The Detroit News reported: Public campaign finance records showed that various Quicken Loans employees gave a total to $35,975 to state House members’ committees in 2017. Of those 56 lawmakers, 48 voted yes on the main bill in the brownfields package.
This is the legal framework for transferring taxes that would have supported schools, universities, roads, parks, police, art, and health care.
The practice of using public money to support private business ventures is not new. What is new is the scale and extent of these public commitments. We are all on the hook to Gilbert’s plan for the next 30 years. We are told that given this long-term view, we the citizens will actually benefit from the process.
This is highly debatable. A recent study by the Texas Organizing Project explored similar claims in Houston. The study found “the city was failing miserably at the task of making these programs work for the public… from job creation to setting and achieving equity goals to workforce development and community engagement.” They concluded, “From a community-based perspective, we argue that if economic development tax breaks are not addressing a community need in the service of advancing equity, then they deserve to be called out for what they really are—a windfall for the private sector and a drain on our city’s cash-strapped budget.”
Gilbert, along with the Detroit Chamber of Commerce, the Mayor, and Downtown Development Authority, did all they could to ensure that Detroit would not have a serious community benefits agreement. A strong agreement would demand that questions of the public good, public priorities, and mutual responsibilities be discussed and decided in open, transparent ways.
Developing a city requires a great deal more than big plans and giant tax breaks. This new deal is nothing for Detroiters to celebrate. It is a call to reinvigorate community benefits and restore vigorous public discussion about the direction of our city.

It’s back in print!