In the face of fear. A Call from James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community leadership

1-16-2019 final Boggs Center-Accordian Fold fear Pamphlet-PrintIn the face of fear brochure

In the face of fear

A Call from James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community leadership

We have seen the face of fear and fascism. It is tear gas shot at barefoot children in diapers. We cannot look away.  We cannot be distracted by the din of  distraction, disinformation and denial.

Before this moment we knew this president was capable of putting children in cages. We knew he would call immigrants names and whip up nationalistic hatreds. We knew he would endorse white supremist as good people, condone the murder and dismemberment of a journalist, refuse to limit right wing violence, withdraw protections for people who are transgender, use language to foster hatred, embrace torture and the use of force, attack women, people of color, and anyone who was critical of his policies, deny science, violate basic standards of decency, and demonstrate a complete disregard for truth.  Now we know he will tear gas barefoot children.

We know all of this about Donald Trump. We know this is the kind of person he is. This is the kind of country he is creating.  We also know that some of us embrace him. We see the depth of their fear. Most of them are white, most of them men, all of them disconnected from any moral center.

Now, the only question is where do the rest of us stand? What kind of country do we want? What kind of people are we?

The scenes on the Southern border of the U.S. present a moment of decision for all of us. Just as the unleashing of sticks and dogs on peaceful demonstrators challenged the conscious of America a half century ago, we are again challenged to respond.

Some of us will stand with Trump. But the rest of us cannot condone him with silence. We need to support one another to sustain our outrage at the terror our government is wielding on a daily basis.

We at the Boggs Center denounce this president and his actions. We call for open borders.

  • We call upon all people of good will to publicly and forcefully object to this inhuman policy.
  • We call upon all faith-based organizations to declare Sanctuary for all immigrants.
  • We call upon all organizations to issue public statements welcoming immigrants and denouncing the use of force by this president to prevent their safe passage to this land.
  • We call upon all labor unions to offer support and welcoming assistance to immigrants.
  • We call upon all police, border patrol agents, and military personnel to refuse to comply with orders that harm those who seek nothing but peace and safe harbor.
  • We call upon members of the media to portray accurately and fully the violence being committed in our name.
  • We call upon all teachers, parents and community leaders to hold conversations about immigration, the US role in global violence, and the kind of country we wish to become.
  • We call upon individuals to face this brutality and find ways to extend love, compassion and care in our everyday lives.


At every moment in our often bloody, shameful history there have been people who resisted. People resisted the taking of indigenous lands, the enslavement of people from Africa, the use of laws to turn people into property, and the limitations of full citizenship extended to women, people of color, workers, immigrants and youth.

We call upon people to reflect on the words of Dr. Martin Luther King more than 50 years ago when he said, “Now we must resist this barbarism.” America, he said, “ Can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over. So, it is that those of us who are yet determined that America will be — are — are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.”

He said that “Somehow this madness must cease” for it “is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit.

In his speech calling for the end of the Vietnam war King offered a new way of thinking about who we could become as a people.  We encourage people to\ consider the wisdom he offers for us as we face a time of choice.

Share his wisdom with family and friends. Dr. King says to us:

“I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin…we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

He called on us to look beyond our narrow self -interest and consider “A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.”

America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war.

King understood that “These are revolutionary times” …”all over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before.”

Dr. King called for “A genuine revolution of values “that begins with the understanding that “our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.”

If we cannot find new ways to act in Love, King warned, “We shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.

Dr King concluded his speech on breaking his own silence on the war in Vietnam on that long ago April night:

Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message — of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise, we must choose in this crucial moment of human history….

And if we will only make the right choice, we will be able to transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of peace. If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when “justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”5

  If Trump and his supporters fear barefoot children, how much more must they fear the sounds of our united voices, calling forth a compassionate, just and joy filled future? The choice is ours.

For more information


Boggs Center – Living For change News Letter – March 12th, 2019

March 12th, 2019

grace and jimmy

7 questions we should all ask about the Wayne County jail deal 

Thinking for Ourselves
Making Good Trouble
Shea Howell

Detroit joined thousands of communities across the globe celebrating International Women’s Day last weekend. Nine years ago, Grace Lee Boggs and the Boggs Center joined Cindy Estrada of the UAW to reinvigorate local celebrations.

Kim Sherobbi welcomed about 150 women and men to the event, this year emphasizing Love, Purpose and Power. She reminded us of the intention of the gathering as a place where “women of all ages, faiths, and backgrounds come to create peaceful, nurturing, and healthy spaces where everyone can live, connect and grow.”

In remembrance of Grace, who died in 2015,  the gathering watched a video clip with Grace talking to a group of students about Detroit. She explained that people are “already reimagining everything.  Bringing the neighbor back into the hood” with ”love, fellowship, caring for one another.” She emphasized it is” our right, our duty to shake the world with a new dream …Not only to grow our souls for our own sakes, but for the sake of all living things.”

Ashley Scales of the UAW gave a powerful perspective on the role of the union to support women and to develop the community. She said we needed to “Go beyond jobs…and understand importance of fighting for everyone.”  “At the end of day,” she said, “We are all we have.”

She reminded the gathering of the words of Walter Reuther explaining, “We can’t make gains at bargaining table and then go home to suffering at the kitchen table.”

She asked us to think about how it has always been the bonds of community and labor that have moved our country forward. “Women of labor and of civil rights, have and are unapologetically shaking world for new dream.”

She concluded by pointing to the emerging efforts to fight against greed and self-interest, from fights for a living wage, to teachers strikes, and women elected to congress on progressive platforms. Quoting John L. Lewis, Ms. Scales said, “We need to make good trouble.” She said, “Well behaved women don’t make history, we don’t change things being polite.” She asked each of us to think about “What is it you can do to make our communities better?

Raziya Curtis of the Healing Support Network began the session on Love saying, “We are collectively responsible for each other’s health and well-being.” Love is simple, love is expansive, love is infectious…when go in spirit of love, we can change intentions.” She offered ways for us to practice love in our communities and families so that we might come to “see ourselves in each other.”

Tiffany Ruff shared her journey from incarceration to becoming an activist. She explained how critical having a vision of where we want to go is to finding and developing our own sense of purpose.

Cindy Estrada brought the discussions to a close talking about power. She challenged all of us to do more and to think more deeply about the relationships between the community and labor.

She talked of her own beginnings as an organizer, working with Dolores Huerta and farm workers. There she saw how women were able to come together for a common purpose and demand dignity. Often undocumented and fearful, facing harassment and corruption, women confronted power. She said, “It’s not that women lost fear, but by coming together, we find the power to act.”

“Women are in a critical moment where we need to think about our purpose. We have to figure out who we are going to be, how we are going to move forward. For me this means we need to get quiet, listening to that voice inside of each of us, where we are not fixing and blaming others, but asking what is my purpose, what do I want to do in the next phase of life? This is the power within us.”
Racial Capitalism and the Structural Roots of White Nationalism

Fair_housing_protest_Seattle_1964-770x515 2

show and tell



Boggs Center – Living For Change – March 5th, 2019

March 5th, 2019

grace and jimmy

American Revolutionary: On Revolution at Berkeleygrace and angela 2


Thinking for Ourselves
More Than a Job
Shea Howell

For the first time in more than a generation, Detroit will see a new auto plant. Last week, Mayor Duggan and Governor Whitmer joined leaders from Fiat-Chrysler (FCA) and the UAW to announce a possible $4.5 billion expansion that will result in 6,500 new jobs. Most of these jobs will be in Detroit.

This is an extraordinary commitment. Since 2009 FCA has invested nearly $14.5 billion in the U.S, but not in new plants.  In the last 15 years, only seven new auto plants have been built by any auto companies in the entire United States. “It’s been a long time since we’ve seen an investment this big and transformative,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said. “This is a generational investment in the state of Michigan.” Mayor Duggan echoed, saying, “I think most people realize this is a once-in-a-generational chance to change the economic fortunes of thousands of Detroiters.”

UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada said the expansion rewards U.S. autoworkers for their hard work and shows confidence in their commitment to the future. “This is especially exciting given that these are good union jobs with union wages and benefits that have been collectively bargained for with the company,” she said.

Vice President Estrada also raised the importance of thinking beyond the immediate issue of jobs. She emphasized, “We also look forward to collaborating with FCA, the City of Detroit and other community leaders on a Community Benefits Agreement that re-imagines our city and empowers our citizens to create sustainable communities with long-term viability.”

The expansion hinges on the ability of City to put together 200 acres of land. Mayor Duggan said, “We are going to have to acquire 200 acres of land in the next 60 days through the voluntary cooperation of the existing property owners.”

About 170 of the 200 acres is under the control of the city of Detroit, DTE Energy, the Great Lakes Water Authority and the Moroun family, Duggan said. The Moroun family, not exactly known for their civic mindedness,  owns 80 acres. Another 11 acres are owned by the Great Lakes Water Authority and 50 acres of land at DTE Energy’s former Conner Creek facility is included.

All of this expansion comes less than two months after the announcement by General Motors that it will be closing 5 auto plants. Buried in the story of expansion here was the announcement the same day that FCA was cutting 1,400 jobs from the Jeep Cherokee assembly plant in Belvidere Illinois. People working in the plant in Saltillo, Mexico are also likely to face job loss as some truck production shifts to Warren.

While we welcome this expansion, and encourage a strong commitment to a Community Benefits Agreement, it is important to think very differently about how we are building our economic and social life for a sustainable future. This is the same old story of openings and closings, winners and losers, temporary gains and long-term consequences.

Forty years ago, as the whole community of Poletown was sacrificed for the promise of jobs, James Boggs wrote.
Getting jobs, keeping jobs, making jobs—that’s all most people can think about. City mayors lure corporations with tax breaks. Detroit’s Mayor Young is bulldozing a whole community to give GM the site it demands. The government lifts environmental regulations which industry claims impede economic growth, Union leaders, to keep their own jobs, urge workers to accept cutbacks. Many people even say, “We need a good war to put people back to work.”

Deep in our hearts we know all these measures won’t work. We know capitalism operates by displacing human beings with machines, so plants which today employ 6000 will soon employ 3000. We know U.S. multinationals, like GM, Ford, TRW, ITT, are investing overseas to take advantage of cheaper labor and more accessible resources. We know modern war needs technicians and scientists more than it does ground troops and workers, and stockpiling weapons only brings a nuclear holocaust closer. We know society doesn’t need most of the goods we produce by our dehumanizing labor and that the plants we work in create new Love Canals. But rather than accept responsibility for changing the system which has turned us into slaves to constantly-expanding toxic wastes, and constantly-expanding multi-national corporations, we beg the master to give us back our jobs so he can lay us off again.
This new expansion and the process of creating a real community benefit agreement provide an opportunity for us to ask fundamental questions about what kind of work we need to develop ourselves, our children, and our communities. A just, sustainable future means thinking about more than a job.

WCCC -Flyer-2019 Save The Date-Revised
“We must face violent crime honestly and courageously if we are ever to end mass incarceration and provide survivors what they truly want and need to heal.”

Boggs Center – Living For Change – February 27th 2019

February 27th, 2019

grace and jimmy


It is with great sadness and disbelief that I share this news: Mama Lila Cabbil, one of the People’s Water Board founding members and most passionate water warriors, left this world today. Many of us are especially grieved to learn that she had been in the hospital the last several days in ICU with the flu and pneumonia and we did not know this.


I spoke briefly tonight with her husband and assured him that we are ready to do anything he may need from us in this difficult time. He says he and the family are making home-going arrangements and should have more information on Monday. Meanwhile, services will take place on Saturday, March 9th.


Personally, I’m devastated by the news of losing my very dear friend, especially under these circumstances. It was only five months ago that we said our goodbyes to her beloved Mother Edna Leak. Knowing how fragile life is, Lila was always asking about how we are caring for ourselves in this movement work for justice and how difficult it could be on our own health. I already miss my friend immensely.


Thinking for Ourselves
What Detroit Future?
Shea Howell

Detroit Future City is back in the news. After a contentious, widely criticized community engagement process, Detroit Future City produced a 50-year plan nearly a decade ago. The plan laid out a blueprint for shrinking our neighborhoods and established a framework for a transition to a whiter, wealthier city. The bankruptcy process overshadowed this effort. Now Mayor Duggan has dropped the signature concept of the plan, the shrinking of the city. Instead, Duggan is all about growth.

Everyone knows that the current growth and development under the Duggan administration has left most neighborhoods feeling neglected. The tale of two Detroit’s persists as residents watch millions upon millions of dollars pour into downtown while neighborhoods continue to languish.

Recognizing the racial tensions that are simmering, Detroit Future City offers a view of development to encourage middle class African American families to come into the city.

The new report, “Growing Detroit’s African-American Middle Class,” released this week, says 25 percent of Detroiters are middle class and the city needs 27,000 more African American families to earn $46,000 or more to stabilize neighborhoods.

In a lot ways there is nothing new in the report. It gives hard figures to something almost everyone knows. One of the reasons Detroit has become smaller, is because African-Americans have moved out. Many of them were middle class.

But there is something insidious at work here. This latest intervention into policy decisions provides another justification to ignore actions that would actually stabilize existing neighborhoods and make life better for people who live here. The report points our thinking away from what it means to build an inclusive city, while pretending to be concerned with increasing an African American presence.

While making passing references to the 70% of the city that is not middle class,  the report offers no policies that will directly improve the lives of the majority of people. It advocates “job training” and “educational opportunities.” It does so in language that perpetuates the idea that most of us are simply not up the task of being part of the city’s future.

This denial of the creativity, ingenuity, and inventiveness that characterizes most of the people who have stayed here and love this city fosters race and class antagonisms.  It continues the idea that there is nothing and no one of value in our neighborhoods as we currently exist. Thus, the report provides yet another justification for the continued assaults on neighborhood residents.

A report rooted in justice would begin with some sense of history. For decades our residents have been under attack. Many middle classes lives in Detroit have been directly targeted. Consider:

  • Since 1999 we have closed more than half our public schools. The loss of neighborhood schools has a direct impact on neighborhood stability.
  • We have attacked and diminished our African American teaching force. Historically our teachers provided skill, energy, and stability in our neighborhoods.
  • Through the bankruptcy process the pensions of city workers were cut, plunging many into poverty.
  • The city has privatized public services, swapping good paying jobs for lower wages and no benefits.
  • Corporate interests have blocked every effort to increase minimum wages, establish community benefit agreements, and provide adequate health care for all.
  • Foreclosures have decimated neighborhoods throughout the city.
  • Water shut offs have driven people out of homes, destabilized neighborhoods, and risk public health.
  • Assaultive incarceration practices remove people from work and family.
  • Lack of transportation precludes access to higher paying work.

All of these factors have solutions, many in the hands of the mayor and city council. We should have a moratorium of school closing, foreclosures, water shut offs, layoffs of public employees and punitive bail policies. Each one of these steps would have an immediate impact on neighborhood stability and on the quality of life of our people.

Detroit Future City continues to obscure the real challenges we face. It would do well to begin with a different question. As we face climate catastrophe and growing inequity, will more middle-class people create to a sustainable future? Can the earth continue to bear ways of living that foster individual, highly consumptive ways of being? Can we imagine a future based on sharing and caring? Until we ask real questions, we will continue to foster a culture that is destroying us all.

mhc_8.5x11-1 2

ForcedToHustile_Flyer (1)

film fesrt 2


Don’t miss Intelligent Lives at the upcoming Greater Farmington Film Festival!


These are the times that try our Souls By Grace Lee Boggs National Exchange on Art and Civic Dialogue Flint, Michigan, October 9-12, 2003

These are the times that try our Souls
By Grace Lee Boggs
National Exchange on Art and Civic Dialogue

Flint, Michigan, October 9-12, 2003

I want to thank the incredibly efficient and hard-working organizers of this important gathering for inviting me to give the keynote. I’ve only been here for a few hours but I’ve already learned a lot. As I am fond of saying, I may be 88 years old, with two hearing aids, three pair of glasses and very few teeth, but I still have most of my marbles, mainly because I’m good at learning. I was born during World War I. This means that through no fault of my own, I have lived through most of the catastrophic events of the 20th century – the Great Depression, Fascism and Nazism, the Holocaust, World War II, the A-bomb and the H-bomb, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the cold war, Korean War, McCarthyism, Vietnam War and, now, as we enter the 21st century, 9/11 and the “taking the law into our own hands” response of our government.

In the sixty plus years that have elapsed since I left the university in 1940, I have also had the great privilege of participating in most of the great humanizing movements of the second half of the last century – the labor, civil rights, black power, women’s, Asian American, environmental justice, antiwar movements. Each of these has been a tremendously transformative experience for me, expanding my understanding of what it means to be an American and a human being and challenging me to keep deepening my thinking about how to bring about radical social change.

However, I cannot recall any previous period when the challenges have been so basic, so interconnected and so demanding, not just to specific groups but to everyone living in this country, regardless of race, ethnicity, class, gender, age or national origin. At this point in the continuing evolution of our country and of the human race, we urgently need to stop thinking of ourselves as victims and to recognize that we must each become a part of the solution because we are each a part of the problem.

How are we going to make our livings in an age when Hi-Tech and the export of jobs overseas have brought us to the point where the number of workers needed to produce goods and services is constantly diminishing? Where will we get the imagination, the courage and the determination to reconceptualize the meaning and purpose of Work in a society that is becoming increasingly jobless?

What is going to happen to cities like Flint and Detroit that were once the arsenal of democracy? Are we just going to throw them away now that they have been abandoned by industry – or can we rebuild, redefine and respirit them as models of 21st Century self-reliant, sustainable multicultural communities? Who is going to begin this new story?

How are we going to redefine Education so that 30-50% of inner city children do not drop out of school, thus ensuring that large numbers will end up in prison? Is it enough to call for “Education, not Incarceration” ? Or does our topdown Educational system which was created a hundred years to prepare an immigrant population for work in the factory, bear a large part of the responsibility for the escalation in incarceration?

How are we going to build a 21st century America in which people of all races and ethnicities live together in harmony, and Euro-Americans in particular embrace their new role as one among many minorities constituting the new multi-ethnic majority?

Who or what is going to motivate us to start caring for our biosphere instead of using our mastery of technology to increase the volume and speed at which we are making our planet uninhabitable for other species and eventually for ourselves?

And, especially since 9/11, how are we to achieve reconciliation with the two-thirds of the world that is increasingly resentful of our economic, military and cultural domination? Can we accept their anger as a challenge rather than a threat? Out of our new vulnerability can we recognize that our safety now depends on our loving and caring for the peoples of the world as we love and care for our own families? Or can we conceive of security only in terms of the Patriot Act and exercising our formidable military power?

When the chickens come home to roost for our invasion of Iraq, as they are already doing, where will we get the courage and the imagination to win by losing? What will help us recognize that we have brought on our defeats by our own arrogance, our own irresponsibility and our own unwillingness, as individuals and as a nation, to engage in seeking radical solutions to the growing inequality between the nations of the North and those of the South? Can we create a new paradigm of our selfhood and our nationhood? Or are we so locked into nationalism, racism and determinism that we will be driven to seek scapegoats for our frustrations and failures as the Germans did after World War I, thus aiding and abetting the onset of Hitler and the Holocaust?

We live in a very dangerous time because these questions are no longer abstractions. Our lives, the lives of our children and future generations and even the survival of the planet depend on our willingness to transform ourselves into active planetary and global citizens who, as Martin Luther King Jr. put it, “develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual society.”

The time is already very late and we have a long way to go to meet these challenges. Over the decades of economic expansion that began with the so-called American Century after World War II, as individuals and as a people, Americans have become increasingly self-centered and materialistic, increasingly alienated and isolated from our neighbors, more concerned with our possessions and individual careers than with the state of our neighborhoods, cities, country and planet , closing our eyes and hearts to the many forms of violence that have been exploding in our inner cities and in powder kegs all over the rest of the world – both because the problems have seemed so mountainous and insurmountable and because just struggling for our own survival has consumed so much of our time and energy.

At the same time the various identity struggles, while remediating to some degree the great wrongs that have been done to workers, African Americans, Native Americans and other people of color, women, gays and lesbians, and while helping to humanize our society overall, have also had a shadow side in the sense that they have encouraged us to think of ourselves more as determined than as self-determining, more as victims of “isms” (racism, sexism, capitalism) than as human beings who have the power of Choice and who for our own survival must assume individual and collective responsibility for creating a new nation that is loved rather than feared and that does not have to bribe and bully other nations to win support.

These are the times that try our souls. Each of us needs to undergo a tremendous philosophical and spiritual transformation. Each of us needs to be awakened to a personal and compassionate recognition of the inseparable interconnection between our minds, hearts, and bodies, between our physical and psychical well-being, and between our selves and all the other selves in our country and in the world. Each of us needs to stop being a passive observer of the suffering that we know is going on in the world and start identifying with the sufferers. Each of us needs to make a leap that is both practical and philosophical, beyond determinism to self-determination. Each of us has to be true to and enhance our own humanity by embracing and practicing the conviction that as human beings we have Free Will; that despite the powers and principalities that are bent on objectifying and commodifying us and all our human relationships, the interlocking crises of our time require that we exercise the power within us to make principled choices in our ongoing daily and political lives, choices that will eventually (although not inevitably; there are no guarantees) make a difference, Each of us needs to discover and exercise the power within us that enabled Rosa Parks to choose not to go to the back of the bus without waiting to see if others would join her.

How are we going to bring about these transformations? Politics as usual, i.e. debate and argument, even voting are no longer sufficient. Our system of representative democracy, which was created by a great revolution, no longer engages the hearts and minds of the great majority of Americans. Vast numbers of people no longer bother to go to the polls, either because they don’t care what happens to the country or the world, or because they don’t believe that voting will make a difference on the profound and inter connected issues that really matter. Or they go to the polls and elect Arnold Schwarzennegger. Even. organizing or joining massive protests against disastrous policies and demands for new policies are not enough. They demonstrate that we are on the right side politically but their politics is not personal enough. . In themselves they do not encourage the kind of self-examination and self-transformation that unleash the new energies needed to create a new participatory democracy.

That is why this gathering to explore and expand the role of the aesthetic imagination in creating civic dialogue is so important. The special virtue of Art is that it engages not only the minds but the feelings and the will of the individual. Drama especially is truer than history because it makes it so clear that life itself is a process of unending choices, to be or not to be, to do or not to do.

This gathering provides us with the opportunity to share what each of us has been doing to reach the hearts and souls of Americans so that together we can begin building the movement that is now required to develop our com-passion, i.e. our capacity to feel the pain, suffering, fears and hopes of others, and our recognition that each one of us is continually making a difference, by what we choose to do or choose not to do.

Let me conclude by sharing some examples of how we are building this movement as an organic part of our ongoing struggle to rebuild, redefine and re-spirit Detroit.

Fifteen years ago, in 1988, Coleman Young, Detroit’s first black mayor, confronted by nushrooming crime {In 1986 47 young Detroiters were killed and 365 wounded} decided that what the city needed to replace the jobs lost by de-industrialization was a Casino industry. To defeat the proposal, we joined a wide-ranging coalition of ministers, community activists and cultural workers. During the struggle, Young called us “naysayers.” and challenged us to come up with an alternative.

In response we projected a vision of Detroit as a collection of communities. “Our concern,” we said in this brochure, “ is with how our city has been disintegrating socially, economically, politically, morally and ethically. “We are convinced,” we said, “that we cannot depend upon one industry or any large corporation to provide us with jobs. It is now up to us, – the citizens of Detroit – to put our hearts, our imaginations, our minds and our hands together to create a vision and project concrete programs for developing the kinds of local enterprises that will provide meaningful jobs and income for all citizens.”

Towards this goal, thinking back to Mississippi Freedom Summer and Martin Luther King’s advocacy of direct action structure-transforming and self-transforming projects for young people in our dying cities, in 1992we founded DETROIT SUMMER, a multicultural/intergenerational program involving young people in projects to rebuild, redefine and re-spirit our city from the ground up by putting the “Neighbor” back into the “hood.” These projects include Community Gardening to reconnect young people to the earth and to the community; Murals to create public space for dialogue with the community, and rehabbing abandoned houses. For the last 12 years, Shea Howell, who had planned to be here today, has been the co-coordinator of Detroit Summer. From the very beginning she has enlisted dedicated community-conscious artists in our work.

For example, to celebrate our work in community gardening, Nobuko Miyamoto of Great Leap (one of this year’s Leadership for a Changing America awardees) , wrote a song “I Dream a Garden” and choreographed a dance which combines African American, Native American and Asian American movements to accompany it. Jenni Kuida has brought with her a video of “I Dream a Garden.”

Another example. In a desolate neighborhood on the near west side of the city there is a public high school for teenage mothers called the Catherine Ferguson Academy , where students are learning respect for life and for the earth by raising farm animals, planting a community garden and building a barn.

To provide emergency housing for these teenage mothers, Detroit Summer is rehabbing two abandoned houses across the street from the school. On the corner between the two houses, landscape architect Ashley Kyber has created a story-telling circle and Deborah Grotefeldt from the Rowhouse Project in Houston, TX. and Trisha Ward of Art Corps/LA – both of whom are here todoy – have created an Art Park which is becoming a meeting place for neighborhood residents. As a result, this neighborhood is coming back to life. A teacher has bought and renovated the abandoned house next to one of the Detroit Summer houses. A family down the street has fixed up their own house and bought one next door and another across the street and is rehabbing them for other family members.

Another example; One of the major roadblocks in redefining and respiriting Detroit. is the binary black/white consciousness which reflects both the city’s history and its current reality., To help Detroiters acquire a more multi-ethnic consciousness in line with the demographic changes taking place all across the country, DETROIT SUMMER volunteers have begun revitalizating the mostly abandoned historic Chinatown which is on the margins of the city’s cultural center. This summer they began this revitalization by painting a mural, designed by Jenni Kuida and her husband, Tony Osumi, which depicts the struggle for justice uniting blacks, whites and Asian Americans, the three ethnic groups,,who live in the neighborhood. Three weeks ago at the unveiling ceremony the new synergy created by the mural was almost palpable and I am confident it will continue to grow as day after day blacks, Asian Americans and whites walk , bike or drive past the mural. There are pictures of the mural and the ceremony on the table in the lobby.

Another Boggs Center project is Artists and Children Creating Community Together

AC3T involves elementary school students, mentored by career artists from the College of Creative Studies, in creating murals which are then blown up and hung on the exterior walls of the school to inspire everyone in the community. AC3T murals now hang on four schools in Detroit. In each case they have helped to put the Neighbor back into the Hood.

My final example:relates to the escalating crisis in public education all over the nation.

For more than 30 years, since I was involved in the community control of schools movement in the 1960s, I have been insisting that the time has come, to leave behind the top down factory model of education which was created at the beginning of the century to supply industry with a disciplined work force and make a paradigm shift to a form of democratic education in which children are engaged in solving real questions of their lives and communities.

The Freedom Schools created Mississippi during Freedom Summer in 1964 gave us a preview of this new kind of schooling. Since the rebellions of the late 1960s our inner cities especially have needed Freedom Schooling to transform our children from angry rebels into positive change agents and at the same time make our communities safer, healthier and livelier almost overnight. In the last two years, as a result of Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, there is a growing interest in Freedom Schooling. Teachers are beginning to resist the “teaching to the test” that the act requires. Administrators are threatened by the punitive measures, including closing down their school, that the act provides. Students are beginning to resent the “zero tolerance” (like hall sweeps, suspensions) that administrators resort to in order to rid their schools of troublesome students who bring down test scores.

So in the last year a growing number of teachers, administrators, university educators, parents, community activists and young people have been meeting regularly at the Boggs Center, seeking an art form that will inspire all those involved in the educational process to think imaginatively about how to transform our schools into democratic centers of learning.

As a result, we are planning to produce Freedom Schooling Monologues or Dialogues, along the lines of the Vagina Monologues which Eve Ensler created from intimate conversations with women. Millions of people have now seen these Monologues which were first shown in a basement but have since been presented at Madison Square Garden and reproduced by small groups of women in universities and communities all across the country with their own scripts.

To help us stay us on track we are using the chart of Stages of Development on page 18 in Animating Democracy.

Two weeks ago 4000 Detroit teachers took the day off and went to Lansing to protest the charter schools which are draining children and money from the public schools. Last week Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick held a two hour televised Town Meeting to discuss redefining school reform. The Town Meeting which is being repeatedly telecast, ended with this appeal from the Mayor: “We have to talk about how we educate our children. Our entire city needs to be engaged. We are losing the battle. I think we can do it under the umbrella of the Detroit Public Schools, but we are not radical enough. We are still trying to protect this system. We cannot protect it. We have to break it up. What do we need to do? What is the answer? People all over urban America are crying out for change and we are still talking about the same system. What are we talking about that we are going to do that is different?”

These are the questions we need to grapple with – in order to reclaim our children and revitalize our cities. There are no simple answers.,but we can no longer evade the questions. 1 In this connection I recommend East of Eden, the 1951 book by John Steinbeck that Oprah Winfrey has selected for her book Club.

Through the life story of two generations of Americans living in California in the early part of the 20th century, East of Eden explores the age-old question raised in the biblical story of Cain and Abel. Are we genetically determined to be good or evil? Or does each of us have within us the power to overcome external and genetic forces by exercising our innate power of Choice or Free Will?

In East of Eden this philosophical/political question is explored by Lee, the Chinese house servant, who starts out speaking pidgin English because that was all that Caucasians expected of Asians in that period and ends up as a scholar who, together with other Chinese scholars, concludes that through this story God wants to make clear that instead of ordering people to do his will (Thou Must) or promising them happiness (Thou Shalt), he is telling us “Thou Mayest’ (Timshel in Hebrew), in other words, giving us permission to exercise our power of Choice.. So East of Eden ends, with Adam, the father of Cal (Cain) and Aron (Abel) , on his deathbed whispering Timshel .

Over the years I have found Oprah Winfrey amazingly sensitive to the crises in the American psyche. So I hope that her selection of East of Eden for reading and discussion will inspire a remake of a movie of East of Eden to help the American people recognize how much the future depends on our exercising our power of Choice. Interestingly, the 1955 Elia Kazan production starring James Dean did not even include the character of Lee}.

2“As a form of artistic _expression murals are loaded with social/political significance. More than just large paintings they are publicly accessible. Painted on walls with clear intentions to educate, reaffirm and represent the experiences of those in local communities, they act as voices for those without access to media,museums and other cultural institutions. Murals can be participatory, actively engaging the audiences they represent in the mural’s creation. Dialogue between artist and audience is essential. Finally murals’ public and collective nature challenges society’s concept of private ownership and “cult of individualism.” They exemplify that art and culture belong to everyone.” Tony Osumi:

3 3Design and planning by organization Research and Outreach, getting statements, views by teachers, parents, students et al Artistic Creation and Development Pre-Presentation (engaging the public in dialogue, making suggestions) Presentation Post-Presentation (engaging the audience in dialogue) Distribution/Promotion (vie videos, touring,, publication) to encourage other groups to present or create their own productions.