Boggs Center – Living For Change News Letter – July 1, 2019


July 1st, 2019

revolution image final


JB @ 100
 Detroit Summer Oral History Presentation
7-3 Study In-Teach Out
7-4 Feedom Freedom Art Installation
7-5 Jazz Lovers Paradise Tour

Join the Week-long Celebration



Thinking for Ourselves
Our Children, Our Communities
Shea Howell

This year marks the 100th Anniversary of the birth of Detroit revolutionary philosopher, writer, and activist James Boggs. To explore the contributions of his thinking to understanding our present crisis and what we must do to advance our common humanity, the James and Grace Lee Boggs School and the Center to Nurture Community leadership are hosting a series of events.

The celebrations began on Saturday morning at the Church of the Messiah, just down the street from the home James and Grace shared for nearly 50 years on the east side of Detroit. More than 500 people marched in the 11th Annual Silence the Violence Million Children March.

Pastor Barry Randolph, whose leadership has framed the March explained in his call:

The purpose of the march has been to shed light to the issues facing young people in America today, specifically urban communities. The event also focuses on connecting community organizations making positive impacts in the community, to create Detroit (IN)powerment Village Alliances (D.I.V.A.) across the city.

Community groups, religious organizations, governmental leaders, law enforcement, business leaders, as well as the average citizen, will all gather and participate in this annual event to celebrate community and honor those who have died because of gun violence.”

For the first time, other cities are joining in the initiative, including  Chicago, Atlanta, New Orleans, Baltimore, New York, Boston, Pontiac, Flint, Highland Park, and Ypsilanti.
Although James Boggs was a man of ideas who urged us to think more deeply, he was vitally concerned with actions in public life. There is no doubt he would have participated in the march if he was still with us. Certainly, his spirit was there as people walked for peace, to share ideas about how to live with more consciousness and care for one another and for the earth we share.

This year’s march held the promise of peace against the pain of the recent murder of DeMarkkus Washington, a member of the Messiah community who had been active in their Makerspace. Like thousands of young people, he was preparing for his prom and graduation from Martin Luther King High School. He was one of seven people shot to death in Detroit the night of May 24th.

Jimmy would have marched to say DeMarkkus’s life matters. We are all poorer because of his death. And we failed him. We failed to create a community where he could sit in a car and talk to a friend and be safe. We failed to create a community that enables all of our children to thrive, to develop to their full capabilities and deepest dreams.

Jimmy said in 1987 in a speech on Community Building:

The level of our human relationships has never been so low. We live in a social environment where there is little or no respect for human or natural life; where violent crimes against those close to you and the abuse of women, children, the old, the blind and the crippled have become normal; and where even those who have increased their access to material things and to high positions restore to drugs and alcohol because they are so spiritually impoverished…That is why the main question before us is “How can we become new men and new women?—willing to accept the challenge to live by the vision of another culture, a new culture which we still have to create, a culture which is based on social responsibility and respect for one another instead of individualism and materialism and on a love for and kinship with the Land and with Nature—instead of viewing Nature as something to be conquered and Land as a commodity to be owned? How do we create a culture that is life-affirming rather than life-destroying, which is based on caring and compassion rather than on the philosophy of the Survival of the fittest?
Jimmy believed the only solution to this violence is in the creation of loving communities. He said, “In order to create this new life-affirming culture, our first priority must be the rebuilding or the regeneration of our communities because it is in community that human beings have always found their personhood…you can’t find your human identity by yourself. It is in the community that our human identity is created because it is in community that Love, Respect and Responsibility for one another are nurtured.

Creating a new public culture begins with stepping toward one another, finding our way to a future that nurtures, loves, and protects all our children. As Pastor Barry said of this moment, “It’s everyone coming together, standing up for our community, standing up for the rights of children and creating the type of community of which our children can be proud.”


Notes of a Journey . . .
Jim Chaffers

These notes arrive from my hometown, deep south of the Mason-Dixon; a ‘stone’s throw’ from Jimmy’s homeplace.

My journey with Jimmy, began in the spring of 1974. I was a newly hired faculty member at the (UM) College of Architecture and had recently opened a ‘store-front design center’ on Buchanan Street, near West Grand Boulevard. With the help of many, many neighborhood hands (and hearts) and a $100 land purchase from the City of Detroit, a once thriving, but now abandoned, Polish bakery was converted into a ‘buzzing hub’ of energy and optimism; more specifically, a buzzing “hub for skill and talent exchanges” home-grown from a neighborhood of approximately 700 (Black/Polish/Greek/Latino) families.

Jimmy’s and my chance crossing of paths resulted in a visit, with Grace, to my (UM) graduate design seminar later that fall. That ‘visit’ eventually became the first of eighteen consecutive yearly “UM conversations.” As one might imagine, the (intellectual, visionary, and all otherwise) ‘highlights’ were many and ever-lasting.

3061 Field

During one of our earlier conversations, we sat deep into the Boggs homestead, around a quite compact kitchen dining table. I was offered coffee or tea. I chose tea and my first offering of sweet cakes. (Being the deep south, ‘Louisiana boy’ that I am, I knew immediately what sweet cakes were. Taking our first bites, Jimmy and I rather easily moved into a lengthy give-and-take about my Louisiana ties and his deep south upbringing in Alabama. Our conversation then naturally flowed into the importance of “family.” And before we were done, Jimmy—in his special, unhurried way— quietly suggested that I should consider myself a part of his kin.

At a point in later conversations, Jimmy and I shared thoughts about architecture and the idea of “beloved community” . . . leading me to share my dream of designing something like a ‘spatial-spiritual dictionary’ for life navigating; a design of everyday vocabulary and meanings that would bond the idea of “sheltering space” and “nourishing spirit.” Jimmy was very encouraging and I am now very close to a publication that will allow me to realize my dream (and Jimmy’s) as a shared reality.

YANG Zhengjun, WEI Zhili, and KE Chengbing: 
Three Labour Rights Defenders Held under RSDL for Helping Pneumoconiosis Workers Fight for their Occupational Disease Compensation

Background of the Detentions

The detention of the three “iLabour” activists is a further clamp down on labour movement after Jasic struggle. On January 8th, Chinese police stormed an urban village residence and detained “iLabour” website editor Yang Zhengjun. Less than three months later, on March 20th, police detained two other—Wei Zhili and Ke Chengbing. The three activists are with “iLabour”, an independent online labour rights media platform created in November 2013. It mainly covers worker-related stories, news and shares workers’ rights defense experiences and provides workers with a platform for labour rights consultation. At the time of their arrest, the three were reporting on and supporting a struggle for occupational disease compensation by Hunanese construction workers who had contracted pneumoconiosis doing blast hole drilling in Shenzhen.

Since the 1990s, workers from Hunan have been engaging in drilling and blasting in Shenzhen to construct the foundations for city landmarks. After working in a dusty environment without adequate protective gears, many of the workers have been diagnosed with the incurable occupational disease pneumoconiosis later. As the employers failed to provide workers with labour contracts and social security contributions, the workers have had difficulty accessing occupational disease identification, treatment and compensation, and ended up in huge debt. Since early 2018, hundreds of them have petitioned to Shenzhen for over ten times to campaign for defend their rights.

The three “iLabour” activists began supporting pneumoconiosis workers’ struggle in early 2018 by counseling on labor law and sending out rights defense updates online to make their plight visible to the public. The three iLabour activists have been promoting worker’ rights to health, a dignified living and the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association vis the online platform. However, on January 8th, only one day after fifty pneumoconiosis workers were forcibly sent back to Hunan. Yang Zhengjun, was arrested in Guangzhou. During the interrogation, the police told Yang that he was arrested because of the protests of pneumoconiosis workers. After Yang’s arrest, Wei Zhili and Ke Chengbing continued to help the Hunan workers and provided them with legal advice. On March 20, Wei and Ke were also arrested in Guangzhou. The police also told Wei’s family that he was arrested for helping pneumoconiosis workers.

Held in RSDL, a System of Enforced Disappearances

Currently, Yang, Wei, and Ke are held in “Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location” (hereafter RSDL). RSDL is a controversial system of enforced disappearances enacted into law in 2013. In RSDL, family members are not notified of the person’s whereabouts, and the suspects have no access to their lawyers. Due to the lack of oversight allowing torture and forced confessions. UN experts consider RSDL may constitute a form of forcible disappearance. According to RSDL Monitor, many lawyers, journalists, and other human rights defenders, have been subjected to this system.

Further Information of the detained “iLabour” Three 

“iLabour” is an independent online labour rights media platform created in November 2013. Its core values include “promoting economic democracy, safeguarding labor value, and building a just society”. It mainly covers worker-related stories, news and shares workers’ rights defense experiences and provides workers with a platform for labour rights consultation.

YANG Zhengjun, born in 1986, editor of “iLabour”. Yang graduated from Minzu University of China with a Master’s in Political Economy. After the graduation, Yang participated in the editorial work of “iLabour”and continued to speak out for workers. After Yang’s arrest on Jan 8th, he was detained at the Shenzhen No. 2 Detention Center for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”. On February 6th, he was transferred to RSDL. As of today, Yang has been held for over 100 days, but the four requests to meet him from his lawyers between February and April have all been refused; the police has been arguing that Yang has written a statement stating that he has terminated the appointment of the lawyer appointed by the families, yet the police never been able to show the families the statement.

WEI Zhili, born in 1988, the editor of “iLabour”. Wei graduated from Guangzhou University in 2011. During his college years, he participated in various labour-related studies and provided services to frontline workers. He decided to devote himself to improving the living conditions of Chinese workers after reading a booklet in the University about the tragic story of pneumoconiosis workers. In 2013, he joined “iLabour” to further promote labor rights. On March 20th, he was arrested and detained at the Shenzhen No. 2 Detention Center for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and transferred to RSDL on April 20th. Since Wei was held in RSDL, all requests submitted by Wei’s lawyer to meet him has been refused.

KE Chengbing, born in 1989, the editor of “iLabour”. After graduation from Jinan University in 2012, Ke devoted himself to serving workers in the Pearl River Delta, participating in research on the situation of Foxconn workers. In 2013, he became editor iLabour to speaking out for workers. On March 20th, he was arrested and detained at the Shenzhen No. 2 Detention Center for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and transferred to RSDL on April 20th. On March 23th, the police forcibly took away Ke’s family, after controlling and threatening for over 8 hours, Ke’s family was forced to sign a document to terminate the appointment of the lawyer under huge pressure.

News Reports 

South China Morning

Buzz Feed News

Le Monde


The African American Mysteries, Underground Youth Ensemble, is designed to bring African American history alive in an exciting, informative, and creative manner for both the youth and adult audiences.

(There were almost 100 businesses owned by black people in Detroit prior to the Civil War. A black man was the first to own and operate an Ice Cream Polar which was located on Bates Street in the 1860’s Bates Street which was home to many minority businesses was “gentrified” in the 1970’s to make way for the I-75 freeway.)




Boggs Center – Living For Change News – June 17th 2019

June, 17th, 2019

Thinking for Ourselves

Stop Spreading Surveillance
Shea Howell

Several hundred people gathered at the Detroit Police Commissioner Board hearing at St. John’s Lutheran Church to discuss the expansion of a facial recognition system tied to Project Green Light. Currently, Detroit and Chicago are the only cities in the country implementing real-time facial recognition.

Representative of the Detroit Police Department strongly advocated the use of this technology, saying it would enable them to catch criminals.

To blunt fears of the new technology the police said it was like using fingerprints or DNA, just another way to identify who committed a crime.

Such sloppy arguments were echoed by some community members who spoke of their fears of crime and their willingness to do almost anything to feel more secure. Predictably, some people echoed the sentiment that if you aren’t doing anything wrong, you have nothing to fear from the government.

These arguments represent one of the primary reasons we should oppose facial recognition systems and Project Green Light. The advocates of these programs are taking the deepest fears of people and twisting them into a distorted idea of what will improve their lives. The supporters of surveillance take our best impulses and turn them against us. This willful manipulation of fear, and the promises of some kind of security, distort our capacity to make meaningful decisions about how to create peaceful, compassionate relationships.

Several major studies have concluded that there is absolutely no basis to claim that either the real time monitoring of people or the introduction of facial recognition systems reduces crime. There is no evidence that facial recognition impacts crime. There is ample evidence that facial recognition increases injustice against African Americans, people of color, women, and youth.

In September 2011, the Urban Institute, an economic and social policy think tank published a paper analyzing surveillance trends in Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Chicago. Drilling into the question of whether the program was worth the cost, the organization reported mixed findings.

“Results varied, with crime falling in some areas and remaining unchanged in others,” it said, noting that success or failure depended on how the surveillance systems were set up and monitored and how they balanced privacy and security.

Baltimore police did use facial recognition technology successfully to identify people who protested the police killing of Freddie Gray.

In 2011 the University of Texas at Dallas conducted a study concluding that racial bias was predictable because of the nature of the data sets being used.

In 2016 A Georgetown University Law School study raised similar concerns and noted that nearly half of all adults have been entered into a law enforcement facial recognition data base.

In 2017 Shelli Weisberg, legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union tested the Michigan system saying, It’s shocking how inaccurate it is.”

“When MSP showed me their program, they put my face in and brought up a number of false positives. Falsely identifying people as criminal suspects could lead to a host of other potential issues.”

Weisberg said, “The programs seem to have a population bias,” she said. “I think the bias comes because you have more white faces to use as the models for perfecting the technology.

In 2019 two new reports by the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy & Technology say facial recognition has been deployed irresponsibly by the police and conjure images of a futuristic surveillance state in Detroit and Chicago. Clare Garvie, an author of both reports, believes that a moratorium on facial recognition is necessary, given the lack of regulation around the technology.“There is a fundamental absence of transparency around when and how police use face recognition technology,” Ms. Garvie said. “The risks of misidentification are substantial.”

Researchers at Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy & Technology say they’re alarmed by Detroit’s extensive surveillance system and facial recognition software, saying the network “risks fundamentally changing the nature of our public spaces.”

Last week, the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition released its report. Tawana Petty, one of the authors said, “The Detroit Digital Justice Coalition (DDJC) through its coalition member Detroit Community Technology Project (DCTP), has joined the growing number of fellow Detroiters concerned or opposed to the controversial expansion of Project Green Light and related facial recognition technologies. It is on this basis that we release our report, “A Critical Summary of Detroit’s Project Green Light and its Greater Context.”

Surveillance technology is big business and powerful interests are telling us this will make us safe. But researches consistently point out there is no basis for these claims.  The sample size is too small, the time frame too short. “Violent crimes have been declining in many cities across the country” and “without rigorous evaluations that use comparison groups, it is difficult to attribute the decline in any city to a specific program or policy,”  researcher Bryce Peterson of the Urban Institute concluded, “I have not seen any direct evidence of its effectiveness. It’s only anecdotal information that we’ve heard from sources with a vested interest in it.”

We need to tell the Police Commissioners and the City Council to stop facial recognition and eliminate Project Green Light.



NOMA - Project Pipeline Flyer 19_Revised


Boggs Center – Living For Change – April 21st, 2019

April 21st, 2019

grace and jimmy



Thinking for Ourselves

Hantz Farms Land Grab
Shea Howell

Hantz Farms is briefly back in the news this week. By the time you read this, the City Council will most likely have approved the swap of 37 parcels of land on Beniteau Street for 450 parcels scattered throughout the East side. That means Hantz is getting a more than 10 parcels for every one he is giving up. And he is getting these additional parcels for 8.33 cents per square foot. That is the price he negotiated six years ago with the Bing administration. Currently, similar properties are going for between $1.25 and $1.75 a square foot, meaning that he is paying less than 10 cents for every dollar. He also gets 80 houses to “rehabilitate” within two years.

It is a sweet deal for Hantz. He is getting ten times the property and at one tenth the cost. In addition to helping consolidate the land the city wants to give to Fiat Chrysler, this little deal will allow Hantz to consolidate his one square mile farm dream.

All of this is happening without any public oversight or comment. The proposal has been rushed to City Council and they are set to vote on Tuesday April 23, 2019. The last time City Council discussed a deal with John Hantz, the chambers were packed.  An open meeting with them on the East side saw more than 1000 people turn out to voice their objections on one of the coldest nights in January. People were overwhelmingly opposedto the land give away being proposed by Mayor Dave Bing on the cusp of bankruptcy.

That vocal opposition is probably why this current deal, roughly ¼ the size of his previous effort, has received little attention in the media and no public notice.

But it makes some things very clear. The purpose of the Land Bank is not to stabilize neighborhoods or keep people in their homes. It is to enable the Mayor to give away the city at the lowest possible price to the richest, whitest people he can find.

Last year when there were rumors that Hantz was looking for developers, Mike Score, president of Hantz Woodlands LLC, said, “The purpose of the farm, the whole mission of the investment, is to create truly livable neighborhoods on the lower east side of Detroit and the farm is doing that. It’s not that the farm is for sale. It’s that we have made progress of eliminating blight,”  He went on to say, “We have had a lot of inquiries from developers who have told us from their perspective that Hantz Woodlands has become attractive. We are exploring options.”

It is hard to believe any developer could have come up with a better set of options than those offered by Mayor Duggan.

We should all remember that the primary reason people objected to Hantz was because he foolishly told the Wall Street Journal his real motive. He wants to take land off the speculative market to drive the prices up.

The consequences of rising prices are clear. Higher property taxes, higher insurance, more financial speculation and less stable neighborhoods.

While the City Council is not likely to stop this deal, there is a great deal they can do to stop the worst consequences of it in the lives of people. They should immediately establish a moratorium on property tax increases for currently occupied homes, develop the capacity for community land banks, and put a moratorium on water shut offs and foreclosures. They should also establish effective rent controls and mechanisms for people to hold absentee land lords accountable.

This latest land grab by Hantz is an outrage to any sense of fairness or justice. It reveals who the city values and the extraordinary efforts this mayor will make to assist white businessmen in getting what they want.


James Baldwin & Nikki Giovanni, a conversation

From Growing Our Economy to Growing Our Souls
Rich Feldman

Students from Purdue University, young people from Great Britain, high school students from The Bronx, NY and teachers from Vermont visited the Boggs Center this past week. They all joined with members of the Boggs Center Board to learn about the writings, practice, and legacy of James and Grace Lee Boggs. The tour and the reflective conversations provided a space to share the evolutionary thinking as we carry out our mission to nurture community leadership based upon visionary organizing.

In the tour format we are able to tell the story of the rise and fall of the American Dream and the question what it means t be living in a moment of great transition from one historical epoch to the next stage in human evolution.

Dakarai Carter shared his involvements with Detroit Summer, Wayne Curtis talked about the importance of the urban farming, peace zones for life ,and his involvement with the Black Panther Party. Kim Sherobbi shared her work at Birwood with middle school student, the evolving block club network and Women Creating Caring Communities.  Our visitors learned the importance of placed based organizing, the need to create liberated territories, and about efforts to create new, value based relationships among people.
This tour is one method to share the Boggs Center’s journey to redefine the concept of revolution since the rebellion of 1967 and help people understand the potential of this moment to create something very new and urgently needed.  We are facing an epochal crisis in capitalism requiring us to redefine our relationships to each other and to the planet.

Today we have responsibilities and opportunities to usher in a new system.  It is our time to create the beloved community rooted in local history and emerging contradictions. In Detroit we are able touch some of this new future through the work of  individuals and organizations that are creating solutions offering visions of resilience and regeneration.

Our tours begin at Elmwood Cemetery , acknowledging the presence of ancestors who give us wisdom and strength. Here, in land holding the shape of centuries of wind and water, we remember the resistance to colonialism by Chief Pontiac and honor Bloody Run Creek that still flows defiantly.

We visited Carlos Neilbok of CanArts and Tyree Guyton of the Heidelberg project.  Carlos and Tyree introduce people to challenge rationalism and linear thinking through unleashing their imaginations as they relate to upcycling and creating wind power for energy and through found art initiatives.  They represent the challenge to find your passions and commit to do what we really, really want to do.

It was an honor to host our visitors and introduce them to Detroit’s east side visionary organizing and  the Boggs Center as we continue the work of James and Grace Lee Boggs to move from rebellion to revolution.


MCHR Dinner
Rich Feldman

The Michigan Coalition for Human rights began in 1980.  In that year the US elected Ronald Reagan as president, ushering in the political power of counter revolutionary forces. In those days it was called the New Right.  Still fighting communism and determined to re-establish US military might after its defeat in Viet Nam, Reagan solidified the organizational and intellectual foundations of the forces that would ultimately bring Donald Trump to the White House.

In Detroit, as industry continued to leave and as federal supports disappeared, we faced deep questions about the kind of city we would be.  After a bitter struggle and entire community was leveled for the Cadillac Poletown Plant for GM. We organized to keep Casino gambling out of the city and to create peace in our communities with Save our Sons and Daughters and d We the People to Reclaim our Streets . The hip hop generation emerged offering new visions for how we might live and Central  American Solidarity struggles gave a new urgency to the ideas of Revolution and Liberation. The Sanctuary Movements provided direct, critical information of US terror in El Salvador and Guatemala. The struggle against Apartheid in South Africa and the divestment movement inspired national civil disobedience and organizing on campuses, town halls and churches as people took a stand for human rights.

This year’s MCHR gathering showed the evolution, deepening spirit, and continued work of decades of resistance and programs of engagement and hope for Detroiters.

Rashida Tlaib was the guest speaker, offering clear direction and analysis for this time. She began with her mother’s story of love.  She then shared the following:

  1. Stop being distracted by the absurdity of Trump and recognize that he needs to face serious investigation through the impeachment process so that others to not think that individual multi billionaires should run the country as if they were CEOs of a multinational corporation.
  2. The women of color and other recently elected congressional members are not going to wait, be patient or “learn the ropes”.  Congress women Tlaib was clear. This is a group of sisters of color who are organizers and activists . They have the courage to call out and barbarism of Trump There is an urgency of now and they are not waiting.
  3. We need to visit the southern border and speak loudly and clearly that caging of children (thousands upon thousands) must stop.  At the same time Rashida Tlaib was clear to remind us that we are at a northern border and ICE, Homeland Security and other police forces in our metro area are harassing, arresting and threatening our neighbors in southwest Detroit.
  4. Lastly, Congress woman Tlaib was clear that we need to build a movement and not rely solely on those elected to be on the inside of this government. Social Movements create change, and courageous elected officials bring forth policies. As Grace Boggs often said: Change goes to Washington not from Washington.

MCHR then gave out awards. The first award wen to Jonathan Roberts who also talked about movement building, the urgency of now and the need to focus on liberation. In 2018, he spearheaded city-wide campaign preventing 500 homes from being auctioned off after foreclosure.

The Lifetime achievement awards went to Sam Stark and Kae Halonen. And East Michigan Environmental Action Council received the organization activist award, was accepted by Darryl Jordan.

The program closed with a call for young people, to join the 2019 and 2020 Freedom Tours. 2019 tour will focus on Detroit sites of struggle and 2020 will again travel south visiting the sites and cities that were the foundation of the Freedom Struggle which birthed all other social humanizing movements of the 20th century.

This gathering acknowledged the spirit that we live in movement times, in times of urgency and calls for actions beyond voting, beyond calling your representatives.  The future is now! Thank you MCHR for a spirited and engaging evening.