Detroit Transforming by Shea Howell


Detroit Transforming

?By Shea Howell

Last week The Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership and the Veterans of Hope project based in Denver called together a group of civil rights leaders, writers, scholars, artists and activists for “Conversations in Detroit: Time for Transformation: Growing our souls at home and abroad.”

 The call to the gathering began:

“All of us recognize that a new spirit of change has awakened across the globe.  People are gathering in Cairo, Madrid, Athens, Lima, Caracas, Gaza and countless towns and villages to create new political and social relationships.

Within our own country, these changes are creating opportunities for us to take up Dr. King’s challenge to get “on the right side of the world revolutions” and create a “radical revolution in values” within our own communities and our nation….

 The primary goal of this gathering is to provide an opportunity for those of us who share a vision of “beloved community” to explore some of the critical questions of transformation and organizing for change that we face today.

In other words, we want to ask ourselves and others “What time is it on the clock of the world?”  What is our responsibility to become 21 century citizens and “live simply so that others can simply live?”  What does international solidarity mean today?  How do we restore and re-spirit our communities, and the souls of our people?”

 The conversations were designed to explore two broad questions: What do we need to say as we approach the 10th anniversary of 9-11 and what is our opportunity and responsibility for working with our sisters and brothers who have been entrapped in the systems of mass incarceration. Two recent books, The Next American Revolution by Grace Boggs and Scott Kurashige and The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander formed a background for the gathering.

 Detroit’s Grace Boggs and Dr. Vincent Harding began the session. From the very beginning three distinct questions wove through the conversations, sometimes pulling us apart, sometimes together.

 We asked: Do we see people only as victims or as creators of our own lives?  Do we agree that we are coming to the end of U.S. empirial power?  Do we agree that we are living in the midst of a transformation as great as that from hunting and gathering or agriculture to industry, making efforts to reform existing systems futile?

 We encouraged these conversations to be held in Detroit because we believe the city has much to teach us.

As one of the first cities created by the industrial age, Detroit is among the first to reflect its ending. Amidst all the anguish, Detroit is leading the way toward creating new visions of how we can all live.

 In neighborhoods and on street corners people have moved from being victimized to taking responsibility for creating something new. The Hope District, Feedem Freedom Gardens, Earth Works, the Sunday Dinner Company, Catherine Ferguson Academy, D-Town Farms, Peace Zones and Heidelberg are places where we can see the future emerging.

 Yusef Shakur of Detroit’s Urban Network emphasized the capacity of people who are incarcerated to transform themselves into conscious, thoughtful creators of these new communities. He shared his pledge to “put the neighbor back in the hood” that concludes:

i will train myself to never hurt or allow anyone to harm someone in my neighborhood for an injustice cause or through negative behaviors of stealing, gun violence, verbal abuse, police brutality, selling drugs, rape or any other social ill that works to destroy my neighborhood.

This is my pledge to do my part by being a caring neighbor in my neighborhood by working to keep my neighborhood a peace zone instead of a warzone.

The gathering concluded with commitments to transform ourselves as we build the world anew. Among those commitments was a call to young people for a New Freedom Summer in Detroit 2012 to share in “building up a new world.”