"Each generation, coming out of obscurity, must define its mission and fulfill or betray it." Frantz Fanon - The Wretched of the Earth”

Detroit Summer

Detroit Summer is a multi-racial, inter-generational collective in Detroit, working to transform ourselves and our communities by confronting the problems we face with creativity and critical thinking. We currently organize youth-led media arts projects and community-wide potlucks, speak-outs and parties." Detroit Summer develops youth leadership for today’s movement by involving university youth from all over the country with local youth...


“Think Globally, Act Locally” Towards a New Concept of City-zenship By Grace Lee Boggs Community Cultural Development Leadership Summit Intermedia Arts, Minneapolis, June 24, 2004

...In the 1960s and especially in the Freedom Schools of Mississippi Freedom Summer the involvement of youngpeople as active citizens had been pivotal to the success of the movement. In the 60s the challenge had been civil rights; in this period it is rebuilding our cities. That is how we came to name our program DETROIT SUMMER

Detroit Summer started out in 1992 by engaging youthvolunteers in three main activities: planting community gardens to re-connect young people with the Earth and with the community; painting public murals to reclaim public space; and intergenerational and peer dialogues to share our fears, hopes,and dreams.

Since then, one thing has led to another. Our community gardening put us in touch with the Gardening Angels, an informal network created by the late Gerald Hairston, former auto worker and passionate environmentalist, consisting mainly of African American elders raised in the South who had seized the opportunity created by vacant lots and the city’s Farm-a-lot free seeds to plant gardens all over the city.

The Gardening Angels led us to Paul Weertz, a science teacher at Catherine Ferguson Academy (CFA), a public high school for teenage mothers, who was helping his students learn respect for life and for the earth along with math and science by raising farm animals, planting a garden and fruitorchard, and building a barn. As a result, instead of dropping out in large numbers, 70 to 80 percent of the young ladies stay in school and go on to college.

Across the street from CFA were a couple of abandoned houses. Deborah Grotefeldt, an artist from Project Row Houses in Houston, suggested that we buy and rehab these for emergency use by CFA mothers. On the corner betweenthe two houses Detroimmer youth, under the mentorship of Grotefeldt, landscape architect Ashley Kyber, and Trisha Ward of Art Corps/LA, then created an Art Park as a meeting and story-telling place for neighborhood residents.

As a result, the neighborhood is coming back to life. A CFA teacher has bought and renovated the abandoned house next to one of the Detroit Summer houses. A family down the street has fixed up its own house and bought two neighboring houses to rehab for other family members. CFA students are using an EPA grant to do soil testing in the neighborhood and have reported their results and proposals back to the community at a community festival.

The success of the Art Park/Soil Testing and Remediation project in revitalizing the CFA neighborhood inspired us to embark on a similar effort in the neighborhood near the Detroit's Cultural Center, which once housed Detroit's Chinatown but has now been largely abandoned. In order to bring diversity to a city that has been too narrowly viewed as black and white, Asian American university students embarked on a project with local Asian Americans to revive Chinatown. To launch the project, they created a mural linking the struggle for justice for Vincent Chin, an Asian American Detroiter murdered by two autoworkers on the eve of his wedding in 1982, to African American struggles for civil rights. The mural, at ground level, has transformed the space facing it into a courtyard where Asian American,African American, and Euro-American residents of the neighborhood are beginning to interact with one another.

Since the first year of Detroit Summer, we have created some 20 murals all over the city, each designed by youth volunteers and a master artist in consultation with the community and each helping to transform how residents view themselves and the places where they live. To involve school children in this transformation, the Boggs Center, in collaboration with the Department of Transformation of the Detroit Public Schools and the College of Creative Studies, organized Artists and Children Creating Community Together (AC3T), a program in which elementary school children mentored by College of Creative Studies students, produce drawings that are then transformed into giant murals to hang on the outside walls of the school. These murals have energized neighborhood residents to mobilize weekly clean-ups and other restorative activities.

Inspired by the activities of the Gardening Angels, Detroit Summer and Catherine Ferguson Academy students, students in the Architectural Department of the University of Detroit Mercy, under the leadership of visiting architect Kyong Park and department head Steve Vogel, have created Adamah, a vision for rebuilding a devastated two and a half square mile area on the east side not far from downtown Detroit. The Adamah vision, based on urban agriculture (Adamah is Hebrew for "of the earth") includes unearthing Bloody Run Creek, which had been covered over and absorbed into the city's sewer system, and turning it into a canal for both recreation and irrigation. The vision includes community gardens, greenhouses, grazing land, a shrimp farm and dairy, a tree farm, lumber mill, and windmills to generate electricity, and living and work spaces in the former Packard auto plant.

As people watch the 20-minute Adamah video you can almost feel their minds and imaginations expanding. Community residents draw from it ideas for rebuilding their own neighborhoods. Out-of-towners wonder how they can spend time in Detroit to help build the movement.

As one thing has led to another, Detroit Summer, which began as a three-week program in 1992, has become year round with new programs that have come out of the creativity of the young people who now provide the core of its leadership.

For example, Detroit Summer young people have created or are creating:

Poetry Workshops for Social Change;

Back Alley Bikes, a program which involves soliciting used bikes from supporters, finding a skilled mechanic to teach bike repair, and inviting neighborhood youth to earn their own bikes by repairing a bike they have selected. The result is an alternative method of transportation with which young people are putting the neighbor back into the 'hood.

Loud and Clear, an independent media center.

Over the years Detroit Summer has taught us that the capacity of young people to make social and political judgments is directly linked to the growth in self -confidence that they gain from working with one another and making practical judgments and choices in concrete, mundane activities like gardening, rehabbing houses, painting community murals, repairing bikes.

It is because our school system deprives children and youngpeople of opportunities to engage in activities like these as anatural and normal part of the curriculum that it is now insuch crisis. All too many classrooms have become war zones where teachers can't teach and children can't learn because we are still following the "command and control" model created 100 years ago to prepare young people for factory work.

Detroit Summer volunteers are mainly teenagers from Detroit neighborhoods but it also attracts college students from all over the country. Every year some of these young people return after graduating from university because they see Detroit as the place where they can begin building this country anew. In the 1960s and1970s counter-cultural youth had to go to places like Wyoming to find enough space to start a counter-culture. Now they come to cities like Detroit – as do scholars and researchers from all over the world eager to discover whether the end of the industrial age means the death and doom of cities forever or whether it has created the conditions for the birth of a new kind of city.

Personally I view what we’re doing in Detroit and what I believeyou are doing here in Minneapolis as the key to answering the fundamental and interconnected questions that I posed at the beginning of this speech. In pioneering a kind of human scale development that is “the Other“ of corporate globalization, we are helping to build a movement that is emerging organically not only in this country but all over the world, in Latin America, in India, in Europe, in Africa. We are the wave of the future.

 


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Boggs Center 3061 Field St. Detroit, Mi 48214 by appointment  email boggscenter@boggscenter.org

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Sustainable Detroit

May 25, 2012