Charity Waters By Shea Howell – Week 75 of the Occupation

Thinking for ourselves

By Shea Howell

Charity Waters

Week 75 of the Occupation

September 9, 2014


100_0702Water shut offs and the bankruptcy trial are wound together. Before the opening statements on bankruptcy were delivered, Judge Steven Rhodes, heard a request to order the Water Department to temporarily stop the shut offs. In response, the judge ordered the city and the people’s attorneys into mediation.

These shut offs were nothing more than an aggressive tactic used by Orr to leverage the water department as part of the bankruptcy deal. The results have been catastrophic for people and have attracted world wide criticism of the city.

These two crisis are also linked in how the mayor and the Emergency Manager are seeking to solve the problems. At the core of the Plan of Adjustment (#6) that the judge is considering in the bankruptcy hearing is a commitment from the foundation world to “soften the blows” people will receive as their pensions are cut. This support of financial help to elders depends on protecting the art works of the Detroit Institute of Art.

Bloomberg reported what has become know as the “Grand Bargain” this way:

“The linchpin of Detroit’s plan to address its liabilities is cash from a group of foundations, and the state of Michigan, to shore up public pensions. In return for $466 million from the foundations and $350 million from the state, the city agreed not to sell its art collection to pay off its debts.”

Emergency Manger Orr and the corporate elite call this bargain an example of inventiveness and creative thinking.

Picking up the same theme, Mayor Duggan, who was handed the water department in a crude effort to deflect international criticism, established the Detroit Water Fund to help those who were behind on their bills. Within the week, massive flooding forced the addition of Project H2O Flood Clean Up. These efforts depend on foundation funding. Duggan announced a $2 million contribution from Michigan Health Endowment Fund. Ford Motor Fund and General Motors Foundation each pledged $50,000. The United Way said it will give $100,000 and will administer the fund.

The bankruptcy plan and the water crisis depend on the good will of private foundations. These foundations are playing a central role in public processes, with no public accountability.

This dependence on the charity of foundations is new for municipal governments across the country. Joel Kotin, the director of the Center of Demographics and Policy at Chapman University said, “Governments used to lead and now they can’t. They are bogged down, in large part, by the pensions and debt they can’t handle.”

He goes on to question this shift saying, “We’re in a very dangerous situation, where you have very small groups of people not arguing about policy, but implementing policy.”

Almost every analyst agrees that both the financial woes of the city and the inability of nearly half the residents to pay water bills reflect deep structural issues. The solutions to these crises require more than charity. In fact, the dependence on charity as a temporary fix, will only deepen the problems we face.

The city does not need charity. We need solidarity. We, the people of Detroit, have for generations created imaginative, progressive solutions to our problems. We have turned vacant land into gardens and play grounds, built communities out of vision and hope, and inspired world celebrated music, poetry, art and theater.

We have also developed a Peoples Water Affordability Plan that respects the dignity of everyone, implementing ways for everyone to pay their fair share, while being secure in the knowledge that their rights are protected. Mayor Duggan needs to stop all shut offs and implement the Water Affordability Plan. Charity is not the answer.

Kevyn Orr, who admits to having no “Plan B” should get a copy of the Peoples Plan of Adjustment. These are the only real solutions.

To depend on charity denies the dignity of people. It denies our imaginative capacities to create a more just future.




amrev_graceThe FREEP inaugural Film Festival will showcase Detroit and Michigan-themed documentaries, along with film discussions, panels and a few other surprises. The curtain rises March 20-23 at the Fillmore Detroit and the Detroit Film Theatre at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The latest films to join the schedule will be included in the “News” and “Films and Schedule” sections.

The film series will initially highlight the legendary Packard Building, which was once a symbol of hope and endurance in Detroit, but has now become synonymous with Detroit’s blight, and will end at 2pm Saturday March 22 with the biopic American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs, produced and directed by film by Grace Lee (no relation), . Both films will screen at the Fillmore Detroit.

After the screening of American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs, PBS’s Celeste Headlee will conduct a Q&A with myself and Grace Lee at 2p.m.

These films are important, as they not only give a frame regarding the population, economic and industry and industry boom in Detroit, but also provide a perspective on how we found ourselves with these current financial challenges in Detroit.

Watch the trailer for the film festival and learn more about how to purchase tickets at The trailer to American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs can be viewed at



James and Grace Lee Boggs Center School


Boggs Day at the James and Grace Lee Boggs School, this past friday. Photo: Andrea Claire Maio




boggs_schoolFrom left to right, Boggs School teachers: Julia Putnam; Amanda Rosman; Marisol Teachworth

Photo: N/A, License: N/AGrace Lee Boggs


By Curt Guyette

Published: July 9, 2013

Some seeds take longer than others to germinate.

The ones that grew into the Jimmy & Grace Lee Boggs School, a charter school that will open its doors on Detroit’s east side in September, were planted more than 20 years ago.

In 1992, at the age of 16, Julia Putnam became the first person to volunteer for what was then the newly formed Detroit Summer. A native of the city, she participated in the community group for the next five years, planting community gardens, painting murals and learning about the community activism that’s at the heart of this program, which attracted young people from around the country.

“One of the things about Detroit Summer,” she says, “is that it was the first time anyone asked me to exhibit the best part of myself, the part of me that wanted to make a difference. It’s where I learned how powerful it is to be of use to your community, and how important it is to young people to have adults honor and encourage that.”

After graduating from Michigan State University, she taught at Detroit middle schools, both public and charter, for five years. But she didn’t find the experience of teaching in traditional schools as fulfilling as she expected it to be.

“After teaching for about two or three years,” she says, “I was feeling dissatisfied with the profession. So I went to Grace [Boggs] and asked her advice.”

Boggs, a political philosopher and community activist, is one of Detroit Summer’s founders. What she helped Putnam realize was that it was the system of public education itself that left her wanting more.

So Putnam began meeting regularly with others at the nonprofit Boggs Center to discuss alternatives. Those conversations led to a decision by Putnam and others to open a school of their own.

“Five of us began planning a school that would be based on the values of Jimmy and Grace,” Putnam says. “We all agreed that the purpose of the school should be about building community.”

At its core, Putnam says, is a philosophical question: “What kind of people do we want our students to be on graduation day?”

In trying to answer that question, the organizers came up with a list of things all those involved agreed should be part of the school’s objectives.

“What we decided was that we didn’t want to teach just academic skills,” Putnam says. “We also wanted them to learn how to fix things, how to create things, how to love one another and how to be loved.”

And all would be done within the context of maintaining an intense focus on community.

Asked to provide an example of how that might work, Putnam responds by talking about the formula to determine volume.

In a traditional school, she says, students learn the formula — such as Length x Width x Height — do practice problems and then get tested.

In the kind of school Putnam envisions, the students would go to a garden bed, take measurements and then calculate how much soil will be required to fill it.

Lessons learned from just a book can easily be forgotten if the relevance isn’t readily apparent, Putnam says. But by taking that same formula and putting it to practical use, and accomplishing something immediately tangible, students are able to grasp why something is important, and will be more likely to retain the information.

The goal isn’t to produce kids who learn by rote what’s needed to succeed on standardized tests, but rather to nurture “creative, critical thinkers who will want to contribute to the well-being of their communities.”

By creating a school that’s fully integrated with the surrounding community, the hope is that the students attending it will see a future for themselves in Detroit.

Balance is Part of the Key.

“You don’t have to sacrifice academic rigor for community involvement,” Putnam says. “Our school is attempting to do both. If a student ends up going to Princeton or opening a plumbing business in their neighborhood, in our eyes both will be successful.

“The problem now is that so many young people think that success means being able to get out of Detroit. Part of what we want to do is redefine what it means to be successful.”

Also important is the idea of using the community’s “elders” to teach extracurricular courses, such as African drumming, to strengthen the bonds between students and the surrounding community.

Although unique to Detroit, the Boggs School won’t be treading on untested ground. The Mission Hill School in Boston is one example where a similar approach to teaching — known as “place-based education” — has proved successful, says Putnam.

Getting to this point hasn’t been easy. First was the decision of whether to work within the existing Detroit Public Schools system or go the charter route.

Initially, there was a fair amount of what Putnam describes as “pushback” from community members opposed to opening the school as a charter. From their perspective, charters are partly to blame for the crisis facing DPS by taking students — and the state money that accompanies them — out of the system.

But as they kept talking, and exploring the need to create a school completely different from any already existing in the city, the eventual conclusion was that it would have to be done as a charter.

In addition to public funding, the school has received a grant from the Kellogg Foundation and other private financiers.

When it opens in September, the school, which is located near Mack and McDougall, will offer classes from kindergarten through fourth grade. As students age, additional grade levels will be added. The goal is to eventually have the school teach kids K-12.

The vision is a big one. But learning to aim high is one of the things Putnam says she learned from Grace Boggs.

“What Grace told us,” Putnam says, “is that we must think beyond what we believe is even possible.”

To learn more about the Boggs School go to or phone Julia Putnam at 313-655-2665.

Curt Guyette is Metro Times news editor. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or

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Detroit’s Bankruptcy – and Resilience By Grace Lee Boggs Aug 3-10 2013

LFC Detroit’s Bankruptcy – and Resilience

By Grace Lee Boggs

Aug 3-10 2013

Gallagher rev Det covergallagher Reimaginingmarygrove_SC_0340Detroit’s financial bankruptcy didn’t happen overnight – or by accident. Racism played a huge role.

During World War Two , great numbers of blacks migrated to Detroit and other northern cities because the March on Washington Movement led by A.Philip Randolph had forced President Roosevelt to issue Executive Order 8802 banning discrimination in the defense industry.

After the war whites migrated to the suburbs to get away from blacks in the cities, taking taxes, schools and businesses with them,

As a result, political difference between cities and suburbs escalated.

City populations became increasingly needy.and their city councils became increasingly progressive.

At the same time, suburbs not only became increasingly prosperous. State legislatures became increasingly conservative , attacking unions, passing “Stand your ground” measures., stripmining cities, and, finally, appointing Emergency Financial Managers to administer the financially strapped predominantly black cities.

But while this is the end of one story, it is also the beginning of another.

Faced with devastatation by deindustrialization, Detroit’s predominantly African American Detroit population did not give up. Instead it began taking advantage of vacant lots to plant community gardens, developing an vibrant urban agricultural movement to feed itself and lay the foundation for a post-industrial city rooted in the neighborhoods.

That foundation has expanded and grown stronger with every year until today, assisted by the new mode of community production made possible by 3D printers, neighborhood organizations can replace city governments by providing the new model of service described by Detroit Free Press columnist John Gallagher in his important book ReInventing Detroit.

In her column this week on page 1, Shea Howell explains this phenomenon:

“ Detroiters have been in the forefront of developing new ways of living. Out of the abundance of land opened by the shrinking population, the world’s largest urban agricultural movement emerged, offering a new vision of local food production, self-sufficient, healthy communities and new opportunities to reconnect generations as they reclaim and care for land.

parks. Churches, synagogues and schools establish gardens to feed the neighborhood and provide recreation. In a city where buses rarely run, let alone on time, bikes are becoming a more reliable way for many of us to get around.

“Recognizing that police rarely come, and often when they do, make matters worse, neighbors and community organizations are working to create peaceful solutions to disputes. Peace Zones, marches against violence, and efforts to put the neighbor back in the hood, are emerging as people create new ways to solve problems together…..

“Ask any Detroiter about the future and you are likely to hear two things. First, it’s clear to us that no one can save us, but us. If we are going to have a city that is productive, safe, and joyful, it will emerge from the neighborhood level, as people struggle together to find new ways of living. We are learning to make a better way out of no way.

“Second, most people agree, mass employment is not coming back. We are at the end of the industrial job system and at the beginning of developing new kinds of work that enable us to produce goods and services for local needs. Ideas of new work and a new culture, rooted in local production and consumption, are emerging throughout the city….

“For many of us, this is a future.”