Writings

Boggs Center – Living For Change News – July 22nd, 2019

July 22nd, 2019

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siwatu

Dear Freedom Family,

 

Thank you for all your endless love and support! You embody what community power is and what is possible when we join forces toward true liberation.

Come on out to Grace in Action (1725 Lawndale) for I Believe in Our Power (Part 2)

Friday, July 26 from 5-8pm.

At this event we’ll be sharing legal updates on my appeal along with calls to action on how to support our community members coming home, building power around policy/legislation, and other efforts toward visioning and building a world without prisons. We will be welcoming some of the amazing women who I met at Huron Valley who are now home! We must show them our love and solidarity.

For those of you who are not in Detroit- or unable to attend- you can continue to support (as many of you have generously done already) by donating at this link. Donations continue to support legal fees, media documentation, other women who have been released and need support, abolition organizing and much more. Legal fees are also paid by speaking engagements and workshops. If you are interested in either of these options please email us at freesiwatu@gmail.com.

We will keep all of you in the loop as we get more legal and policy related updates, and to keep you informed of other ways to get involved.

Let us continue to hold onto one another and imagine a world without prisons.

Gratitude,

Siwatu
FreeSiwatu.org
#KeepSiwatuFree

 

Thinking for Ourselves

Emotional Weapons
Shea Howell

This week Mayor Duggan issued a letter that increased the confusion around police use of facial recognition technology.  His carefully worded statement, designed to give the appearance of protecting privacy while expanding police powers, underscores why we cannot trust this mayor, or any police department, with such powerful tools of surveillance and control.

As the controversy is accelerating in Detroit, the New York Times published an article on the private use of digital surveillance as a new profit-based industry. The article by Sharon Weinberger explains how high-tech surveillance is now “a highly secretive multibillion-dollar industry.” Thanks to the Patriot Act, “lawmakers inadvertently created a market for companies interested in providing services and technologies to collect and analyze the new trove of data.”

Later Weinberger explained we need a moratorium on the use of these technologies, precisely because there is both so much misunderstanding and so much misuse. She says clearly, “Intelligence-gathering systems should be treated by the American government like what they are: weapons.”

None of us should welcome the use of these new technological weapons in Detroit, especially not in the hands of public officials who cannot tolerate honest debate. Over the last week we have seen the violent arrest of a police commissioner who opposed this technology, we have been told that this technology is not related to Project Green Light, and we have been told that opposition is “emotional” and “misinformed.” We have been assured by a Mayor who is known for his inability to tolerate criticism that these capabilities will never be used against political opponents or activist organizers. In a recent letter to the public Duggan said bluntly, “I strongly oppose the use of facial recognition technology for surveillance.”

However, the history of police power in the US and everywhere else contradicts this statement. The police have never met a weapon they didn’t use. Nor have citizen rights stood in their way. Whether to protect state power or resolve personal grievances, the desire to identify, surveil, and ultimately control others propels police to use every weapon they have. Usually these weapons cannot be stopped, even when they clearly create great harm.

The lie behind these statements by the Mayor is made clear in the next section of his letter where he accuses the opposition of providing “misleading reports that have confused Green light or Traffic cameras with facial recognition technology. They are not correct.”

The Mayor rests this claim on the carefully crafted sentence, these “cameras do not have any facial recognition technology.” But that is beside the point. These cameras feed into the Control Center that does have this technology.

Moreover, his own contract for facial recognition technology explicitly links facial recognition to Project Green Light.

It is not the opposition that is misinformed or confused. It is the Mayor.

As Eric Williams of the American Civil Liberties Union explained, “Language games and a capitalization on general confusion around the technology have been a core feature of the city’s surveillance initiatives. He indicated that, “Because they keep breaking it up — just traffic cameras, just Green Light participating businesses, just Green Light corridors — you can’t comprehend,” the overall impact.

The Mayor attacks “emotional responses” to placing powerful surveillance weapons in the hands of police. Yet, he plays on the emotion of fear, pointing to car jackings, kidnappings, and murders, claiming, without a single piece of research, that this technology will make us safer.

Many of us who oppose facial recognition technology are emotional about it. We care deeply about the direction of city, the safety of our lives, and the quality of our relationships. We know that history and evidence do not warrant putting facial recognition in the hands of  the police or the mayor.

 

 

Boggs Center – Living for Change News – July 16th, 2019

July 16th, 2019

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Thank you to everyone who participated in the JB100 events to celebrate what would have been James ‘Jimmy’ Boggs’ 100th year of birth! We are grateful for the connections, lessons, and leadership that made it possible, and for each person who engaged with ideas and with each other. As we rest and reflect from the celebration, we want to hear from you about what you learned and experienced for the event(s) you attended. Please share them with us on this form: 

 

To continue the work of the James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership, we welcome monetary support through tax-deductible donations. Become a sustainer, today! 

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Thinking for Ourselves

Commission Lesson
Shea Howell

This week  the Detroit Police Department and the Mayor gave us the strongest reason yet to call a halt to the use of facial recognition technologies and Project Green Light.  Mayor Duggan and Chief Craig have asked us to have faith in their judgment, but they cannot even tolerate criticism from an elected Police Commissioner. They condone pushing him to the floor, handcuffing him, and hauling him off to jail because he made forceful comments during a routine Commission meeting.  They cannot handle public criticism without resorting to force and violence. Yet they are asking us to “trust them” with some of the most intrusive and dangerous technology now available.

On Thursday, Commissioner Willie Burton was forcefully removed for the Police Commission meeting as he tried to question the steamrolling of the Commission to endorse facial recognition technology. Earlier in the week, Commissioner Barton had published an editorial in the Metro Times. He wrote:
We, the people of Detroit, do not want pervasive real-time facial recognition surveillance in our city. However, despite the public outcry, the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners has forced this invasive and unconstitutional overreach of their authority upon us through an expansion of Project Green Light. Their tactics were reprehensible, and I stand with the community in calling for a public referendum.

 

He explained that the proposed programs “would create a massive net of real-time surveillance that could monitor people in their cars, on the street, or even on their own properties.”

Researchers have consistently warned that facial recognition “is known to have a bias against people of color: the system is much less accurate at identifying African Americans.” Commissioner Barton concluded, “The system also has massive potential to be abused by targeting vulnerable populations like our undocumented neighbors, or by users who can virtually stalk a jaded lover, for example.”

He went on to explain that in spite of growing public outcry “the Board used non-transparent, draconian tactics to jam through approval of this system. They circulated a policy document among board members with no explanation of where it came from, no opportunity to debate, and no public comment. In the June 27 meeting, the Board approved this document and the program. When I tried to question the process and call for delay, I was undemocratically shut down by the Chair, who has no regard for the voices of the 100,000 Detroiters I was elected to represent.”

During this same week that Commissioner Barton was arrested, the widespread concern that facial recognition would be abused was affirmed. We learned that ICE has been scanning driver’s license images to find people who are in the country without documentation. We learned that the FBI routinely uses this technology. And we learned that across the globe, from Ferguson to China, these technologies are being used to target activists.

Mayor Duggan and Chief Craig have shown little regard for inhuman treatment of people. They have supported the expansion of surveillance without any evidence that it enhances the safety of people. They have refused to condemn the round up of our neighbors who want nothing more than to live in peace and raise their families. They have not condemned the cramming of people into concentration camps, nor the separation of children from their families. Their voices have been silent in the face of escalating state violence. Unlike leaders in other cities, they have made no public protections for people who face prison and deportation.

Neither public safety nor democracy are well served by the use of brute force. We cannot trust these men to run a routine public meeting. We should not trust them with technologies that will increase their powers of control.

Gentrification
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On Press: Making Visible an Unseen Detroit
Printing Demo: Saturday, July 13th, 3-5 pm | Free!
Reception: Friday, July 19, 5-8 pm

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On Press: Making Visible an Unseen Detroit
Printing Demo: Saturday, July 13th, 3-5 pm | Free!
Reception: Friday, July 19, 5-8 pm

People are watching, visiting and writing about Detroit, too often putting a superficial spin on a complex city. A more textured story exists and it is critical that Detroiters do the telling.  Not all artists are activists and not all nonprofit organizations are connected to the world of art. Signal-Return, a traditional letterpress print shop and community arts center, paired twelve Detroit artists with twelve Detroit nonprofit organizations, which resulted in powerful creative collaborations. As part this On Press project, artists received honoraria for their time and talent, and proceeds from poster sales benefit partner organizations. This collaboration created a creatively rich opportunity for engagement for both groups, for Detroit and for those looking at us from the outside.  The project was directed by Lynne Avadenka and the artists were guided by Lee Marchalonis.

This exhibition includes the twelve relief printed editions created by the artists to celebrate the nonprofits, along with original works by each artist, and information about the selected nonprofits.

The artists and nonprofits are:
Mark Arminski/Georgia St. Community Collective
WC Bevan/WNUC
Olayami Dabls/Mariners Inn
Louise Jones/Detroit Hives
Andy Krieger/The Children’s Center
Nicole Macdonald/Wild Indigo Detroit Nature Explorations
Sabrina Nelson/Black Family Development
Renata Palubinskas/Keep Growing Detroit
Pat Perry/Freedom House
Renee Rials/Cots
Azucena Nava-Moreno/Detroit Horse Power
Vito Valdez/Last Day Dog Rescue

On Press was made possible with the support of The Windgate Foundation and The John S. and James. L. Knight Foundation.

Boggs Center – Living for Change Newsletter – July 8th, 2019

July 8th, 2019

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Thinking for Ourselves

Independence Day
Shea Howell

This Fourth of July Donald Trump staged a militaristic, made for media moment to celebrate Independence Day in the USA. As planes flew over his head, often drowning out the sound system designed to reach his select crowd, about 150 Detroiters gathered on the East side to talk about freedom, peace, art and liberation. The gathering at Feedem Freedom Growers offered a workshop on creating peace zones for life, celebrated the new Fox Creek Artist collective, and provided food from local vendors. Children made art projects and played on tire swings fashioned on the low branches of ancient maple trees.

Detroit Police came by three times. At one point, an officer got on a loudspeaker to yell at people crossing the street. Of course, people were moving freely back and forth between gardens, water stations, art exhibits, and play areas. The street was closed to all but local traffic.

This police intrusion, unasked for and unwanted, reflected the prison mentality taking over our country. It was in line with the words and actions of Trump. Its most brutal expressions are encouraged by him daily.

This police presence is a reminder to all of us that we are at a critical moment in the evolution of capitalist economies. In 1980, with the ascent of Ronald Reagan to power, capital began to shift as primary sources of profit. Prior to Reagan, as industrial capital replaced people with robots and technologies of production, human beings became more important as consumers than as producers. But with Reagan, the use of tax dollars to support consumption by those thrown out of work eroded. Hard won victories by welfare rights organizations and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Poor People’s Campaign, which had protected many of our most vulnerable people from the reality of no longer being needed to produce goods or provide services, were overturned.

Reagan attacked “welfare” as supporting laziness and corruption. He introduced a racialized pretext for ending the public consensus that we had a responsibility to one another to ensure that all people had some level of dignity and the ability to secure food, clothing, education, and shelter. Until Reagan, capital supported public assistance to those made obsolete to production. Capital endorsed using taxpayer dollars to stimulate consumption. Consumption was seen as necessary to keep profits going.

But with Reagan and the development of what has come to be called “neoliberalism,” capital found new sources of profit. It is making money from controlling our bodies. In much the same way as early capital in the US sold human beings into slavery for profit, capital is again turning our bodies into money. Putting elders into hospitals and nursing homes, cramming children into for profit charter schools, stealing dreams of education from people seeking advanced education through for-profit colleges, and forcing people into prison cells and detention centers are now all big business.

In this new evolution of capital, controlling people becomes essential. For capital not only makes money off warehousing us in hospitals, nursing homes, schools and prisons, it makes money off of publicly financing and building these institutions. Municipal debt impoverishes cities while advancing the wealth of a few individuals.

This dynamic is most insidious in the evolution of technologies of control. This week the New York Times published an important article on ankle bracelet monitoring, emphasizing that people who have not been convicted of crimes are often placed by courts into “home monitoring” systems that end up costing them hundreds of dollars. Snared in an ever-expanding criminal net, people are forced to pay daily fees for monitoring, for installation costs, late fees, and outrageous interest rates.

These mechanisms are supported by the Trump policies encouraging the arrest of more people. The “fear of crime” whether by people living in urban areas or immigrants coming across borders is being twisted into a vast financial network.

Since the days of the first poor people’s campaign, the number of people in prison has jumped more than 500%. Increasingly those people in this system are being steered into technological monitoring programs.

This Fourth of July, we gathered to talk of a different kind of future, one without prisons or borders. Gathering to dream together of peace, of a future that embraces children, values art, and encourages joy threatens the foundation of those whose attempt to profit from controlling us.
On the Betsy DeVos Agenda and Raising Our Collective Critical Consciousness for Social Change

Summer Reading Recommendations

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Summer Reading Recommendations

 

 

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

 

July 1st, 2019

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JB @ 100
7-1
 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.

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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.

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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
https://www.scmp.com/news/china/politics/article/3002732/chinese-labour-rights-activists-detained-authorities-try-shut

Buzz Feed News
https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/nishitajha/zheng-churan-feminist-five-china-running

Le Monde
https://www.lemonde.fr/international/article/2019/04/10/zheng-churan-militante-des-droits-humains-en-chine-n-importe-qui-peut-se-faire-arreter_5448457_3210.html
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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.
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(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.)

ENROLL IN THE ENSEMBLE TODAY!

 

 

Boggs Center – Living For Change News – June 25th, 2019

June 25th, 2019

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Thinking for Ourselves

Asking Questions
Shea Howell

The future of our city is driven by countless small decisions. Of course, political choices, like giving 200 acres of land to Fiat-Chrysler, or flattening a community for a Cadillac plant, have enormous consequences. But often, the things that touch our daily lives are far less dramatic.

Most of these small decisions happen without much public attention. Small conversations, routine committee meetings, and group planning sessions can be the spark for big changes. Such a moment occurred last week in the Public Health and Safety committee discussion convened to explore the transfer of responsibilities from the Land Bank back to the city of Detroit. This transfer is critical in the upcoming effort by the Duggan administration to pass $200 million bond to accelerate “blight” removal and the tearing down of vacant homes.

What started out as a routine administrative effort to show a power point and move on was quickly turned into a thoughtful discussion by the only two council members present, Janee Ayers, who chairs the committee, and Roy McCalister, who happens to be my representative.

The head of the Detroit Building Authority laid out his case for helping the committee understand the need to shift housing demolition away from the Detroit Land Bank and into the Housing and Revitalization Department (HRD). This shift was motivated by the running out of federal dollars to underwrite demolitions and to lay the ground work for greater “flexibility” in acquiring “targets” to knock down.

It is no secret that housing demolition is a contentious issue.  Since Duggan took office, 18,000 homes have been destroyed. Duggan frequently brags about this. In his speech to the elite of Mackinac Conference he said “We’re going to take down 4,000 houses a year, and in five years by the end of 2024, we will not have a single abandoned house in any neighborhood in the city of Detroit.”

However, many of the homes, now abandoned and suffering from want of care, were created by illegal taxing and foreclosure policies. The persistent over evaluation of poorer neighborhoods and under evaluation of wealthy neighborhoods has been a powerful tool in clearing people out of their homes. The use of foreclosure to drive people out has been especially contentious because Duggan decided to use federal money intended to be used to keep people in their homes to demolish them instead. Since 2008 one in four Detroit homes have been foreclosed. We have shifted from being a majority African American home owning city, to a majority of renters. Often these rents go to faceless companies in distant lands.

In the small committee meeting, Ayers and McCalister asked critical questions based on fundamental ideas about developing people and place. They probed: Who decides what gets demolished? Who decides how and when neighbors are engaged in decision making about what happens in their neighborhoods? Who is responsible for land that is opened up? What is the thinking about using demolition as a way to increase the skills of Detroiters? What is the thinking about how to encourage community driven planning? What about ensuring that we keep people in homes, rather than encouraging abandonment or take overs?

It is clear in the conversation that HRD looks at land as a commodaty to be bundled, “packaged,” and sold. It does not think about it as the place of neighborhood life, where people care for one another and what is around them. It is asking only transactional questions.

Ayers and McCalister introduced transformational questions that open the way for a new dialogue about the kind of city we want, who is responsible for it, and how we enact policies that encourage collaboration and protection for those who are vulnerable.

As the Mayor touts knocking down houses to fight crime, we should all remember that our safety rests in the hands of neighbors who look out for one another, not in” knocking down” “targets” to “package.”

 

The Story of Water
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The People vs Us Ecology

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Join us Saturday June 29th 10:00 am at Eastern Market to demonstrate and educate! The Coalition to Oppose the Expansion of US Ecology will be joined by Detroit and Hamtramck neighbors to advocate for the protection of our water supply and for a healthy environment. Our goal is to keep our neighborhoods safe from the massive increase of poisonous chemical waste being brought into our cities. We think it’s wrong for companies to wreak environmental havoc on POC and low income communities. We’re here to demand that US Ecology + the MDEQ (EGLE) take our concerns seriously and to share information on how you can join in the fight. Bring your signs, noise makers, friends and neighbors!! DETAILS.
LOVE

At the intersection of Grand River Ave. and 15th Street in Detroit’s Core City neighborhood, there is a four-story brick building covered in murals. The most prominent one, spanning the top half of the front facade, is of four hands shaping the letters L-O-V-E. For nearly 20 years, this building was a home for artists and small businesses. Through low-cost studio space, gallery space, and community, it nurtured a kind of creative love, the impact of which is visible along Grand River, and will be felt for many more decades. KEEP READING

 

SILENCE