Seize The Time
By Grace Lee Boggs
Michigan Citizen, May 19, 2009

Last week, at the “Economic Meltdown” Town Hall meeting in Cobo Hall sponsored by The Nation magazine, I said I was concerned that speakers were trying to restore the dehumanizing, deskilling Jobs of industrial society, instead of seizing this time of capitalist and planetary meltdown to imagine and begin creating new more human ways of working and living with one another.

That’s what we are doing at the Boggs Center.

Wednesday evening, May 13, for example, my old friend, octogenarian Vincent Harding, conducted a “fishbowl” conversation with seven youngsters, while we oldsters marveled at his gift for encouraging young people to voice their hopes and aspirations, and then giving them a sense of the commitment and “tenacity” needed by movement builders by telling them stories of SNCC volunteers in the 1960s.

In 1967 Vincent wrote the first draft of King’s historic anti-Vietnam war speech calling for a radical revolution of values. Ten years ago he and his wife, the late Rosemarie Freeney-Harding, founded the Veterans of Hope project to preserve the stories of Freedom Fighters from the 1960s. Since 911 he wears a ‘WAR IS TERORISM” button. His MLK: the Inconvenient Hero is an eye-opener. (Richard Levey brought copies for “fishbowl” participants).

Another movement-building discussion took place at the May 19 DCOH (Detroit-City of Hope) meeting on urban agriculture and community-building, ably and cheerfully chaired by Mike Wimberly, director of the Hope District, a few blocks from the Boggs Center, where 170 fruit trees were planted last year.

As I listened to Ashley Atkinson (Greening of Detroit), Patrick Crouch (Earthworks), black liberation activist Malik Yakini, teacher Greg Willerer, and beekeeper Rick Wieske, I thought of how delighted the late Gerald Hairston would be with the growth of the urban ag movement since the early 90s–when he connected the “Gardening Angels, a loose network of African American elders, with Detroit Summer urban youth to “rebuild, redefine and respirit Detroit from the ground up.”

Ashley reported that there are now more than 700 community gardens in Detroit. Gardeners hold quarterly potlucks to build the network. All over the city there are cluster centers where they share information on resources and how to preserve/market their produce. These clusters provide a space for new grassroots leaders to emerge.

Greg described how he is supplementing his income by marketing the produce from his garden and greenhouse to local businesses.

Patrick explained that Earthworks was originally created to supply produce for the Capuchin Soup Kitchen where the poor, homeless, ex-prisoners and addicted come every day for a hot meal. Now it is becoming a community-building program that strives not only to meet the material needs of the marginalized but develops their self-reliance, trust and concern for social justice. It does this by engaging them in activities to improve the food security or ability of all community residents to obtain safe, culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate diet,

After Patrick appeared on the May 14 aljazeera English edition “Fault Lines.”a viewer in Kenya contacted him to say that he wants to start a similar program in East Africa!

Malik Yakini chairs the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (DBFSN) which operates a two acre farm in the city. He also owns the Black Star Community Bookstore and is Executive Director of Nsoroma Institute. Reminding us that May 19 would be Malcolm’s 84th birthday, Malik said that his interest in food security was only one aspect of his overall goal of empowering blacks, who are the majority in Detroit but are mainly food consumers rather than producers and distributors. Malik is trying to persuade the Detroit City Council to sponsor an urban ag program that would engage Detroiters in cultivating the 70,000+ vacant lots in our city.

“We can’t free ourselves until we feed ourselves.” That is the message the National Black Farmers Association brought when they held their 1998 convention in Detroit. Slowly but surely, this is taking place.

Moreover, just as young people went South in the 60s to join the civil rights movement, a new generation is coming to Detroit in the “aughts” to pioneer in building a 21st century sustainable city.

We/they are “seizing the time.”



  1. Grace, I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to see what you good people are doing for one of the places where I spent a full fifteen years (1960-1976) and where I still have so many dear friends and family. Also very happy to see how we have both moved on in a clearly defined direction, changing radically our perspectives, as needed. You clarify and stress every point that requires to be made. And yes, freedom begins and ends with good nutrition and community bonding and undertaking. I hope to be able to find out everything there is to know about the city-farming experience in Detroit with a view to the work we have undertaken here South of the Border, and of establishing networks to preserve and exchange our healthy stock of seeds, to see them proliferate… We live in a beautiful community here that is ripe and ready for truly transforming undertakings… for real change that will address “the earthly needs of the body and the soul” (Simone Weil, 1909-1943). HAVE A WONDERFUL BIRTHDAY… and do expect to hear from me once I am back in Detroit (hopefully no later than the the July 26th week-end).
    Sylvia Maria Valls (formerly Maria Goodman)

    Stop HR 2749 Action Page:

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