The How and Why of Bunyan Bryant By Grace Lee Boggs


The How and Why of Bunyan Bryant


By Grace Lee Boggs


Oct. 6-13, 2012

As I write this it is Tuesday Oct 2 and I am looking forward to next weekend’s Retirement/Celebration party for UMich Professor Bunyan Bryant at the Ann Arbor Sheraton and thinking about the how and why of this gifted visionary organizer.


There are clues to in a letter I received from him recently.


Like Einstein, Bunyan recognizes the importance of the Imagination. He wrote:


”We have lost much of our ability to envision the future in imaginary ways. I remember as a kid lying on my back on the grass in my yard and peering up at the clouds. I would do this with other kids in the neighborhood. We would compete with one another and help one another see what we saw. Somewhere along the way with the increased responsibility of adulthood, people lost much of their ability to be imaginative. Perhaps we should solicit our children to teach us how to regain our imagination.”


Born and raised in the segregated South, Bunyan realizes (as Jimmy did) that people of color not only have special needs but a special role to play in transforming this country. He wrote:


“Twenty years ago I was influenced by futurist Alvin Toffler’s The Third Wave.


Although I liked his book, I felt it failed to speak to the needs of people of color. Therefore, I decided to organize a conference of futurists who were primarily people of color in order to solicit their ideas and to compare their ideas with those of Toffler.


For more on the special role of people of color, I recommend contrasting the Preamble to the 17 Principles of Environmental JusticeJ adopted by the First People of Color Environmental Summit (which Bunyan helped write) with the Preamble to the 1787 US Constitution written by merchants, lawyers and slaveholders,


WE, THE PEOPLE OF COLOR, gathered together at this multinational People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, to begin to build a national and international movement of all peoples of color to fight the destruction and taking of our lands and communities, do hereby re-establish our spiritual interdependence to the sacredness of our Mother Earth; to respect and celebrate each of our cultures, languages and beliefs about the natural world and our roles in healing ourselves; to ensure environmental justice; to promote economic alternatives which would contribute to the development of environmentally safe livelihoods; and, to secure our political, economic and cultural liberation that has been denied for over 500 years of colonization and oppression, resulting in the poisoning of our communities and land and the genocide of our peoples, do affirm and adopt these Principles of Environmental Justice:


Bunyan also recognizes (as Jimmy did) that at this time on the clock of the world both the Soviet Dream (of Planned Economy) and the American Dream (of Jobs) are dead. Hence his challenge to us in the 1992 SNRE workshop during MLK week in to create a new dream (See. Rehearsing The Future


A civil rights activist in the 60s, Bunyan (Like MLK (and Jimmy_) views building community as our generation’s challenge .:


“We must develop an environmental justice attitude—an attitude that is nurtured by our consciousness and one that determines our behavior. It should be an attitude that calls us to action to build communities that are in environmentally just and sustainable. Ray Anderson states we must build communities and systems that mimic nature because in nature the waste from one life-form becomes food for another life-form. So too we must build communities and production systems where the waste from one system could become the raw materials for another. We have the technical know how to build such systems. What is lacking is the attitude and political will. The ideas of Karl Henry Robert will also be helpful here in building healthy communities and healthy people. He offers us a partial solution to this dilemma by posing four questions to guide our production practices. They are as follows: 1) Is the material or chemical naturally found in nature, 2) How persistent is the chemical, 3) Does the chemical bio-accumulate, and 4) Is it possible to predict the tolerance limits of such an unnatural substance.


Bunyan’s letter concludes with a call to Re-imagine Education:


“The school no longer has a monopoly on knowledge and its dissemination. People do not have to congregate in the classroom to access knowledge because now they can get instant answers to questions by googling. Through new social networks students will learn from people who are both near and distant. But I hasten to add that students will need considerable help to evaluate such information and to develop skills of critical thinking. I feel that schools as we know them today will become monuments to failure and will fall under their own weight. It’s a matter of time. I envision a society where we can do much better than that.


“ I feel that everything cannot be left to building social networks or learning through the use of computers. I feel that on our way to the future we should revisit the educational philosophy of John Dewey, Kurt Lewin, Miles Horton, and Paulo Freire that you so elegantly talked about in your book. I would add a couple of other educators, namel: Leland Bradford and Ron Lippitt. What these educators have in common is that people have the resources to solve their own problems or they believe in education for liberation from the oppression of an educational system that reduces students to passivity. They all believe in democratic principles as a part of the educational process and in some form of action or participatory research.”



  1. Dear Grace, it is always a pleasure to read your appreciation of others while showing the intellectual path you and Jimmy took. Ever since we met in 1987 thanks to Rich, you have been most consistent in your thoughts, and this always in reference to the essence of Jimmy’s own philosophy as outlined in ‘The American Revolution’.
    My daughter Maya wishes very much to come to Detroit and share experiences with your community building process as she is engaged in something similar here in Athens. From offering free food to all on a Sunday they have gone to a daily kitchen offering food to about 40, and this on the principle of self-sustaining. At the same time, they are developing ideas on how community living can be extended free from hierarchy. The latter has been identified in philosophy as one of the greatest, still unresolved problems. Hence their answer is in the anarchist spirit a wish to resolve things without such a hierarchical structure.
    As for your recognition of Bunyanan, yes the imagination is crucial. This is why we have fostered the imagination in Kids’ Guernica. At the same time, I recall that Jean Paul Sartre was one of the rare philosophers who took on this topic, while Cornelius Castoriadis referred to the ‘radical imagination’ to depict and to alter people’s relationships to institutions and to party programs. If they do not recognize themselves in what is being discussed inside these institutions, the inner-outer dialectic of social discourse will fail.
    And Bunyayan does touch upon schools and the changed conditions of learning due to the Internet. Indeed, how to validate incoming information so readily available via Google and other sources, that is one of the biggest educational challenges.
    In loving to read your articles, my thoughts were as well with you and Rich in Detroit just recently when they showed a very comprehensive documentation about Malcolm X.
    With warmest regards from Athens
    hatto fischer

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