Nomination For Nobel Peace Prize Grace Lee Boggs
January 10, 2015
Nobel Peace Prize Committee
Dear Colleagues: I am writing to nominate an iconic community activist and educator in the Detroit, national, and international community, for the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize. Grace Lee Boggs, and her James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership have inspired new generations of citizens to work through grass-roots organizing and neighborhood development for the common welfare, for economic advancement for the disadvantaged, and for racial and ethnic justice and equality.
It is entirely fitting that in this first year of recovery for the largest American city ever to endure bankruptcy, a city that epitomizes the industrial and “post-industrial” era for the world, its foremost and most inspirational community activist be recognized for her lifetime of achievement in peace-building.
Dr. Grace Lee Boggs gained fame in educating and training young people and leadership groups to revolutionize their neighborhoods and their community through positive and self-reliant development strategies and political organizing. She has encapsulated this approach in several books, including The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century. These readings on the nuances of social revolution and practical change strategies have been read in many college classrooms, in citizen study groups, and put into practice in urban and inner-city streets.
She engaged racial minorities and women in the political process even among revolutionaries who would have excluded or neglected such groups. In touch with global figures in freedom campaigns, ranging from Malcolm X to Martin Luther King, she brought key progressive thinkers on behalf of “black empowerment” to her Detroit home and subsequently the Boggs Center. This meant going beyond merely “black power” to occupy traditional offices and leadership posts, but thorough “two-way” change and organizational strategies to sustain and further the civil rights movement, eliminate scourges of family breakdown, crime and addiction, educational inequality and underachievement, as well as campaigns to establish effective community councils, labor and worker rights, and political parties to represent minority interests.
Early on Grace Lee Boggs understood the social inequalities that have recently come to light in such movements such as “Occupy,” as she pioneered, through the Inner City Organizing Committee (1966) in devising “engaged” schooling to involve teachers, students, and parents in the betterment of their neighborhoods and city. She campaigned for community control of police and in going beyond the “factory model” of education (transmission of knowledge) to involve schools and young people as responsible for their community, responsible to “be the change” they envisioned and to responsibly campaign for change, a concept encapsulated as “Place Based Education.”
Grace Lee was born in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1915, the daughter of Chinese immigrant parents and raised in a predominantly “white upper-middle class” community. Yet her mother’s origins in a poor rural Chinese village inspired Grace’s later work for the rights of the underserved which she would attribute to being born female and Chinese. She received her PhD in philosophy from Bryn Mawr College in Philadelphia, but soon found racial and gender based obstacles to her career. Becoming a political activist she began working with revolutionaries such as the West Indian C.L.R. James and African American labor leader A. Philip Randolph, and she decided to devote her life to movement activism and philosophical development (writings, media broadcasts, campaigning and political organizing) within the African American community but involving women, workers, and youth of all backgrounds.
She met her husband, James Boggs, an African American activist in the labor movement and in the “Third Layer School” their group had established in New York, as they developed the notion of “revolutionary humanism,” a concept that identified the hazards of consumerism and materialism, products of the industrial age, in distinction from human, and by implication, environmental development. She resisted the tendencies of traditional revolutionaries to overlook or manipulate awkward questions such as race relations, and adapted revolutionary thought to these needs. As they moved their activities to Detroit in 1953, she was a full partner in their efforts and went on after his death in 1993 to enlarge their philosophy and sustain the Boggs Center as a focus of discussion, learning, protest and action.
She linked this movement to other grass roots efforts to oppose the scourge of urban violence (partnering with organizations such as Save Our Sons and Daughters), to organize Detroiters for Dignity, engaging elders, Native American groups and others and closing “crack houses,” and to establish the notable Detroit Summer program to engage public school students (urban and suburban) in summer reconstruction and reorganization projects in the city. These have translated to later movements such as Detroit’s now famed “urban farming” network to promote social awareness, contact with the Earth (Dr. Lee Boggs pioneered in Detroit’s Environmental Justice campaigns for workable remedies) and self-sufficiency in the community (“growing people as well as food”).
The Boggs Center has evolved into a “think tank for community people.” It carries on the legacies of Jimmy Boggs, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X, all contributing their perspectives on personal and social transformation in community building. In addition to Detroit Summer, the Center board has founded and directed several programs, including Artists and Children Creating Community Together (C3T) and the Power of Ideas initiative, a monthly reading and literacy program for participants of all ages.
Grace Lee Boggs, a transcendent figure in Detroit’s rebirth, has created an enduring inner-city engine for street and community level reconstruction and change, going well beyond mere protest to engaged education, activism and humanism. Dr. Boggs strives to activate Dr. King’s notions of a “beloved community,” where people are not disengaged and atomized entities, but rather inter-connected and united in bettering their social, political and physical environments.