Archive for the ‘Organizing for Change’ Category
Evolving Community Commitments
By Kim Sherobbi
December 12, 2015
For years, I’ve been attending community gatherings on the northwest side of Detroit near the Jefferies Freeway and Wyoming. In the past, I would see the same faces at neighborhood events. Recently new faces have emerged. These newcomers appear eager to learn more about our community and have their voices heard.
On Friday, December 4, 2015 people from the area attended a Race & Power in Detroit discussion about blight sponsored by the Michigan Round Table (MRT). The event was held at the Northwestern Christian Church. It was the first time that several people had attended a MRT conversation. That evening, I was the moderator for the panel discussion, table dialogues and report-outs. Although the definition and framing of blight needed more grounding, many first timers experienced the satisfaction or frustration of hearing differing opinions about blight. Continue Reading »
100 Years a Freedom School
for Grace Lee Boggs
by William Copeland aka Will See
these kids are colored indigo
they don’t need all the limits, yo
you don’t have to tell a flower
when to grow
Freedom Schooling is community identity beauty
Where the workers, artists, makers, students
Do things in unity/ we’re not enemies
We can be interdependently
And put the children’s needs at the center
Where our attention be.
Coz no one’s living perfectly. Continue Reading »
“I don’t know what the next American Revolution is going to be like, but you might be able to imagine it, if your imagination were rich enough.”
Higher Ground: Full of Grace
October 14, 2015
“I don’t have that much longer to live so I have to think about what it is I have to do before I go gently into that dark night. And what I’d like to do, I think, is help people understand that ideas and thinking historically and philosophically is as important to rebuilding a country and a community and making a revolution as activism. Most people think of revolution as taking power from somebody else. And I think of revolution as transformation of ourselves.”
—Grace Lee Boggs 1915-2015
Grace Lee Boggs said this during an interview when she was 96 years old. Anyone who knew Grace or was in any of the activist circles orbiting around the Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership knew that Grace would die soon. She was in hospice the past year and did not make it to her 100th birthday celebration in June.
To converse with Grace Lee Boggs was to tap into the pulse of the world and the perspective of a century lived to make sense of it. Grace embodied great humanism, great intellect, and great compassion.
Activist-philosopher Grace Lee Boggs went into that long night last week at the age of 100. It is sad that she is no longer among us; it’s a personal loss for friends and a symbolic loss for activists locally and around the world, but there is no loss to the ideas and causes that wove into her life.
That’s because a consequence of Boggs’ living as long as she did and still having all her “marbles,” as she would say, was that she had time to firmly establish her method for examining problems and coming up with solutions with numerous activists who are addressing their own issues and creating projects to build a more humane and sustainable world.
Grace was a revolutionary in nearly every sense of the word. Born in Rhode Island in 1915 to Chinese immigrant parents, Grace Lee earned a doctorate in philosophy from Bryn Mawr College. Racial issues in the 1940s academic world led to a low-wage job at the University of Chicago Philosophy Library. Her experience there as a tenants’ rights activist led to her engagement with leftist philosophies and the African-American community. She became friends with the communist CLR James and others. In 1953 she moved to Detroit and married African-American autoworker James Boggs.
James and Grace were at the forefront of numerous progressive activities over the years. They were friends with Malcolm X and published a number of pamphlets, newspapers, articles, and books in support of labor and civil rights. In the early 1960s they broke with the conventional left and began to focus more on community-based issues and organizing in Detroit.
Grace became immersed in the African-American community. She continued and intensified that immersion after James’ death in 1993. With the Boggs Center established (in their home) about the time James passed, Grace used it as a hub for meetings, discussions, and to support efforts at fixing a seriously broken Detroit. At its core, Grace’s approach was to do what you can with what you have. More than espousing any particular political philosophy, Grace evolved from revolutionary to solutionary in seeking solutions to problems in neighborhoods. Solutions based on a deep humanitarianism and well-thought-out and heavily discussed strategies.
Detroit Summer, a project to engage youth of all stripes in gardening and media projects, was an early Boggs Center activity. Grace gave support to an embryonic urban agriculture movement. Many of the city’s urban farms are worked by people who were influenced directly or indirectly by Grace. The Allied Media Project and the Boggs Educational Center were founded by people who came through Detroit Summer.
The Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, the Hope District, and Feedom Freedom Growers are part of Grace’s orbit. Yusef Shakur and the Putting the Neighbor Back in the Hood project have a Boggs connection, as well as the East Michigan Environmental Action Council. Progressive activists across the board seem to have at least touched base with the Boggs Center.
Nationally, Grace helped create the Beloved Communities Initiative. Until recent years, when she slowed down physically, Grace was a featured speaker at national and international progressive conferences. Still she managed to write an autobiography, Living for Change (1988), and coauthored The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the 21st Century (2012), with Scott Kurashige.
In recent years she pushed people to really think about what they’re doing and was involved in conferences to reimagine work and reimagine Detroit. “We have to change ourselves in order to change the world,” she would say.
In the 2013 documentary film American Revolutionary, the Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs, there is a scene in which Grace makes her way slowly, with a walker, along a street of vacant lots in the shadow of the abandoned and crumbling Packard Plant.
“I feel so sorry for people who are not living in Detroit,” she said at that moment.
It seemed a ridiculous statement, but it was deeply related to her analysis of the world. Detroit was at the forefront of the industrial revolution and now stands to lead in figuring out what happens after industry. Boggs surmised that Detroit is at the forefront of what’s next — and that makes activism around key issues even more important in terms of influencing the outcomes in Detroit and elsewhere.
Friends close to Grace say that she didn’t want her passing to be about her, that she wanted us to keep the focus on the issues. That’s as it should be. Still, for someone who dedicated most of her century to fighting for us, let’s just take a moment to make it about Grace.
Rethinking Education with the North Dakota Study Group
By Kimberley Sherobbi August 15, 2015
At a time in our country when many people have given up on public education, there is a group of educators who believe that their voices and influence can make a positive difference in the educational lives and experiences of children no matter what type of school they attend. Hence, the North Dakota Study Group (NDSG) continues to meet every summer to plan for its Annual Meeting. NDSG participates consists of all levels of educators from across the country. Some NDSG participates have been gathering to discuss, debate and support ideas about education for over 42 years. The Boggs Center has been part of this process for nearly a decade. Continue Reading »
Dylan Roof and the current string of black church burnings are part of a long history of white racial terrorism against blacks in the US. From slavery through the current moment, anti-black violence has been a consistently inconsistent aspect of American history, sometimes happening frequently and sometimes less frequently. We are currently in a period of frequent anti-black violence fueled by what many whites experience as a twin crisis of whiteness and the economy. Because the crisis driving this violence results from how these whites perceive the world, policy is incapable of addressing it. Only a revolutionary movement capable of transforming souls can transform this tide of violence.
For Immediate Release
Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership
Tuesday May 5, 2015
Tawana Petty 313.433.9882
Shea Howell 313.282.7669
When the Youth Cry Out We Must Respond
This time on the clock of the world calls us to act.
Our young people are breaking the silence and the rest of America needs to listen, look itself in the mirror and act. We stand in solidarity with Baltimore, Ferguson and all oppressed communities responding to police violence. Locally, we remember Aiyana Jones, Shelly “Treasure” Hilliard, Terrence Kellom and others who have lost their lives at the hands of police officers.
In America, denial is the order of the day. Historically, Americans have only looked at contradictions in reaction to violent threats to order or property. We have consistently evaded looking at our deepest contradictions of race, class and gender.
White America, especially, has never paid any attention to the violence required to keep inequity and injustice in place. We tell ourselves we fight wars for democracy, not resources and power. We ignore the daily death and degradations of the soul that are part of the lives of all those on the outside of white society.
The national narrative vilifying young people has dominated the airways. Most recently we have witnessed that it took attacks on the bridge during Occupy, police car burnings in Ferguson and rock throwing in Baltimore to capture national coverage of the inequities of life common in oppressed communities.
We recognize the important lessons and decades of work Ron Scott and the Coalition Against Police Brutality has done to teach us about the militarization of police, the role of federal forces ICE, ATF, Border Patrol and others. This has been much of the Obama/Holder Legacy. In Detroit, we have witnessed the general expansion of repressive, surveillance powers post 9/11, further adding fuel the flame of mistrust between law enforcement and civilians in the city and the country.
Since the uprising in Detroit in 1967, members of what is now known as the James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership, have insisted that there is a fundamental difference between a riot, a rebellion and a revolution.
- A riot is the term used by the power structure to emphasize the destruction of property and attacks on political and civil order. It casts those who behave disorderly as “criminals” and lawless mobs. It is often used interchangeably with rebellion because of its heavy use in the media to describe Black uprisings.
- A rebellion recognizes the legitimate outpouring of anger against injustice. A rebellion is a standing up against oppressive conditions and actions that defile people and place.
Rebellion is not enough. A rebellion is not a revolution. If we are to create a future of justice and peace, we must do the slow, deep work of rebuilding our communities on values of love, compassion, productivity, care and sustainable relationships with one another and the earth.
However, those who respond to rebellion by quickly decrying violence need to ask some serious questions of themselves. Do you cry out against violence when the US invades other nations? Did you cry out against violence the night before Freddie Gray was arrested and killed? Is your voice present during the soul destroying effects of poverty, poor education, and the withholding of basic necessities to life such as food, water and shelter?
For white Americans the leap to selectively denounce violence when property has been attacked, typically stems from their assumption that the hand of the rock thrower was black. The deep fear of whites, that one day justified black rage will emerge, blinds them to this hypocrisy. If you only cry out against violence when rocks are thrown through windows of corporations, such as what recently occurred with the CVS in Baltimore, you should
re-evaluate the negative impact your voice has had on perpetuating disparities in a society rooted in white supremacy.
- A revolution is for the advancement of human kind toward a more just, sustainable future.
Non violence is a philosophy, not a tactic. As Grace Lee Boggs says in an exchange with Angela Davis, “non-violence begins with the assumption that everyone can and must change. It acknowledges our human capacity for transformation.” She has also been quoted as saying, “Revolution is evolution toward something much grander in terms of what it means to be a human being.”
We need hope, revolution and solutions that involve young people in the re-imagining, rebuilding and redefining of our cities and our nation. For over 50 years the US has created a class of outsiders who have found meaning and dignity in speaking out against injustice and the murder and maiming of men and women of color. This is why the words “Black Lives Matter” are significant in asserting humanity and dignity, much like the words “I am a Man” as espoused by sanitation workers who surrounded Martin Luther King, Jr. when he supported them in Memphis.
Baltimore, like Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Bessemer Alabama and cites and towns across our country have developed with a failed attempt to mask the pain, the voices of anger and frustration and the cries for help from the oppressed, through building stadiums, waterfront developments, middle and upper middle class housing developments around medical centers and mega churches. Government and corporations have totally ignored the need to create community based solutions, new forms of work based upon community production and food security. They have proven that they have no interest in creating true solutions.
Since the “war on drugs” the government has put millions of people in prison, police have killed thousands and we have internalized the violence by attacking one another. The militarization of police departments has intensified the violence and deaths and young people are saying enough is enough!
In our own city, Detroit, because of the emergency manager/bankruptcy regime, which essentially stripped away the voting rights of over 50% of black residents in the state of Michigan, more than 30,000 people are facing water shut-offs, and more than 60,000 residents are facing tax foreclosure. This regime has been a form of “shock doctrine” disaster capitalism, stripping local residents of basic civil rights and liberties.
Waiting on city government to provide reprieve has run its course. We must continue to “make a way out of no way” while creating the future. Not a future of more studies or limited indictments, it is time to:
- Create peace departments and not police departments: Train and pay 10,000 young people as Peace Makers. It is time to turn war zones into peace zones and put the neighbor back into the hood.
- Train local residents to use fabricators and advance manufacturing to produce what people need in the neighborhoods. Advanced technology has been used by corporations to automate work and eliminate jobs. But visionary organizers in places like Detroit are combining new technologies like 3-D printing with urban agriculture to empower local residents to create self-sustaining, self-determining communities that produce the basic needs of life.
- We must publicly acknowledge that there is no separation from racism and capitalism, so that we may begin to heal ourselves and our communities.
- We must take the discussion and words Black Lives Matter to the white suburbs and have the tough, honest conversations.
- Support place-based education by investing in young people and school systems that seek to create solutions in their communities and for their families. It is time we reimagined what education can become.
- Invest in co-op fresh food buying clubs and co-op grocery stores. Educate young people and families on healthy food options and farmers markets in their communities. Support local community gardens and farms, rooted in their communities.
The time to break our silence and respond to the call from our young people is now. It is time to cry out for people, not property.
Russ Bellant <firstname.lastname@example.org>
DWSD water shutoff fiasco on Helen Street
Subject: [DCOH Announcements] Dear Black Mothers
remember you are warriors
the root of African Nations
you hold truth on your side
you are light
in the devastation
makers of ways
when there are none
your existence is revolutionary
will try and convince you
to chew up
and spit out
your Black seeds
but you must remain firm
resistant to their racism
they will try and manipulate your psyche
into doing their bidding
they will lynch you
in the media
in the media
with their thug shaming agenda
but you must be wiser than their tricks
and their sticks
though their words may hurt
you will persevere
you are survivors
polished through flame
you are the calm
in torrential rain
the line in the sand is before you
cross over it
with village in tow
carry forward the torch of our Ancestors
lift up your vibrations
and seek out the answers
you will find they are inside you
~ Honeycomb ®