Grace Lee Boggs During an Interview with Krista TippettThis trip to Detroit came about because of technological failure. It was a tremendous gift, and a revelation.

The technological failure was the connection between my voice and Grace Boggs. Her ears, after all, are 96. And when we weren’t able to have a real, fluid conversation between St. Paul and Detroit, I immediately decided we would fly to interview her in her home. This was a relief, really, as preparing for the interview had made me long to meet her.

Ever since my conversation with Vincent Harding last year, her name kept coming up. Her identity is full of unlikely conjunctions: Chinese-American and an icon of African-American civil rights, philosopher and activist, elder and change agent. She was born Grace Lee above her father’s Chinese restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island. She received a Ph.D. in philosophy in 1940. She had a heady life in intellectual, revolutionary circles of the early twentieth century, from Europe to Africa. Wall of Photos at Grace Lee Boggs' HomeShe moved to Detroit when she married the legendary African-American autoworker, organizer, and civil rights thinker Jimmy Boggs. Together they were the heart and soul of civil rights in the Motor City.

Jimmy Boggs died in 1993. Already by then, years ahead of what most of us are experiencing as the new global economic crisis, the post-industrial future had begun to show itself in Detroit. In this emerging world, Grace Boggs is at the heart of reimagining, renewing, and “re-spiriting” this city — seeing the possibilities amidst the ruins of abandoned storefronts, houses, and industrial plants that have defined our cultural vision of Detroit in recent years. She learned, she says, to “make a way out of no way” from Jimmy Boggs. She draws on everyone from Hegel to Dr. King to Margaret Wheatley when she speaks of our capacity to “create the world anew.” With all she knows, and all the change she’s seen, the sheer magnitude of years she carries, you can’t help but listen when Grace Boggs describes the tumult of our time as a rare and precious opportunity: “What a time to be alive.”

This sweeping statement might be less infectious if it were not planted in a world of engagement that both affirms and continually informs Grace Boggs’ thinking. You walk into Grace Boggs’ living room — which is also the ground floor of the James and Grace Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership — and you are surrounded by joyful, passionate people who are literally recreating their corners of the world. She points them out as we speak. Gloria Lowe in front of her home in East DetroitAfter our interview, we are taken on a tour that is like a trip into a parallel universe to the Detroit we’ve seen in the news.

We meet Gloria Lowe, who is not merely putting formerly incarcerated and injured vets to work, but making houses livable and beautiful while creating urban models that are affordable and green. We meet Wayne Curtis and Myrtle Thompson, a couple who are tending one of Detroit’s 1,600 urban gardens. They’re not merely growing food, as they tell us, they are growing culture. Their way of talking about “food sovereignty,” about the necessity of flavor, about “nutrient density” reminds me of the chef Dan Barber.They are a living response to the question he’s often asked, of whether the local food movement is just for pampered elites. 

Wayne Curtis' public art work asking people to "Eat Local."

Detroit’s urban agricultural movement began as a matter of survival and became a matter of consciousness, and of reimagining the essence of human identity and community.

So many of my conversations are ultimately about the vast, seismic changes of our time. No city could be held up more easily as a symbol of the destructive side of this change than Detroit. But nowhere have I encountered people as animated by change, as “privileged” to experience it, as in Detroit.

In recent decades, Grace Boggs has become ever more attentive to the word “evolution” wrapped inside the word “revolution.” The identity politics and rights focus of the rebellions of the 1960’s, she says, paved a way for a more enlightened and slower revolution now — a new and deeper sense of a common human identity, from how we work to how we eat to how we govern ourselves. Ever the philosopher, she reminds us that “we’re not only being, but we’re non-being and becoming.” In Grace Boggs’ living room, and in the Detroit of hope which she helps inspire, these lofty words become something to live by.

Share Your Reflection



I am proud to be a member of the metro Detroit community. I work for Forgotten Harvest.  We rescued 23 million pounds of food last year. 99% of our funding is through the generosity of of individuals and corporations in the tri-county area we serve. Our organization was started by one woman, who faced hunger at one point in her life and swore she would do everything in her power to be certain others would never have to face the indignity and frightening prospect of hunger. We have the largest fleet of rescue trucks in America.  We are a logistics town.  No other community could match what we have accomplished and what we intend to accomplish over the course of the next few years.  We fully intend to drive hunger from our community! We have the firepower, the intellect and most importantly the heart, because we are Motown, to do it! I extend an invitation to Krista to come back. Come back, ride with us throughout metro Detroit and see the miracle of fresh, rescued food delivered free of charge to hundreds of City and suburban folk that have been left behind in this economic crisis.  See Motown at its absolute best.  See our smiles and celebrate the miracle of food and the dignity that food brings with us. Thank you for visiting. But please, there is so much more here. I invite you to join us and see the fufilment of Dr, Nancy Fishman's dream of ending hunger in action as 34 trucks pull out of our lot to drive at 7:00 am every morning. It will be a visit you will never forget.

As a new author of a book that supports the idea that humans can be connected, "Star Points: Connections Old and New," I am excited to hear of so many others who are connecting people in significant and useful ways. It is encouraging. I will have to do my best to help others make connections. With humility, Daniel O'Brien

in a plugged-in  world increasingly given to confusing talking about with being actively-productively engaged in, it is refreshing to have such a powerful example of how imagination/reflection divorced from doing/know-how is just daydreaming and gossip.
perhaps our circumstances are getting "real" enough that we will take up the work started by folks like Jane Addams to not just be "informed" citizens in some abstract sense but actually making a difference in the lives of other people.
thanks for raising these people up as living testaments to the possibilities of direct action.

In creating the connections course-to Launch in June, I am interested in how was can listen to each other more toward useful communication. I have gotten the idea, as you said from an increasingly connected, yet feeling unengaged society pushed ever harder by media blitz....Imagination seems awfully useful if we are to create meaningful time with those whom we come into contact with. Good stuff!

all too often agreement (and conversation in general) has become an end unto itself, we like building social networks to insure our place in the social order, but if we are not agreeing in order to do something beyond this bonding than we have just increased the power of the current establishment. Common ends/goals are only useful when married to common and effective means/efforts. if electronic social networking just amps up our capacity to gossip than we are more lost than ever.

A remarkable and breathtaking hour of radio; only radio could have pulled-off this conversation with Grace Lee Boggs concentrating on the words and music of her life rather than the images.  I've heard of Grace and Jimmy for many years.  I was an activist (small "a") during my teens and young adulthood in the 50s, 40s and early 70s.  I remember how our neighborhood Corona-East Elmhurst (Queens, NY) NAACP mobilized to support our brothers and sisters in the south and their boycott of Woolworth's because its lunch counters did not serve Black folks. I remember, at the tender age of 14, how connected I felt to my neighbors and the wider community; I remember making connections between my home in Queens NY and other Black folks far away.

I remember going south that summer (1960) with my father to visit my grandmother's home; I remember chastising my father, a radical himself, when he entered a Woolworth's in downtown Suffolk to purchase some item  --- somyhing he could have found easily somewhere else.

I remember marching with Dr. King in 1967 at the United Nations.  I remember then that he pointed the way from Civil Rights to Human Rights.  I remember, like us all, the day he died some 4 years after Malcolm X; I remember thinking whether we would ever recover from these losses.

Folks like Jimmy and Grace Boogs have been a beacon of hope for many of us.  And today, when a crisis for human rights appears to have global implications, I'll try to keep the Chinese character that Grace referred to in her conversation uppermost in my mind: The character denoting "crisis" means both "danger" and "opportunity".

Thank you, Grace, and happy Chinese New Year!

Its always feeling great to read this kinda impressive content. Krista hats of to you for sharing this touching story here. Pleasure for me If you continue this kinda impression here.