Grace Lee Boggs — Becoming Detroit: Reimagining Work, Food, and Community
July 18, 2013

We’re used to hearing about Detroit as a symbol of economic collapse. With the recent news coverage of city's financial crisis and declaration of bankruptcy, we travel to a city of vigor where joyful, passionate people are reimagining work, food, and the very meaning of humanity. The Chinese-American philosopher and civil rights legend Grace Lee Boggs is the heart and soul of this largely hidden story, which holds lessons for us all.

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Stars in the Constellation of Grace Lee Boggs' Detroit

A brief pictorial journey of our trip from a hotel in downtown Detroit to the neighborhoods of East Detroit, where people are renewing their corner of the world.

Selected Readings

"Turning To Instead of Against Each Other" by Gloria Lowe

We may not have money for toys and trinkets but we can wrap our arms around our children and show them how to love. We may not be able to spend money, but we can spend time.

"Jobs Aren't the Answer" by Grace Lee Boggs

"Instead of looking to politicians for programs that will provide millions of jobs, we need to encourage the creation of work that not only produces goods and services but develops our skills, protects our environment and lifts our spirits."

"Re-Imagining Education" by Grace Lee Boggs

"Instead of preparing students for upward mobility within the system, this new paradigm uses the community as the curriculum, challenging students not only to identify issues that need solving, but also to analyze the causes and come up with solutions."

"Redefining {R}evolution" by Grace Lee Boggs

"At this point in time it is not about the left or right, it is about creating something entirely new. It is about a solution-based {r}evolution made up of millions of voices and neighborhoods, hands and feet and breath and dust, people old and young. The face of this {r}evolution has no color, no name, and no form but that of a people and a world crying out to survive during a time when this is no longer an outcome that can be taken for granted."

Pertinent Posts from the On Being Blog

Grace Lee Boggs credited labor leader A. Phillip Randolph as her inspiration during our interview in Detroit. We dug up some audio of his 1963 speech at the March on Washington. Oh, what a voice!

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A two-minute follow-up video in which an activist of 70 years challenges the 99% movement not to just "expose the enemy" but to become the solution by reinventing society, work, education, and culture.

"The life of God and divine cognition may well be spoken of as a disporting of Love with itself…"

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Krista stops by public radio station WDET, while in Detroit. They're doing interesting on-the-ground reporting and community building.

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Boggs offers a historical, sideways approach to OWS and provides a long view of constant questioning. Not only does she think on the grand, larger scale of social values, but she also is embedded, rooted and dedicated to a place — the city of Detroit.

By turning away from wanting things to valuing people, we can celebrate the holiday season through the eyes of a "beloved community" and ask what kind of community we can create together.

About the Image

Participants of the Feedom Freedom Growers community harvest from their garden in East Detroit.

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Comments

Grace Lee Boggs make use of the word "reinvent". I agree we need to focus there. Too often what I see is reaction to whatever the latest manner of exploitation is that has directly affected us. By reacting only to that, we leave the whole corrupt system in place and it will invent a new way to allow for more exploitation.

The 60's is portrayed as some sort of unusual culture, with its own music and its own dress, but most of what made a difference at that time were the quieter actions that were going on, like people rediscovering where food comes from or who their neighbors were. As Krista points out, we are doing that consciously now. Hopefully, aware not only of how food grows, but what the difference is between food as something we nurtured vs food as a commodity.

I've seen this awareness grow in kids in gardens I have helped organize in South Minneapolis and even in my small town.

Bravo Krista! Time Inc. was here for a year -- and this is the story they missed: Detroit becoming....

Full disclosure: I've known Grace since 1993. In fact, I met my wife, Julia, through Detroit Summer, Grace & Jimmy's (r)evolutionary idea to utilize the spirit of young people to revitalize, re-imagine, and re-spirit Detroit. Julia was actually Detroit Summer's first volunteer and is now deep in the process of creating a place-based school in Detroit, the Boggs Educational Center, that will draw on many of the people and principles that came out in today's show.

Ending with Invincible's hip-hop song was also right on.

Let me end with a poem, "Detroit Jesus," I wrote for Grace last summer:

Detroit Jesus
(for Grace Lee Boggs on her 96th birthday)

Time, Inc., buys a house in Detroit
and tries to track him for a year.
But he’s invisible to those looking for a
blue-eyed dude in a white robe
or for a city gone completely to hell.

He is the cinnamon of my son’s skin
with a green thumb and a Tigers cap
and my daughter’s dove-grey eyes.
He prays into Blair’s guitar,
hangs out on Field St.,
bakes bread at Avalon
and plants tomatoes on the East side.
He rides his old-school bike down the heart
of Grand River,
paints a mural in the Corridor,
shoots hoop in the Valley
with priests and pimps and lean young men
trying to jump their way to heaven.

At night,
while the Border Patrol counts cars,
he walks across the water
to Windsor,
grabs a bite to eat,
walks back.

Like Grace,
born in Providence,
he lives so simply,
he could live anywhere:
Dublin, Palestine, Malibu.
But Detroit is his home.
It was here one Sunday
a boy invited him down
off the cross
and into his house
for a glass of Faygo red pop.

That was centuries ago, it seems,
and how far he’s come,
reinventing himself more times than Malcolm.
He’s been to prison,
been to college,
has a tattoo of Mary Magdalene on one arm,
Judas on the other,
and knows every Stevie Wonder song by heart.

He’s Jimmy, he’s Invincible, he’s Eminem.
He’s the girls at Catherine Fergusen
and their babies,
and he’s the deepest part of Kwame
still innocent as a baby.

The incinerator is hell,
but he walks right in,
burns it up with love,
comes out the other side,
walks on.

He can say “Amen” in twelve religions,
believes school is any place
where head and heart and hands
meet,
and wears a gold timepiece around his neck
with no numbers, just a question:
What time is it on the clock of the world?

And every second of every day
he answers that question
with a smile wide as the Ambassador
and a heart as big as Belle Isle,
hugging this city in his arms
and whispering to each soul
words no one else dares to say:
You are Jesus,
this is your Beloved Community,
and the time
on the clock of the world
is Now.

I so appreciated the chance to hear this story about Grace Lee Boggs and others are accomplishing in Detroit. We will be showing a new documentary about Grace Lee Boggs ("American Revolutionary") at our Great Lakes History/Women and Gender Historians of the Midwest in Grand Rapids, Michigan next October. Hearing these stories has inspired me to think about all the possibilities that we can connect to her story.

A whole range of emotions--real joy to hear about the creativity and community building, hope and inspiration. I go away with the question about my own focus and how I can be more imaginative and positive about making change. It is so heart-opening and a wonderful contradiction to the daily onslaught of negativity, hopelessness and narrow thinking. Thank you Krista for continuing to shine light into the darkness.

Thanks for having Grace Lee Boggs on. She is brilliant and thought-provoking.

One of the first, if not the first, community gardens in Detroit was set up by Brother Rick of the Capuchins on Mount Elliot Street, just down the street from Heidelberg Project, both of which would be good stories. The Caps have a member, Father Solanus Casey, is on the path to possible sainthood and a lovely chapel has been built on the block. Solanus used to tick off the other Caps when he gave away all the food in the house to people knocking at the door.

The Heidelberg Project has been defamed and attacked for removal. Why - here is a sample. When a brothel inhabited an abandoned corner house, Tyree Guyton, artist, decorated the house with dozens of dolls hung all over the house. That was only the beginning. It has hit its 25th birthday with an HBO program. (Pic attached may be a different house)

To boot, across the street from the Caps is a cemetery which has been the subject of a locally famous painting of souls rising on All Saints Day.

May your story uncap the hope of Detroit.

Bill Lavery

so inspiring and important. i'm in Los Angeles. another kind of city that embodies the tension between aggressive pursuit of individualism and a burgeoning awareness of sustainability and community. thank you for this incredible story that highlights people of inspiration and accountability to themselves and to the earth.

I was so struck by these interviews. My former husband was from Detroit and I came to love the city through him. So it breaks my heart to see its stare now. I appreciate the activists whoare trying to improve the lives of the poorest residents of the city. Why can't these activities and activist spirit be expanded across the city?

Want to know more about Grace Lee Boggs and her community in Detroit? Please keep an eye out for a new documentary "American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs." For more info and upcoming screenings, please check out www.americanrevolutionaryfilm.com.

Great Show

Heard your Detroit broadcast twice today, first at breakfast, then again at supper, and it occured to me that if, by chance, Grace Lee Boggs and her community of renewal are not already aware of the pioneering work of Patrick Geddes, for example, his Cities in Evolution, first published in 1915 and still in print, then they are in for a treat. Their efforts in individual and social re-creation would delight him.

WONDERFULL

It seems every one of Krista's shows are inspiring but Grace's story and life touched something of the simplicity of the profound and the profoundly simple way evolution happens. One way back to the future!

Here is what I posted on my facebook page and shared with several friends after hearing this show ... it was a breath of fresh air.
http://www.mississippiriverdelta.org/blog/2013/06/25/what-does-a-record-setting-dead-zone-mean-for-louisianas-coast/

What does a “record-setting dead zone” mean for Louisiana’s coast? For Louisiana, the predicted large-scale hypoxia in the Gulf could not only affect the wildlife in the Mississippi River Delta but also the livelihoods and businesses of coastal residents that rely on commercial and recreational fishing.
http://rt.com/usa/monsanto-glyphosate-roundup-epa-483/

Another win for Monsanto: US raises allowable levels of company’s pesticide in crops

Dr. Don M. Huber, emeritus professor of plant pathology at Purdue University, found in yet another examination that “Glyphosate draws out the vital nutrients of living things,” in turn removing most nutritional value from GMO foods
http://www.onbeing.org/program/becoming-detroit/transcript/5836#main_content

Mr. Curtis: "One thing that I think we're going to have to pay more attention to is what food sovereignty is or food security is. I mean, along with growing food, we're growing culture, we're growing community because we're growing structure, we're growing ideology, we're growing a lot of things to make sure that our existence is no longer threatened because of us being marginalized in a system that's killing us and we ain't got no say-so in our existence or how we live as human beings. So developing consciousness, I think, is very important. It's just not a warm and fuzzy garden, you know. We're not just growing food, we're becoming part of this process of existence in the whole ecology system that exists not just in the garden, but has existed since the beginning.

... It changes your culture because, when you rediscover like what can be eaten that's been there all along and you drive your car over it and mow it down, when you change your oil, you throw your oil on something that's very valuable. Now, instead of throwing pallets over something, someone will look up under the pallet and say, "You know, you could eat that." So that changes your relationship with the earth, but it changes your relationship with another person because, when they go to drive their car over it or spit on it or whatever they're going to do that's negative or disregarding this life, you have to find a way to explain it to them."

You can listen to the interview here. It's very rich and nutritionally dense for the spirit.
http://www.onbeing.org/program/becoming-detroit-grace-lee-boggs-on-reimagining-work-food-and-community/1060

Thank you for teaching me about the city I love.

One activist said here that the neighborhood kids around her didn't know what a butterfly is. They haven't ever been introduced to butterflies. If you don't know about butterflies, never met a butterfly, never encountered the magic of a butterfly when you still believe in magic as a kid, is it any surprise as an adult you MIGHT NOT believe in positive change for yourself? That you yourself can change? and grow and create a beautiful life for yourself and others?

Voices on the Radio

is a philosopher and social activist. She's also the author of Living for Change: An Autobiography and a board member of the Boggs Center.

Richard Feldman

is an community activist and board member of the Boggs Center.

is founder and CEO of We Want Green, Too!

Myrtle Thompson and Wayne Curtis

are co-founders of Feedom Freedom Growers.

Production Credits

Host/Producer: Krista Tippett

Senior Editor: Trent Gilliss

Consulting Producer: Kate Moos

Technical Director: Chris Heagle

Associate Producer: Nancy Rosenbaum

Senior Producer: David McGuire

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