August 27, 2015
Grace Lee Boggs —
A Century in the World

Chinese-American philosopher and civil rights legend Grace Lee Boggs turned 100 this summer. She has been at the heart and soul of a largely hidden story inside Detroit’s evolution from economic collapse to rebirth. We traveled in 2011 to meet her and her community of joyful, passionate people reimagining work, food, and the very meaning of humanity. They have lessons for us all.

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was a philosopher and a civil rights leader and a founder of the James and Grace Lee Boggs Center. She authored the book Living for Change: An Autobiography. The documentary about her life and work is called American Revolutionary: The Grace Lee Boggs Story.

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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.

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Grace Lee Boggs, activist and philosopher, sits for a portrait.

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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
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

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.


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.

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.

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

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.

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?

Grace Lee Boggs was born to Chinese immigrants and despite the social norm of the time, earned her Ph. D in philosophy as a woman in the during the mid 1900s. She didn’t even consider philosophy up until the time of the communist revolution. She discusses the differences between the terms ‘revolution’ and 'rebellion’ which she describes as, “[a rebellion is] an explosion of anger and revolution was a tremendous leap forward, a tremendous evolution, and a new way of thinking.” She said that this concept of evolution was developed in light of her upbringing in Detroit during such a chaotic time and that it shaped her thinking in numerous ways. In addition she highlights how we as a society develops from what is negative, as well as fear, and how she saw that in her daily life living in Detroit.

I think her way of thinking is incredible. Her age has exposed her to a century’s worth of development and I find it incredible that her thinking changed with the time rather than how she grew up. Instead of rights and expectations she now focuses on how the change of the times allow people to think and have new ideas about education, politics, and anything the mind can think of. Because of the struggles during the early and mid 1900s the world has been able to shift the ideology from survival to thriving and expanding.

With the transition from the old and new comes new problems, but also new innovative thinking and with the way we have developed Graces seems to grieve over the 'loss of spirit’ and 'disconnect from the world and its people’. I can see how she would think that. Despite being young, as a 90s kid I can’t help, but feel like we were the last generation to play outside with toys and other kids. Looking at my younger cousins, it’s like they are confined to the digital world rather than the physical world. Boggs describes the recovery from struggles in pursuit of money to be a journey in which one loses so much more; to paraphrase, we have to recover a lot as we have lost something [our souls] so invaluable … and at what cost? We have victimized ourselves and sold ourselves short in our abilities; we are capable of reshaping the world as so many others have before us.

What I really got out of this is that humanity has seen extreme progress through the years and, even now at what Boggs believes to be a prime time for innovative thinking, instead rely on past inventions. Those inventions were new at the time of their creation and getting back in touch with the human aspect of our pasts can push us forward past what we thought was the best. We are no longer trying to merely survive and our innovations thus far all seem to be created with respects to business, economy, and financial stability. Resetting the foundation of survival and happiness as relationships rather than collateral value could bring thinking to an whole new level, not bound by any earthy value.

Grace Lee Boggs was a Chinese American born in Rhode Island as a first generation American. She later went on to study Philosophy and became a Civil Rights Legend. She came to live with her husband in Detroit at a young age and has lived there for many years. Just recently she celebrated her 100th Birthday and shared some of her wisdom.

I found that she has a really neat perspective on how growth and change can take place. Growth and change come from hard times and we need to look at it that way. She looks at all the struggles through Detroit's economy and says she is excited about what it is going to become. Change takes time and I think that is accurate.

Another question she brought up was "What is the difference between a rebellion and a revolution?" I love this thought because a revolution brings awareness to something that needs to be changed and re birthed almost. A rebellion to me seems like people that are so frustrated and just are mad and upset. There is more fruit through a revolution.

This amazing women holds meetings in her home for leaders in her community. She believes in what her community can be and what people can do. Here is a women who is giving back in her community and has not given up on it. I hope to take some lessons and pointers from her.

Wow! What a citizen of Detroit! Admiration is understated! What a citizen!