Pep-rally time: Gather around to learn the reasons you should be hopeful for Detroit from one of the city’s Grande Dames, Grace Lee Boggs.
…Because for every sob story, there is a community garden, where Detroiters are touching the soil, watching it transform lives and bellies, giving rise to an agricultural renaissance. And it gives Detroit’s youth a sense of process instead of just pushing buttons.
…Because young people are learning that they can create their own work, empowering themselves and the city toward renewal.
…Most importantly, Detroiters are showing the world the true power of the classic statement: “Making a way out of no way.”
“We are at a time when we need to grow our souls,” Boggs said Wednesday at the Detroit Historical Museum as part of the Society’s Scholar Series. “We are challenging ourselves to become creators of a new world. And that’s happening in Detroit.
“Where others see devastation, we see a city emerging, a place where things are made new,” Boggs added. “It is a transition as profound as the transition from hunters and gathers or from agriculture to industry. … This is a cultural revolution. We can make a way out of no way.”
At nearly 97 years old, Boggs is a marvel of good genes, good deeds and just plain old goodness. Born in 1915, Boggs has seen change not only over the decades, but has a sense of change over the centuries. Think about this: She was in college during the Great Depression. She has been a leader of workers’ rights, Civil Rights, Asian American and African American rights, women’s rights and all that is right since the 1950s.
She has made Detroit her home for long enough now that she is one of the major forces in our city’s history and, even more impressively, our future.
Her appearance is so very deceiving – here is this petite woman whose wheelchair seemed to only cradle her bones. But once she opens her mouth and starts to speak, the room properly hushes to hear what this legend of peaceful change has to say.
Boggs’ talk was inspired in part by her most recent book, “The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the 21st Century” (with Scott Kurashige, 2011). Within these pages, she talks about Detroit with a sense of joy and respect – feelings that shine so keenly through her features as she talks about this lovable (!) city.
“Because of technology, we don’t have to mourn the loss of the assembly line. There is another kind of production rising,” Boggs said. “People can create. They can write. They can make change. … People will come to Detroit because there is something self-reliant happening here.”
For example, she pointed to the Freedom Freedom Growers, a group with a Southside garden and the dream of growing a garden and the community around it. This organic garden is grown on four lots leased from the city, and it is about asking people to participate – in life, in planting, in harvesting, in feeding themselves and one another – instead of being passive spectators.
“There are 1,000 community gardens here. And for many people, this is the center of the urban agricultural movement for the whole country,” Boggs said.
As background, I have kept an eye on Boggs’ work since I participated in a unique program called “Push the Edges” about 12 years ago. This strange year-long seminar and collaboration united journalists with Detroit-area community leaders in hopes of finding some sort of so-called common ground. Boggs was always the rabble-rouser, letting no lame or half-thunk comment go. She always called us to a higher ground, a more thoughtful place, a dignified end. I kinda dug that.
Detroit…Boggs style. “We have the space and the place to begin anew,” she said.
Amen, Mama Boggs.