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‘American Revolutionary:’ Transformation in 82 minutes

Tawana Petty

Tawana Petty

By Tawana Petty
Special to the Michigan Citizen

“I feel so sorry for people who are not living in Detroit,” says Grace Lee Boggs in the intro to the film “American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs,” by filmmaker Grace Lee (no relation).

As she gazes at the once vibrant, now dilapidated and enormous Packard Building, Boggs, then 98 years old, provides a powerful analysis of the postindustrial city struggling to reinvent itself, after the job system has failed it. 

“Detroit gives a sense of epochs of civilization in a way that you don’t get in a city like New York. It’s obvious by looking at it, that what was, doesn’t work. People are always striving for size, to be a giant, and this is a symbol of how giants fall,” says Boggs. 

I’ve had the pleasure of screening American Revolutionary at several venues in Detroit, metro Detroit, and have traveled with it nationally. Even after a dozen viewings, I discover something new each time and that amazes me. I can truly say Grace Lee did an incredible job with this film. 

Although, Lee follows Boggs, now 99 years old, over a period of 10 years, she was able to capture so much more than the story of one remarkable woman’s life. “American Revolutionary” is not just a film about Grace, although that alone would be significant — it is a film about transformation in our country, our society, individual transformation and transformation in Detroit. 

It is through Grace’s rootedness here, and the fact she has been an active member and maker of community in Detroit for more than six decades, that inspires activists of my generation, particularly women who were fortunate enough to see the film, to continue forward in this struggle for our humanity, while embracing the evolutionary and sometimes very difficult process. I often find people need something and someone to look at who’s inspiring us to continue to evolve. Grace is absolutely one of those beings.

At 99, Grace is still pushing for new ideas and ways to determine how we treat each other as human beings, and at this time, “on the clock of the world,” as Grace would put it, how we treat each other is not only significant, but it necessary for our survival.

I recommend this film to anyone who is seeking answers to questions like, “What does it mean to be a human being?” A question I believe, if answered, or at least considered, is a huge step forward to our becoming the beloved community.

“American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs” will be screening during the North End Urban Expressions Art Festival: The Healing II, Aug. 22 at 6 p.m. You can learn more about the festival at 

The screening will be followed by a discussion led by representatives of the James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership (  

For more information about the film or to purchase it online, visit

Tawana Petty is a mother, organizer, author and poet. She is also coordinator for the New Work, New Culture Conference taking place Oct. 18-20, 2014. Visit , for more information. 

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