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Boggs Center hosts UM-Dearborn students

Public AlliesBy Grace Lee Boggs
Special to the Michigan Citizen

Two weeks before Christmas, the Boggs Center hosted a group of University of Michigan-Dearborn students, who are members of Public Allies, an Americorp program  dedicated to young-adult leadership development.

Public Allies is a national movement grounded in the conviction that everyone leads. They believe “everyone can make a difference and can work to inspire more citizens to believe in themselves, step up and act. Throughout our nation’s history, lasting social change has always resulted from the courageous acts of many, not just the inspiration of the few.”

This participatory concept of leadership and active citizenship emerged out of the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1950-60s when millions of Americans, especially young people, having recognized they could no longer depend on those in power to end Jim Crow or imperialist wars, decided these reforms, necessary for our own and our country’s humanity, had become the responsibility of citizens like themselves. The Dec. 13 meeting began with a viewing of “We Are Not Ghosts,” a 53-minute documentary produced by Bullfrog Productions. It features grassroots leaders like Julia Putnam, who in her teens was a Detroit Summer volunteer and now, the mother of two toddlers, is the principal of a place-based school educating children to become solutionaries.

Also featured in “We Are Not Ghosts” is Myrtle Thompson-Curtis, co-founder of  Feedom-Freedoms, a community garden on the east side of Detroit which not only grows food for the community but develops young people to become urban farmers and community spokespeople for healthy eating.

Tawana Petty, who helped organize the meeting, found it “refreshing to see a group of young people so aware of the contradictions within their work. I was particularly struck by their curiosity regarding ways to engage their contradictions head on. As a young person, I recall believing that anything I participated in labeled community work, was contributing good to my community. There seemed to be a political awareness among many of the young people in Public Allies, which allowed them to recognize and, in some instances, address the contradictions as they faced them.

Petty was particularly struck by Antonio Rafael, a young man doing work in Southwest Detroit: “He has taken a lot of flack, as well as risked his name in certain circles because of his affiliation with foundations, but recognizes his responsibility to try and make changes from the inside out.”

Petty continued: “And then there were those who had never experienced community work on any level and were just coming into an awareness that they could somehow contribute to the betterment of their society. Public Allies appears to be heading in the right direction by encouraging young people to engage in community work on a deeper level by building relationships in the communities they serve — rather than popping in and popping out.”

 

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