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Community organizing in Grand Rapids

By Grace Lee Boggs
Special to the Michigan Citizen

The Boggs Center recently enjoyed a visit by members of Heartside Ministry, a community organization in Grand Rapids. The visitors included a man, five women and three middle school children. One of the women, an African American, was accompanied by her great-granddaughter.

I was impressed by the variety of services the Ministry provides: Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, a computer lab, counseling, lawyer, potter, adult education, real talk, a walking program, writers group and art program.

It also publishes Spoon, a bi-monthly newsletter to “empower the most disempowered through self-help, service, community education and other action.”

The lead article in the current issue of Spoon, #52, is by Debra Dieppa, who writes, “for many years I’ve protected myself by clustering resentments around my heart.” But “while these resentments are held to injure others who have injured me, it is I who suffer from their toxicity.”

At this time on the clock of the world when huge violence is being perpetrated by toxic individuals like James Holmes, who is being held in the Aurora Theatre massacre, and Wade Michael Page, who died of a self-inflicted wound after the Sikh Temple killings, it is refreshing to connect with a community organization that helps people recognize and overcome their toxicity.

In Detroit, we call it “bringing the neighbor back into the ‘hood.” I view it as a priceless opportunity that has been provided by the dysfunction of established institutions for us to grow our own souls by serving others in our community. Creating alternatives is essentially a form of resistance.

The inclusion of children in the discussion was another interesting feature of the Heartside visit. It reminded me of “The Disappearance of Childhood” by the late Neil Postman, a book that challenges us to recognize how TV, unlike the print media, exposes even very young children to the crises of our time. That’s why our schools urgently need to make a paradigm shift towards place-based education — i.e., engaging school children from K-12 in solving problems in our communities.

It also reminded me of the joyful and attentive participation in Detroit 2012 of the teenage members of Dedicated to Make a Change, a Ypsilanti organization that encourages youth to examine and learn about issues of diversity and social justice.

I wish I had known about Heartside Ministry when I was in Grand Rapids in May attending the BALLE (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies) Conference (visit for more about that).

We need a handbook that provides information about these organizations to help us connect with one another.


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