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DETROIT: Place and space to begin anew

Dr. Regina Benjamin

Dr. Regina Benjamin

By Grace Lee Boggs
Special to the Michigan Citizen

On Oct. 13, I spoke  at the 2012 biennial gathering of Kellogg Fellows meeting  at the Detroit Westin. This year’s theme was “Resilience, Transformation, Transcendence.” Also on the program was Dr. Regina Benjamin, the U.S. surgeon general, who is a Kellogg Fellow.

In my remarks, I described how drastically Detroit has changed  since I moved to the city 60 years ago.

In 1953, it was a city of two million. The Chrysler plant, where Jimmy worked, employed 17,000 workers. If you threw a stone up in the air in our neighborhood, the chances were good that it would hit a Chrysler worker on the way down.

Two decades later, because of Hi-Tech and decentralization, that same plant employed only 2,000 workers. If you threw a stone up in the air, chances were it would land on a vacant lot.

Most people view vacant lots only as blight,  full of dead cats, used tires,  discarded mattresses and the like. But  during the war, Detroit had  become a city of African  Americans who, like Jimmy, had been born and raised in the  Jim Crow South and had survived by “making a way out of no way.”

These “country”  folk  re-imagined the vacant lots as abundance rather than abandonment; as an opportunity to grow food for the community and in the process give “quick-fix city kids” a different sense of time.

This re-imagining of Detroit’s vacant lots by Detroit’s African American residents was the turning point. It gave birth to the urban agricultural movement.

As a result, in Detroit today we are in the process of re-imagining everything: work, education, food, community safety. And what it means to be self-determining, what it means to be human.

We are  taking advantage of the deindustrialization and devastation of our city to begin anew. We are in the process of making the  next American Revolution.

Contact Grace Lee Boggs at

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