By Tawana Petty
Special to the Michigan Citizen
The first weekend in May, I was able to attend the Jackson Rising: New Economies Conference in Jackson, Miss., with an incredible Detroit delegation. The conference was birthed out of the vision of late Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba (Baba Chokwe), the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM), which he founded, and the Jackson Peoples’ Assembly.
It meant a great deal to be in Jackson at a time when, much like Detroit, its citizens are struggling to pick up the pieces after a devastating blow. Baba Chokwe, a lifelong revolutionary, activist and organizer, made history when he was elected mayor in a grassroots campaign, then suddenly died after only eight months in office. His election had not only ignited residents in the city of Jackson, but also inspired many people in his hometown Detroit.
Baba Chokwe’s struggle for democracy, economic justice, self-determination and a better quality of life for the residents of Jackson’s predominantly Black city, was a direct contrast to the actions of Detroit’s mayor and emergency manager. It was inspiring to see a city where government appeared to be actually in tune with the people.
Unfortunately, shortly after Baba Chokwe’s death and his son’s failed attempt to secure his father’s seat as mayor, the city yanked their support of the conference and the vision.
Luckily, with pure people power, the conference successfully moved forward and the spirit of Baba Chokwe remained vibrant throughout.
When you are a culture creator who was born and raised in Detroit, you tend to carry with you a sort of visionary skepticism that allows you to pinpoint ugly at its onset, while envisioning its beautiful potential at the same time. Sometimes it’s a skill this artist loves and wishes she could escape from contemporaneously.
I learned a lot from the people in Jackson and I am optimistic they are paving the way for a global cooperative movement.
However, there were moments during the conference when I felt a sort of vulnerability for my people there. As I listened to some of the development language and watched the outsiders like myself snap pictures of dilapidated properties, priced cheap to sell and bursting with potential, I was consumed with emotion and fear.
After all, I come from a city where Blacks have been abandoned through urban renewal. A city under dictatorship and spectatorship, where most Black residents are walking on eggshells, while hipsters eat overpriced omelets from fancy pop-up shops. Development language scares the hell out of me, even in well-intentioned settings.
William Copeland, who was part of the Detroit delegation, also reflected on the conference in his article for Orchestrated Pulse. “Our delegation . . . represented a generation of cultural organizers and theorists who recognize liberation requires a transformation of culture and collective behaviors, not just new policies put in place.”
Many in the Detroit delegation were adamant about the need to reflect on value systems as a priority, recognizing no matter what economic structure you put in place, the end result will be the same if a cultural transformation isn’t part of the plan. Part of that cultural transformation includes language. We were able to appreciate how far both cities have come and how far both cities have yet to go. But, I think our greatest appreciation was that we were willing to be part of the collective journey.
During my short visit to Jackson, I grew to love it and its people and I grew protective of them. Moreover, I am confident the peoples’ vision for economic justice can be realized against all odds.
Tawana Petty is a mother, organizer, author and poet.