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Learning journey in Detroit

By Rich Feldman, Boggs Center
Special to the Michigan Citizen

From Oct. 25-29, I had the honor and pleasure of conducting “A Learning Journey” with visitors from around the country and the world. The journey was initiated and joined by Meg Wheatley, author of the best-selling “Leadership and Modern Science” and the recently released “So Far From Home,” a book dedicated to “warriors for the human spirit in today’s life-destroying world.”

Our journey included meetings with (among others) Church of the Messiah pastor Barry Randolph, New Work and Culture inventor Fritjhof Bergman, Boggs Educational Collective’s Julia Putman, Catherine Ferguson Academy’s Asenath Andrews, Allied Media Conference‘s Jenny Lee, Peace Zones’ Ron Scott, Feedom Freedom Growers Wayne and Myrtle Curtis. We spent time at the 5 E Gallery and visited Young Nation and the TAP project in Southwest Detroit.

On our final morning we planted a tree in front of the Boggs Center and read a poem. “We are the children of Martin and Malcolm/Our right, our duty to shake the world with a new dream.” Mama Sandra Simmons from Hush House shared some words and prayers as we ended this historic learning journey.

Since then, I have received many e-mails, poems, videos, slideshows and expressions from the visitors who now see Detroit differently and are in the process of re-examining their ideas about change and revolution.

Two New Yorkers e-mailed: “We would like to continue conversations and would value a shared electronic discussion rather than individual e-mails that we have to manage. What does it mean to re-imagine work, education, community safety, democracy and revolution?”

From another visitor: “I wanted to meet Mrs. Boggs and tell her how much her work and Mr. Bogg’s work has meant to me since I began reading their writings since the 1980s.”

And another: “The journey was an amazing experience and inspirational! I was very excited to see the solidarity culture and economy being built by ordinary people. To see this regenerated my own sense of commitment and hope. One thing I struggled with, though, given the multiracial nature of the participants, was wondering the extent to which people (participants) see the beauty of Black people, which motivated me to ask the question I posed to Mrs. Boggs: ‘How is the humanism of sustainable activism different than color-blind humanism?’ I asked this question because sometimes I thought that some of the participants reduced humanism to abstract individuals. What makes us human is that we are historical, cultural and political beings. Part of anti-Black racism was to deny this — that European and European Americans were the only one’s that are historical, cultural and political beings. Sometimes I felt (and having personal conversations with participants who sometimes felt uncomfortable) that some participants approached Black people as a problem and not a people with problems. The former (Black people as a problem) assumes that others need to ‘fix’ Black people.

“I was very impressed with the urban agriculture projects and the efforts to create a local food system — one questions I asked during one of the sessions: Is there efforts to foster different ‘food cultures.’ My thinking is that food is important to the development of healthy human social relations (within and between different groups of people) — in other words, the eating of food is essential for creating solidarity cultures, for creating and maintaining human relationships of solidarity. So, it is both in the producing and consuming of food that relationships are made and continued.”

A young Turkish film maker and poet, Filiz, wrote a poem. It begins:

Detroit/Seven/Broken-open

My heart is broken-open

because there’s nowhere to hide.

The city surrounds me,

whispers softly

“look,”

“listen.”

I look in the face of brutality

and broken wings of human spirit.

I have no questions left,

why and how fled my vocabulary.

I hear children singing:

justice, they say,

“we want justice, it is time.”

I listen, I look

at windows and doors

that once were there.

In this house,

Aiyana Mo’nay Stanley-Jones

was shot in her sleep.

She was eight.”

someone corrects,

“no, she was s e v e n”

when the police shattered

her dreams.

She was seven,

sleeping next to her grandmother.”

what

what happened.

to us,

brothers, sisters.

I surrender my eyes, my ears

I want to cry —

I want to cry a million tears.

we

again,

we are harvesting peace

from our pain”

I look, I listen.

My heart cracks wide open.”

 

Contact Grace Lee Boggs at boggscenter@boggscenter.org

 

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