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‘New York, New York: It’s a wonderful town!’

By Grace Lee Boggs
Special to the Michigan Citizen

A couple of weeks ago a team of activists from the Boggs Center and I spent a few days in New York City so we could attend screenings of “American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs” with filmmaker/director Grace Lee.

It was an unforgettable experience. Grace Lee had been sending me reports of the warm reception the documentary has been receiving at film festivals around the country. But it was humbling to watch viewers leave the film, some with tears in their eyes, thanking me for my life.

My sense was, like many Americans, these viewers recognize at this time on the clock of the world, our country urgently needs a revolution. But the only revolution they have been able to imagine up to now has been one like the 1917 Russian Revolution, not the solutionary non-violent one now unfolding in Detroit.

Grace Lee and I were interviewed by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now (the interview will air when she returns from the Environment Conference in Warsaw). We were also on MSNBC with Melissa Harris Perry. After the interview the Boggs Center team  invited Melissa to Detroit to get a sense of the paradigm shifts  we are making, especially in education.

I was amazed at how much New York has changed since I left the city for Detroit 60 years ago. In 1953, I considered myself a New Yorker because I had lived in the city since I was a child, had graduated from P.S. 69, Newtown H.S., and Barnard College.  But as a person of color, I had always felt like a minority. Because of restricted covenants in the early 1920s, my father had to purchase the land for our house in Jackson Heights in the name of his Irish contractor.  At Barnard College in the 1930s, I was one of  only three students of color.

Today, New York is like a Third World city. Thirty-40 percent of Barnard students are women of color. Taxi drivers are from the Mideast or India. The street vendors are African immigrants. At media centers like Rockefeller Center, most of the staffers running things at the street level appear to be people of color.

But it is hard for their humanity to express itself in a city of so many skyscrapers and high rise apartment buildings. A graffiti I glimpsed on a wall sums up the challenge: “Raising a child in NYC is like growing an oak tree in a thimble.”

So I was glad to get  back to Detroit where despite the devastation of deindustrialization there is space  to build a new more human scale post-industrial society based on a new community mode of production.

That is why at the beginning of “American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs,” I say, “I feel sorry for people who don’t live in Detroit.”

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