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Philosophic activism, visionary organizing

Bunyan Bryant

Bunyan Bryant

By Grace Lee Boggs
Special to the Michigan Citizen

Last week’s conference honoring the 40-year career of University of Michigan professor Bunyan Bryant was both inspiring and instructive.

In one session after another, former students of many different ages and ethnicities described how Bunyan’s environmental justice leadership empowered them to struggle for a better environment for all our children.

At the celebratory Friday night dinner, students, colleagues and members of the community rose one after another to toast his contribution to the continuing evolution of ourselves and of the environmental justice movement.

At the conference, an hour before the dinner, Bunyan made his retirement speech, titled “The moral arc of the universe bends towards justice.” In it he thanked his colleagues, former students and conference organizer Kevin Merrill and also emphasized that, like Dr. King, he is a philosophic activist.

“I want to talk about a concept that I first heard used by Martin Luther King. King was not only an activist; he was a philosopher. He posited that the arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice. In other words, reality shows a preference for truth and justice.

“I want to take this concept of King’s further because it implies a future state that makes it important that we focus on the future. Also I want to say that the arc of the moral universe bends toward environmental justice.

“We can ill afford to leave the bending of the arc to chance. To make our communities free of toxins will require more than a reactive approach to justice.”

The conference and Bunyan’s speech helped me realize that although a lot of people have been praising and paraphrasing Dr. King’s advocacy of the beloved community since his assassination in 1968, very few have been proactively creating programs, curricula and activities that enable the beloved community to emerge.

That is what Bunyan has been doing and that is why his career at the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and the Environment (SNRE) has been so important.

That is also what the Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership has been doing in Detroit. That is why Detroit, which was once the national and international symbol of the miracles of industrialization and then became the national and international symbol of the devastation of deindustrialization, is now becoming the national and international symbol of a post-industrial sustainable society.

Contact Grace Lee Boggs at

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