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WSU class visits the Boggs Center

Grace Boggs

Left to right: Dorothy Aldridge, Barbara L. Jones, Grace Lee Boggs and Marilyn Zimmerman

By Professor Marilyn Zimmerman and Barbara L. Jones

During the week after President Obama’s historic re-election, Wayne State University’s Urbanology: Art as Activism class visited Grace Lee Boggs at the Boggs Center.

Our class, taught by Zimmerman and offered in the Department of Art and Art History, has been using Grace’s book “The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the 21st Century” in lieu of a standard textbook. We have conscientiously gone through the Study Circle Guide for TNAR to explore how art can become an organizing force to create the beloved community in Detroit.

After we introduced ourselves, Grace asked, “Are you excited about the election results?” When we all raised our hands, she asked us what we were going to say to our families regarding the election at Thanksgiving gatherings.

At this point, several people described the discomfort and silence that political discussion usually creates in holiday gatherings when family members and friends are so anxious to get along that they avoid discussing politics.

Our dialogue with Grace included discussing the de-industrialization of Detroit and how many people viewed the loss of factories and manufacturing as the demise of the city.

Grace gave the group critical nuggets to ponder, process and put into action regarding our responsibilities as artists/activists in the community when she said. “De-industrialization is not the end of everything, but the opportunity to begin something new. Detroit’s vacant lots have provided the place and the space to bring the country back into the city and to create a whole new way of living and working together as a self-reliant community.”

From Grace’s book and our visit with her, our class learned that the role of the artist is not to bring light to light but to bring it to darkness. It is to seize opportunities, to go outside one’s comfort zones and boundaries and move into uncomfortable spaces not to confront, but to stretch people.

As Grace put it: “A revolution begins not with critical mass, but with critical connections. What is important is shifting the conversation from the election to what we can do for our communities as agents of change. We are revolutionary solutionaries. We are actually a privileged generation with the ability to create a completely new society and to solve the problems of our planet.”

Myrtle Thompson from FeedomGrowers joined the discussion and shared her experiences as a “revolutionary solutionary” who is creating an urban community garden. She is a spiritual warrior, one who sees herself breaking down the stereotypes and myths behind Detroit’s present urban reality.

WSU student Todd Davis said, “The Art as Activism class at Wayne State and reading Grace’s book have changed my life. I’m inspired to push hard to find the next paradigm in how we look at urban art as a catalyst for change. What I see are groups of like-minded people talking among themselves. What I feel needs to be done is breaking down the stereotypes and myths behind Detroit’s present urban reality. I think there is beauty in Grace and the urban farmers. I think there also is empathy, humanity and common ground to be found in stories that transcend the dividing lines of race and space and change the paradigm.”

Towards the end of the conversation, we agreed that there are benefits from an increased dialogue with the neighborhoods that artists wish to serve and with long-term activists like Myrtle Thompson. It is important to clarify and support their work and to have continuing feedback, to make critical challenges and calls to action to artists, especially as they increasingly move into social practices.

The class concluded, “To be an agent of change is to be the trailblazer in the transition of change and to constantly confront the upheaval of opposition one may receive pertaining to the process. We are inspired by Grace’s story. We have garnered that being passionate regarding the changes that you want to see and/or be, you must stay focused, be open to listening to those with not only similar but differing views and opinions. Grace was extremely inspiring to our class as we learned that persistence, passion and patience are key to becoming a revolutionary.”

Contact Grace Lee Boggs at boggscenter@boggscenter.org

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