The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us?
Excerpts from my journal during a 3 week sojourn in Detroit Michigan, late winter 2014, searching for the seeds of the New Miracle of Detroit
Yesterday marks another major step in my Detroit experience: sitting with, listening to, learning from, and photographing many of the individuals and groups associated with Detroit renewal. The setting was Cobo Hall, the event an all day conference called the Equity Action Summit, organized by the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion. The theme was Voices of Healing. Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s former pastor from Chicago’s South Side, keynoted over lunch. Grace Lee Boggs opened the day. I met her, finally, after several tries over several Detroit trips.
Grace Lee Boggs with Native American drummer and singer
March 30, 2014, Sunday, Detroit
Cool, low 30s, clear, mild northwest breeze.
In a powerful dream this morning [March 30, 2014] I observed the aftermath of a martyrdom operation/suicide bombing in downtown Jerusalem, I may have been partially responsible for it. By the time I appeared on the scene, everything had been cleaned up. The site was outdoors and formed a circle. I may have photographed it.
Grace Lee Boggs, activist and theoretician, raised on Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr, and Marxism, nearing her 100th birthday, sat glumly in a wheelchair, her signature mouth down-turned, sometimes gazing out into the audience. As part of the introduction to her organizers played the trailer for American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs, a recently released movie heralding her. I felt I was on a mission sent by S to meet and photograph and learn from her. I recall also that L first told me about Grace by alerting me to her importance, and I must remember to thank Louise.
Ron Scott, another familiar name, former Black Panther, spoke repeatedly. Probably in his 60s, he looks young, vibrant and powerful.
Ron Scott, member of the Boggs Center Board and other activist organizations, former Black Panther Party member
As I wrote S last evening from my office (at the local McDonalds where I use the free internet and drink discounted senior coffee):
today i finally met grace lee boggs, thanked her for her work, told her how much she inspires me. i heard her begin her address to the michigan equity round table with the words, “i am an old woman.” but she spoke as one with a strong young spirit. she turns 100 in june.
i believe you would have been as excited as i was at the roundtable today. many of detroit’s key players were there, like her and ron scott, former black panther, now an effective community activist. i attended the criminal (in)justice breakout session which was loaded with formerly incarcerated black men and still grieving black women who’d lost family and friends to the violence and the dirty rotten system of incarceration. many referred to michelle alexander’s book, the new jim crow. to top it all, rev jeremiah wright, obama’s former minister, offered the keynote, one of the most powerful speeches i’ve heard in years.
In a subsequent phone call to sort out when we’d Skype I elaborated on the theme of discharge, a concept from Reevaluation Counseling which she practices. She asked me if anyone wept. I said yes, and told her about Brenda, the mother of a recently killed young man. Brenda told us about the organization she founded for grieving families.
Rev Wright stayed with the theme of voice of healing by elaborating on the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa (correctly pronouncing apartheid, apart-hate). He lauded the various leaders, not only Mandela, with the message that a unified struggle is vital. He segued into his own story, how his great-grandfather was, I believe, enslaved and freed, had little money, but sent his son, Jeremiah’s grandfather, to college with all the money he could spare, 25 cents. The family is loaded with academic degrees and Wright pointedly claimed his doctorate was earned, as were several others in his family. As contrasted with the DD, deacon-declared. (Now I believe I understand the source of so many black ministers’ doctorates, which might also be named FD, fake doctorate.)
Reverend Dr Jeremiah Wright
Deficit was another of his themes, often generating ooh’s and ah’s of appreciation. We are not people in deficit, deficient; the system is deficient.
I was surprised to observe that Wright barely looked up from his text, reading it, but was somehow able to convey deep emotion. I’d love a copy of his text or better, a video of his talk, a model of good preaching.
He is light-skinned, possibly explained when he recounted that a white slave owner impregnated a black enslaved woman, I believe in the great grandparent category. He is handsome as well, with a wispy goatee. Many greeted him later, surrounded him, and asked to be photographed with him. I snuck in for a few images.
Moderated by Raquel Castaneda-Lopez, Detroit City Council member
The earlier panel I attended was equally informative and exciting, 2 women and 2 men including Ron Scott and a white minister who, altho speaking strongly, constantly looked to one side of the audience, as if gazing into the distance. Moderated by the first Latina city council member, Raquel Castaneda-Lopez, the theme was state of the city regarding racism. 85% black, ruled by a largely white, right winged state government thru the emergency manager, I do believe racism is a well-established fact.
Desiree Cooper, columnist for the Detroit Free Press
Sarida Scott Montgomery, executive director of Community Development Associates
Rev Ed Rowe, senior pastor to Central United Methodist Church
Following the panel we could choose between transit, housing, and the prison system. I chose the latter. In it, near the end of an impassioned presentation and discussion, one woman raised the question, what exactly does “criminal justice” mean, i.e., where is the justice in the criminal system? I heard a collective sigh, all acknowledging that to combine the 2 words is absurd. So I now use the term “criminal (in)justice” which is a major part of the “dirty rotten system” Dorothy Day often spoke of—“our problems stem from our acceptance of this dirty, rotten system.”
Yusef “Bunchy” Shakur, community activist, former incarcerated gang leader and member
Oh, I wish S had been with me, I’m confident she would have been equally moved. L also, and JB, and M, my honchos from back home and in Oakland, Dan also if he were not so diminished, and George Wald, desperately wishing to “get back in it,” meaning, heed the calls to action. I participated for all of them, and report photographically for all of them—and many others.
This conference was not all of yesterday. Cobo Hall is huge, holds many types. On the floor below, as I searched for the bike expo, loud rock music drew me to a sneakers’ expo, in strong distinction with the Equity Action Summit. Many youth, most male, half and half black and white, amid a myriad of sneakers, all probably selling for astronomical prices. These shoes some would fight over. I made a video.
Sneakers, $100 and up
On the floor below that, the bike expo, each floor with a different population, each a different theme, each a different message. On the top floor: people suffer, the city has big problems, let’s fix them. On the mid floor, look at these cool sneakers, buy them. And on the ground floor, the bikes, here’s an alternate form of transport, have fun, play and ride.
North American Bicycle Week
TO BE CONTINUED
Detroit Bike City (video)