Some outstanding elders from the major movements of our time
Gathered last week at Growing Power’s collaboration with the
Beloved Communities’ Initiative.

Grace Lee Boggs

Grace Lee Boggs is an activist, writer and speaker whose sixty years of political involvement encompass the major U.S. social movements of the 20th century: Labor, Civil rights, Black Power, Asian American, Women’s, anti-war, Education for Democracy, and Environmental Justice. Currently she is active in DETROIT SUMMER, a multicultural, intergenerational youth program/movement to rebuild, redefine and respirit Detroit from the ground up. She writes a column in the weekly Michigan Citizen, and does a monthly commentary on WORT-FM, Madison, Wisconsin. Her autobiography, Living for Change, (University of Minnesota Press, 1998) is widely used in university classes on social movements, the history of Detroit and Asian American Studies.

Shea Howell

A community activist, Shea Howell is a Co-founder of DETROIT SUMMER, a multicultural, intergenerational youth leadership program that engages the talents and energies of young people in rebuilding and redefining the city from the ground up. Howell writes a weekly column for the Michigan Citizen and is a professor at Oakland University where she is chair of the Department of Rhetoric, Communication & Journalism. Howell has worked on numerous community and cultural issues in Detroit and around the country.

Nelson Johnson

Active in the movement for social and economic justice since the late 1950s, the Reverend Nelson Johnson continues this work as executive director of the Beloved Community Center of Greensboro and pastor of Faith Community Church. Johnson centers his efforts on facilitating a process of comprehensive community building, which includes the convergence of racial and ethnic diversity, social and economic justice, and genuine participatory democracy. At the Beloved Community Center he and his colleagues attempt to bring together the homeless, the imprisoned, members from impoverished neighborhoods and other disenfranchised groups in a spirit of mutual support and community.

John D. Maguire

After 28 years as a university president, the final 17 at Claremont Graduate University, John D. Maguire became senior fellow at the Institute for Democratic Renewal in the University’s School of Politics and Economics. President Emeritus Maguire is a consultant to the Oakland-based Project Change, with which the Institute entered into partnership in 2002. He is engaged fulltime in a range of antiracism, democratic community building projects and activities. A colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he is a life director of the King Center and served in its initial year (1968–69) as chair of the board.

Kathy Sanchez

Kathy Wan Povi Sanchez, MA, San IIdefonso Pueblo (Tewa), from New Mexico, is an educator, potter and co-director of Tewa Women United, an organization comprised of Indigenous women advocating for positive social changes.

Shirley Strong

Shirley Strong has worked in higher education, philanthropy and social justice for nearly 30 years, the last twelve of which have been with the Levi Strauss Foundation and the Tides Center. Currently, she is Executive Director for Project Change, a national initiative that works with multi-racial coalitions, partnerships and alliances in developing locally based anti-racist community building programs. In 2002, Project Change became a partner in a national joint anti-racism venture with the Claremont Graduate University Institute for Democratic Renewal, where Strong serves as a senior fellow.

Here is an essay that captures some of the spirit of this great group.

“Think Globally, Act Locally”
Towards a New Concept of City-zenship

By Grace Lee Boggs

Community Cultural Development Leadership Summit
Intermedia Arts, Minneapolis, June 24, 2004

I am delighted to be here this weekend. I almost didn’t come
because as I approach my 90s, I have been cutting back on
out-of-town speaking engagements. I often have to use a
cane and my hearing leaves a lot to be desired. But I still have
most of my marbles. So when Sandy Agostin told me that
this gathering of artists and educators was being convened to
follow up on the meetings that Minneapolis city officials,
community developers and community organizers have been
holding for the last three years in order to create ideas for
community cultural development, I felt that I had to come,
not only to speak but to listen and to learn.

In the last 60 years I have had the privilege of participating
in most of the great humanizing movements of the second
half of the last century: labor, civil rights, black power,
women’s, Asian American, environmental justice, antiwar.
Each was a tremendously transformative experience for me,
expanding my understanding of what it means to be an
American and a human being, and challenging me to keep
deepening my thinking about how to bring about radical
social change.

However, I cannot recall any previous period when the issues
were so basic, so interconnected and so challenging to
everyone living in this country, regardless of race, ethnicity,
class, gender, age, occupation or national origin. At this
point in the continuing evolution of our country and of the
human race, we urgently need to find ways of grappling
effectively with these interlocking issues so that we can go
beyond protest and begin projecting a vision of a better way
of life that can inspire great numbers of Americans to act.

For example, how are we going to make our livings in an age
when Hi-Tech and the export of jobs overseas have brought
us to the point where the number of workers needed to
produce goods and services is constantly diminishing?

What is going to happen to cities like Detroit that were once
the arsenal of democracy? Now that they’ve been abandoned
by industry, are we just going to throw them away? Or can
we rebuild, redefine and respirit them as models of 21st
century self-reliant, sustainable multicultural communities?

How are we going to redefine Education so that 30–50% of
inner city children do not drop out of school, thus ensuring
that large numbers will end up in prison? Is it enough to call
for “Education, not Incarceration”? Or, recognizing that our
children and young people are being systematically socialized
to become passive consumers and non-thinkers, can we create
ways and means to engage them in productive activities so
that they can discover the power they have in themselves as
human beings to make a difference and therefore want to
develop to their highest potential?

What steps can we take to start caring for our biosphere so
that we can stop using our mastery of technology to increase
the volume and speed at which we are making our planet
uninhabitable for other species and eventually for ourselves?

How are we going to build a 21st century America in which
people of all races and ethnicities live together in harmony,
and Euro-Americans in particular embrace their new role as
one among many minorities constituting the new
multi-ethnic majority?

And, especially since 9/11, how are we to achieve
reconciliation with the two-thirds of the world that
increasingly resents our economic, military and cultural
domination? Can we accept their anger as a challenge rather
than a threat? Out of our new vulnerability can we recognize
that henceforth our homeland security depends on our
embracing a new paradigm of community development that
reverses the paradigm of unlimited (and cancerous) growth
which has not only been worsening the quality of our lives
but also breeding recruits for terrorist groups like Al Qaeda.

As I have been thinking about these questions, especially in
relationship to this gathering, it has struck me that the key to
creating a new paradigm at this point is to recognize that
although all these are global and national issues, they can be
most effectively addressed on the local or regional level,
That is what we have been trying to do in Detroit and that is
what I sense is going on in other American cities, like
Minneapolis and Portland, Oregon, and South American
cities like Curitiba, Brazil.

At the national or global level, American democracy is not
working because in order to be elected or re-elected,
politicians, Democrat or Republican, are beholden for their
campaign funds to multinational corporations with no loyalty
even to this country, let alone to our communities and cities.
At the national level also slick propagandists can manipulate
public opinion, e.g. by calling cutting taxes “tax relief,”
thereby suggesting that cutting social programs is no more
consequential or socially irresponsible than taking an aspirin
to relieve a headache.

On the other hand, at the local or regional level, in our own
backyards, it is harder to evade social responsibility and
easier to recognize the importance of making decisions that
reduce rather than increase social and environmental
problems, e.g. mobilizing to block the building of a
Super-Wal-Mart or an adult book store in your community.
By addressing issues like these, we can begin taking the
practical steps necessary to transform our cities from being
only the venue of private and passive consumers who exist
to buy goods produced by absentee corporations, into
communities of citizens who are creating a new more
participatory and more democratic concept of citizenship
because at this level the political and the economic are
organically connected.

For example, by talking and working together with our
neighbors, fellow workers, church members, we can decide
that instead of transporting our food from long distances
(which means not only adulterating our food with
preservatives but also consuming huge amounts of fuel and
increasing toxic emissions), we can begin producing our own
food simply by multiplying the number of community
gardens that many of us are already planting on the vacant
lots that are so plentiful in our cities. (I don’t know what the
figures are today but in 1982 the population density in the
average U.S. city was 7 persons an acre as contrasted with a
density of 140 persons an acre in Manhattan).

By producing our own food, we can also begin to restore our
sacred connection to the Land and the concept of
Stewardship that is so pivotal to maintaining our humanity.
Over the last two centuries, this connection and this concept
have been lost as farmers and peasants have been driven off
the land and into the cities by the mechanization of
agriculture and the escalation of agribusiness. One of our
greatest challenges as city dwellers is to bring the country
back into the city not only for practical but for spiritual and
political reasons.

At the local or regional level we can also take visible and
dramatic steps to reduce our dependence on Middle East oil,
a dependence which has increased our vulnerability to
terrorism because it has involved supporting corrupt regimes
detested by their own people, For example, we can build
solar panels on the roofs of public buildings. We can also
decide that our city will purchase our energy needs from
Native American reservations. The Rosebud reservation in
South Dakota is seeking long-term purchasing agreements for
its native-owned and operated commercial scale 700-watt
wind turbine built with a grant from the U.S. Department of
Energy. According to estimates by COUP ( Intertribal
Council on Utility Policy) windpower from Indian
reservations in the northern Great Plains alone could replace
one-half the currently installed energy capacity of the entire
U..S. from all sources.

On the local or regional level, we can begin grappling with
the issue of Jobs by encouraging and supporting businesses
that, instead of constantly replacing human energies and
skills with robots, consciously utilize Intermediate
Technology, i.e., technology that eliminates back-breaking
work but preserves human energies and skills. At this stage in
our evolution as human beings, we ought to be able to be able
to resist the dictatorship of Technology and exercise our
human power to practice an artisanal type of production that
respects human skills and upholds the right of every human
being to the dignity and sense of belonging that comes from
contributing to the goods and services needed by society.
There is no law in Nature requiring that workers be laid off
just because robots can do their jobs. As human beings, with
the right and power of self-determination, we can choose to
take advantages of some technologies while rejecting others.
For example, Italian manufacturers have discovered that with
sophisticated computer programs and modern materials like
plastic rather than steel, even durable goods can be
economically produced on a small scale for local and
regional markets.

In the last thirty years as the world has witnessed the
destructive ecological and social impact of corporate
globalization, we are witnessing the emergence of a growing
number of individuals who, because they want to make their
livings by producing goods and services for a community,
have decided that capitalist accumulation, i.e.,the limitless
expansion of profits to invest in increasingly sophisticated
technology, is not a law of nature that they are bound to
obey. In other words, as human beings we can choose to
create an economics that respects human values. E.F.
Schumacher called it “Buddhist Economics.“ We need to
find ways to encourage and support these individuals. They
can help us transform our cities into lively places where
large number of residents can walk or bike to work, to buy
our groceries and other needs - so that the activities we carry
on for daily survival are also creating community.

Meanwhile, there are all kinds of things we can do to bring
the neighbor back into the ‘hood. By viewing our streets as
more than conduits for cars, we can turn them into living and
play spaces - to exhibit art, to hold festivals, potluck
dinners, picnics. We can build kiosks at intersections for
sharing reading materials and garden produce. Instead of
every household owning its own washer and dryer, we can
make household tasks more social by supporting a small
laundromat on every or every other street corner.

Activities on this human and community scale would
naturally and normally involve our children and our schools..
Through this involvement, our children will discover that
biology, chemistry, trigonometry, history are not just abstract
subjects in textbooks or facts to be regurgitated on tests but
answers to questions that arise in real life.

These are only a few of the ways that we can begin to turn
around the pattern of growth at the margins of the city and
decay at its center that has dominated development in
post-WWII America, and begin transforming our cities into
collections of communities and centers of creativity where
people of all walks of life will want to live and others from
all parts of the world will want to visit as they have been
visiting cities like Florence since the 13th century.


This is the kind of rebuilding, redefining and respiriting of
the city from the ground up that we are striving for in Detroit.

I came to Detroit in the early 1950s when in the name of
Urban Renewal a vibrant black community in downtown
Detroit with small stores, churches, show bars and lots of
pedestrian traffic was being bulldozed for a freeway that
would enable white office workers and professionals in
downtown Detroit to commute to their suburban homes.
That was the beginning of the post-WWII pattern of
development that has made a wasteland out of the center of
Detroit and other cities.

As a result of this attack on the black community, by the
1960s the population of Detroit was becoming majority
black. This led to the Black Power movement, in which I was
very active because it was clear to me and my colleagues that
in the American tradition of cities being governed by
representatives of the majority population, blacks should now
be playing a prominent role in city government. Because the
power structure refused to concede any power, in 1967 the
black community rose up in rebellion (in what has been
called the “Detroit riots”) against the continued white
domination of the city, especially by the police force which
acted like an occupation army. Four years later, mainly
because the rebellion of 1967 had demonstrated that law and
order could no longer be maintained by White Political
Power, Coleman Young was elected Detroit’s first black
mayor .Young was able to integrate the police and fire
departments and City Hall but he was unable to reverse the
systematic de-industrialization and disinvestment by major
corporations that was creating mass unemployment and
encouraging a “drug economy” in black neighborhoods.

In 1988, Young proposed Casino Gambling as a way to
create jobs. To defeat this proposal, we formed a broad
coalition, calling ourselves Detroiters Uniting. In the course
of the struggle, Young called us “naysayers” and challenged
us to come up with an alternative.

Recognizing the validity of his challenge, in 1992 we created
DETROIT SUMMER, a multicultural, intergenerational
youth program/movement to rebuild, redefine and respirit
Detroit from the ground up.

A lot of experiences went into the founding of DETROIT

For three years, from 1989 to 1992, through the heat of
summer and the sleet of winter, WE PROS (We the people
Reclaiming Our Streets) had been conducting weekly
neighborhood anti-crackhouse marches, chanting “Up With
Hope, Down With Dope! “ “Drug Dealers, Drug Dealers,
You Better Run And Hide, ‘cause People Are Uniting On
The Other Side!” In a few neighborhoods we had been
successful in reducing crime and violence but our marches
had not attracted young people and we knew that any
program to rebuild and respirit Detroit had to be built around
a core of young people.

In the last two years of his life MLK had called for
self-transforming and structure transforming direct action
programs for youth in” our dying cities.”

 Ever since the rebellions of 1967–68, we had recognized that

in order to transform angry rebels into socially responsible
citizens, we needed a new kind of Education that provides
opportunities for children and young people to participate in
the rebuilding of our communities.

In the 1960s and especially in the Freedom Schools of
Mississippi Freedom Summer the involvement of young
people as active citizens had been pivotal to the success of
the movement. In the 60s the challenge had been civil rights;
in this period it is rebuilding our cities. That is how we came
to name our program DETROIT SUMMER

Detroit Summer started out in 1992 by engaging youth
volunteers in three main activities: planting community gardens
to re-connect young people with the Earth and with the community;
painting public murals to reclaim public space; and
intergenerational and peer dialogues to share our fears, hopes,
and dreams.

Since then, one thing has led to another.

Our community gardening put us in touch with the
Gardening Angels, an informal network created by the late
Gerald Hairston, former auto worker and passionate
environmentalist, consisting mainly of African American
elders raised in the South who had seized the opportunity
created by vacant lots and the city’s Farm-a-lot free seeds to
plant gardens all over the city.

The Gardening Angels led us to Paul Weertz, a science
teacher at Catherine Ferguson Academy (CFA), a public high
school for teenage mothers, who was helping his students
learn respect for life and for the earth along with math and
science by raising farm animals, planting a garden and fruit
orchard, and building a barn. As a result, instead of dropping
out in large numbers, 70 to 80 percent of the young ladies
stay in school and go on to college.

Across the street from CFA were a couple of abandoned
houses. Deborah Grotefeldt, an artist from Project Row
Houses in Houston, suggested that we buy and rehab these
for emergency use by CFA mothers. On the corner between
the two houses Detroit Summer youth, under the mentorship
of Grotefeldt, landscape architect Ashley Kyber, and Trisha
Ward of Art Corps/LA, then created an Art Park as a
meeting and story-telling place for neighborhood residents.
As a result, the neighborhood is coming back to life. A CFA
teacher has bought and renovated the abandoned house next
to one of the Detroit Summer houses. A family down the
street has fixed up its own house and bought two neighboring
houses to rehab for other family members. CFA students are
using an EPA grant to do soil testing in the neighborhood and
have reported their results and proposals back to the
community at a community festival.

The success of the Art Park/Soil Testing and Remediation
project in revitalizing the CFA neighborhood inspired us to
embark on a similar effort in the neighborhood near the
Detroit’s Cultural Center, which once housed Detroit’s
Chinatown but has now been largely abandoned. In order to
bring diversity to a city that has been too narrowly viewed as
black and white, Asian American university students
embarked on a project with local Asian Americans to revive
Chinatown. To launch the project, they created a mural
linking the struggle for justice for Vincent Chin, an Asian
American Detroiter murdered by two autoworkers on the eve
of his wedding in 1982, to African American struggles for
civil rights. The mural, at ground level, has transformed the
space facing it into a courtyard where Asian American,
African American, and Euro-American residents of the
neighborhood are beginning to interact with one another.

Since the first year of Detroit Summer, we have created some
20 murals all over the city, each designed by youth volunteers
and a master artist in consultation with the community and
each helping to transform how residents view themselves and
the places where they live. To involve school children in this
transformation, the Boggs Center, in collaboration with the
Department of Transformation of the Detroit Public Schools
and the College of Creative Studies, organized Artists and
Children Creating Community Together (AC3T), a program
in which elementary school children mentored by College of
Creative Studies students, produce drawings that are then
transformed into giant murals to hang on the outside walls of
the school. These murals have energized neighborhood
residents to mobilize weekly clean-ups and other restorative

Inspired by the activities of the Gardening Angels, Detroit
Summer and Catherine Ferguson Academy students,
students in the Architectural Department of the University of
Detroit Mercy, under the leadership of visiting architect
Kyong Park and department head Steve Vogel, have created
Adamah, a vision for rebuilding a devastated two and a half
square mile area on the east side not far from downtown
Detroit. The Adamah vision, based on urban agriculture
(Adamah is Hebrew for “of the earth”) includes unearthing
Bloody Run Creek, which had been covered over and
absorbed into the city’s sewer system, and turning it into a
canal for both recreation and irrigation. The vision includes
community gardens, greenhouses, grazing land, a shrimp
farm and dairy, a tree farm, lumber mill, and windmills to
generate electricity, and living and work spaces in the former
Packard auto plant.

As people watch the 20-minute Adamah video you can
almost feel their minds and imaginations expanding. Community
residents draw from it ideas for rebuilding their own neighborhoods.
Out-of-towners wonder how they can spend time in Detroit to help build the

As one thing has led to another, Detroit Summer, which
began as a three-week program in 1992, has become year
round with new programs that have come out of the creativity
of the young people who now provide the core of its

For example, Detroit Summer young people have created or
are creating::
Poetry Workshops for Social Change;
Back Alley Bikes, a program which involves soliciting used
bikes from supporters, finding a skilled mechanic to teach
bike repair, and inviting neighborhood youth to earn their
own bikes by repairing a bike they have selected. The result
is an alternative method of transportation with which young
people are putting the neighbor back into the ‘hood.

Loud and Clear, an independent media center.

Over the years Detroit Summer has taught us that the
capacity of young people to make social and political
judgments is directly linked to the growth in self-confidence
that they gain from working with one another and making
practical judgments and choices in concrete, mundane
activities like gardening, rehabbing houses, painting
community murals, repairing bikes.

It is because our school system deprives children and young
people of opportunities to engage in activities like these as a
natural and normal part of the curriculum that it is now in
such crisis. All too many classrooms have become war zones
where teachers can’t teach and children can’t learn because we
are still following the “command and control” model created
100 years ago to prepare young people for factory work.

Detroit Summer volunteers are mainly teenagers from
Detroit neighborhoods but it also attracts college students
from all over the country. Every year some of these young
people return after graduating from university because they
see Detroit as the place where they can begin building this
country anew. In the 1960s and1970s counter-cultural youth
had to go to places like Wyoming to find enough space to
start a counter-culture. Now they come to cities like Detroit
– as do scholars and researchers from all over the world eager
to discover whether the end of the industrial age means the
death and doom of cities forever or whether it has created the
conditions for the birth of a new kind of city.

Personally I view what we’re doing in Detroit and what I believe
you are doing here in Minneapolis as the key to answering the
fundamental and interconnected questions that I posed at the
beginning of this speech. In pioneering a kind of human scale
development that is “the Other“ of corporate globalization,
we are helping to build a movement that is emerging organically
not only in this country but all over the world, in Latin America,
in India, in Europe, in Africa. We are the wave of the future

Last edited by g.   Page last modified on March 12, 2006

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