Community-building Education: Its time has come

By Grace Lee Boggs

Michigan Citizen, April 25-May1, 2010

I am constantly amazed at the opportunities to build the world anew that are now emerging, often in disguise. History has many cunning passages.

On Sunday, April 11 a multicultural lounge in Baits 11 on the University of Michigan North Campus was named in honor of my community activism. The very moving dedication ceremony was organized by Robbie Townsel, UM Director of Cultural Awareness and Diversity Education, who also teaches Women's Studies at Eastern Michigan University. It was a family occasion. Robbie's 7 year old granddaughter, Nylah, greeted me at the door. Her husband, Charles Ransom, took pictures.

Rhonda Sanders gave the welcome. Linda Newman emphasized the importance of diversity in university housing. Kortini Malone read a "Phenomenol Woman" poem. Angela Washington testified that reading Living for Change in her Global Feminism class changed her life. Terrance Carter sang a song about Family Ashley Carter unveiled an enlarged photo of me and Jimmy.

Artist Amariah Stepter.rolled in three huge panels that will hang on the lounge walls. Two paintings were of me at different stages of my life; the third made clear that 1967 was a " Rebellion," not a " Riot." Ashley Bryant presented me with a Certificate of Appreciation, and Robbie invited me to respond.

After expressing my thanks, I said I hoped that students enjoying this lounge over the years will view crisis and adversity not as reasons to despair but as opportunities to keep developing our humanity.

That is what I've learned from a very long life.

The criminal Mideast wars, climate crisis and mass unemployment are bringing enormous pain and suffering. But these disasters also force us to recognize how many of our comforts and conveniences have come at the expense of other peoples, other countries, other living things. They challenge us to look in the mirror and begin living more simply so that others can simply live. They encourage us to begin growing our communities in more loving, caring ways so that we can regain pride in ourselves and in the country we love.

Long before I discovered that the Chinese characters for crisis include both danger and opportunity, long before I learned from reading Hegel that humanity has evolved through the labor, patience and suffering of the negative, adversity helped me grow my "soul."

I became a feminist early in life because the waiters in my father's Chinese restaurant used to say "Leave her on a hillside to die; she's only a girl baby." In my mid-20s, as a newly-minted Ph. D. but also an "Oriental" and therefore an "outsider" in racist America, I lived rent-free in a basement room which I could only access by facing down alley rats. But that led me to the black community in Chicago. As a result, I joined the 1941 March on Washington Movement demanding defense jobs for blacks, worked with C.L.R. James, and eventually married Jimmy Boggs and was his partner in struggle for 40 years.

Developments in Detroit are now creating opportunities for us to create the new kind of community-building education that our children, our cities and our country urgently need to replace the topdown schooling that has become a pipeline to prison for our youth.

Mayor David Bing and Detroit Public Schools Financial Manager Robert Bobb deluded themselves that they could create a middle class city by ridding Detroit of "outsiders." So they concocted a scheme to bulldoze neighborhood schools, But, to their surprise, Detroiters have responded by insisting that "These are our schools. This is our turf." They/we are also seizing the opportunity to transform our schools into centers for young people to rebuild and respirit our communities and our city from the ground up, and in the process also transform ourselves.

More than forty years ago in the wake of the urban rebellions, Dr. King said that young people "in our dying cities" need direct action projects that transform themselves and their surroundings at the same time.

It is an idea whose time has come, and unwittingly, Bing and Bobb are acting as its midwives.

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