"Each generation, coming out of obscurity, must define its mission and fulfill or betray it." Frantz Fanon - The Wretched of the Earth”

Gerald Hairston

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Gerald Hairston

The Great Connector, 1947-2001

By Grace Lee Boggs

Michigan Citizen, August 8-14, 2004

I’ve been thinking a lot about Gerald Hairston recently. Afew days ago I enjoyed my first zucchini from the garden he started on the grounds of Genesis Lutheran Church, his church home which was built on the site of Eastern High School, his alma mater. It's just up the street from me.

That was Gerald’s way. He spun spider webs witheveryone, youngsters and oldsters. He was the Great Communicator, the Great Connector. His visionary and down-to -earth tours of Detroit were famous nationally and internationally.

 A week after his death in June 2001 a community picnic in his honor was held not far from his eastside home to kickoff a summer neighborhood art project co-sponsored by the University of Detroit Mercy School of Architecture, the Boggs Center and Detroit Summer.

In Gerald’s obituary in the Detroit Free Press, gardening columnist Marty Hair described how he created gardens in vacant lots, at schools and on playgrounds, and organized elders into a community gardening group called the Gardening Angels. “Some people fight blight with buckets of paint, burglar-proof window boxes and bulldozers,” wrote Detroit News columnist Betty DeRamus. “Gerald Hairston fought it with green beans and patches of geraniums.”

In the Michigan Citizen Michelle Brown called Gerald a “giant,” who reclaimed neighborhoods “with gentle actions, using the gardens as catalysts, bringing elders and youth together to share ideas and chasing away drug customers by storing piles of horse manure for fertilizers at the dealer’s door.”

On August 3, 2002, the summer after Geraldıs passing, we gathered on the Genesis grounds to remember him. We began by telling stories about him in the magical Griot Garden designed by landscape architect Ashley Kyber working with youth from Detroit Summer and Matrix Theatre Company.

Then we formed a huge circle to dance the Native American, African American and Asian American steps of the “Harvest Dance” and sing the” I dream a garden” song created by community performing artist and choreographer Nobuko Miyamoto as a tribute to Gerald.

      Come into the Circle, Circle of Life

      Come into the dream of a Paradise,

      What was once a ruin can be reborn,

      Just like the sun appearing after a storm.

      With your hands, with your heart,

      With this land, we can make a new start.

      Every step is a blessing

      Every song is a prayer,

      Every seed is a healing

      That the world will share.

      Dancing in the Circle, faces I see

      Dancing in the place of possibilities

      Everything we need is beneath our feet.

      Thereıs a new way to live

      With our roots planted so deep.

To get an idea of Gerald’s legacy, join this year’s freebus tour of Detroit gardens on Wednesday afternoon, August 11. It begins at 5 p.m. at the 4H Community Center, 5710 McClellan, just up the street from Geraldıs old home on Belvidere. Space is limited and registration is required.

Call Ashley Atkinson at Hunger Action, 313 237-8736.

 Email Grace Boggs Center,



Boggs Center 3061 Field St. Detroit, Mi 48214 by appointment  email boggscenter@boggscenter.org

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