Detroit Becoming, Detroit Jesus
by Susan Leem, associate producer
Kids play at the Campus Martius Fountain in Detroit. (photo: Maia C./Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0)
After listening to this week’s show with Grace Lee Boggs (“Becoming Detroit”), Peter Putnam sent this inspired response:
“Time Inc. was here for a year — and this is the story they missed: Detroit becoming. Full disclosure: I’ve known Grace since 1993. In fact, I met my wife, Julia, through Detroit Summer, Grace and Jimmy’s (r)evolutionary idea to utilize the spirit of young people to revitalize, re-imagine, and re-spirit Detroit. Julia was actually Detroit Summer’s first volunteer and is now deep in the process of creating a place-based school in Detroit, the Boggs Educational Center, that will draw on many of the people and principles that came out in your show. Ending with Invincible’s hip-hop song was also right on.”
He then ended his note with this poem, which he composed for Grace Lee Boggs on her 96th birthday:
Time, Inc., buys a house in Detroit
and tries to track him for a year.
But he’s invisible to those looking for a
blue-eyed dude in a white robe
or for a city gone completely to hell.
He is the cinnamon of my son’s skin
with a green thumb and a Tigers cap
and my daughter’s dove-grey eyes.
He prays into Blair’s guitar,
hangs out on Field St.,
bakes bread at Avalon
and plants tomatoes on the East side.
He rides his old-school bike down the heart
of Grand River,
paints a mural in the Corridor,
shoots hoop in the Valley
with priests and pimps and lean young men
trying to jump their way to heaven.
while the Border Patrol counts cars,
he walks across the water
grabs a bite to eat,
born in Providence,
he lives so simply,
he could live anywhere:
Dublin, Palestine, Malibu.
But Detroit is his home.
It was here one Sunday
a boy invited him down
off the cross
and into his house
for a glass of Faygo red pop.
That was centuries ago, it seems,
and how far he’s come,
reinventing himself more times than Malcolm.
He’s been to prison,
been to college,
has a tattoo of Mary Magdalene on one arm,
Judas on the other,
and knows every Stevie Wonder song by heart.
He’s Jimmy, he’s Invincible, he’s Eminem.
He’s the girls at Catherine Ferguson
and their babies,
and he’s the deepest part of Kwame
still innocent as a baby.
The incinerator is hell,
but he walks right in,
burns it up with love,
comes out the other side,
He can say Amen in twelve religions,
believes school is any place
where head and heart and hands
and wears a gold timepiece around his neck
with no numbers, just a question:
What time is it on the clock of the world?
And every second of every day
he answers that question
with a smile wide as the Ambassador
and a heart as big as Belle Isle,
hugging this city in his arms
and whispering to each soul
words no one else dares to say:
You are Jesus,
this is your Beloved Community,
and the time
on the clock of the world
Tuesday Evening Melody: “Detroit Summer” by Invincible
by Susan Leem, associate producer
One of the stars in the constellation of Grace Lee Boggs’ world of change is hip-hop artist Invincible, whom the Village Voice calls Detroit’s “femme-emcee extraordinaire.” Invincible (aka Ilana Weaver) is a rapper and spoken word artist who leads workshops through the Boggs Center’s Detroit Summer project.
In one of these workshops, she leads kids in collecting and studying interviews with community members. They use these conversations as the source for their own hip-hop pieces and brainstorm alternative solutions to the problems raised by their interviewees. She says this about her friendship with Grace Lee Boggs (whom you’ll hear in our podcast this Thursday):
“Grace doesn’t talk down to you; she doesn’t come like that to young people. She comes to you with questions rather than lecture to find out what’s relevant to you and tries to relate to it… My whole life has been transformed by my work with Detroit Summer. First of all as an artist I ground all my art in a larger purpose and vision for community change that’s led by the community.”
King constantly pointed out to those in the freedom movement that their refusal to respond in kind to the violence and terrorism of their opponents was increasing their own strength and unity. He reminded them and the world that their goal was not only the right to sit at the front of the bus or to vote, but to give birth to a new society based on more human values. In so doing, he not only empowered those on the front lines, but in the process developed a strategy for transforming a struggle for rights into a struggle that advances the humanity of everyone in the society and thereby brings the beloved community closer to realization. This is what true revolutions are about.
—Grace Lee Boggs, from her article “The Beloved Community of Martin Luther King” commemorating the 75th anniversary of his birth.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaks in Paris in March 1966. (photo: AFP/Getty Images)
To make a revolution, people must not only struggle against existing institutions. They must make a philosophical/spiritual leap and become more ‘human’ human beings. In order to change/transform the world, they must change/transform themselves.