Tribute to Grace Lee Boggs

Photo Credit: Robin Holland, for "On Being."Last month, our country lost one of its great thinkers and activists for a just and equitable society.  We join friends and colleagues in Detroit and across the nation in mourning the loss of Grace Lee Boggs who passed away on October 5. She was and will live on as an unrelenting exemplar of what it means to live a life of humanity and activism in striving for social justice.  As if it were yesterday, we remember her speech, These Are the Times that Grow Our Souls, which she delivered in October 2003 at Animating Democracy’s National Exchange on Arts & Civic Dialogue in Flint, Michigan. Grace galvanized our national gathering of artists, arts organizations, community leaders, and activists imploring, “Can we create a new paradigm of our selfhood and our nationhood?” and recognized artists as key paradigm shifters in this quest. Not only did she energize that moment, but later, under a stately tree on the Flint Cultural Center’s common, she and others spontaneously planned a next convergence which took place three months later in New Orleans at which 200 artists, educators, and organizers continued the dialogue. That was Grace’s power, and the collective power of “we.”

Some years later, with colleague Sue Wood, I had the opportunity to meet with Grace in her home; really just to say hello while doing some work in Flint. She welcomed us into her living room.  Every surface floor to ceiling was dense with books and papers and she mentioned a few that were on her mind.  But she was most animated as she popped into her VCR a videotape of a local hip hop artist whom she credited with shaking things up in Detroit!  Fast forward to 2012 to the the Network of Ensemble Theaters’ MicroFest.  At its first stop in Detroit, we learned about young artists such as those creating and activating through Detroit Summer, a multi-racial collective in Detroit that has been working to transform communities through youth leadership, creativity. and collective action since 1992. Grace helped to found Detroit Summer. We also met Invincible, a hip hop, multi-media artist who joins organizing theory and artistic practice in contemporary forms to move people to think, learn, and act on environmental, educational, and other issues in Detroit and globally. These artists and countless others pointed to Grace again and again as a mentor, friend, and inspiration. This was Grace’s commitment to cultivating a next generation of leaders.

Grace’s books are crying out from my bookshelves to be read again; their messages of decades of activism hold timeless lessons. What a gift to humanity that Grace was on this planet for 100 years.  Animating Democracy is grateful to have been graced by Grace Lee Boggs–her wisdom, analysis, commitment to future generations, and to the role of arts and culture in living and working for change.