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{R}evolution in Action

For the late Grace Lee Boggs and James Boggs, “revolution” was not a dirty word; in fact, the couple worked tirelessly for decades to engender the “Next American Revolution”— a social and economic shift that was to end extreme militarism, materialism, and racism.

For Grace Chin Lee, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, living in inhumane conditions in a Chicago slum inspired her to become a tenant organizer, but as a New York Times obituary noted in 2015, it was her marriage to James Boggs, a charismatic African American auto worker and political activist, in 1953 and her move to Detroit that “transformed her political philosophies into life as an activist.” The two were active in the civil rights, Black Power, labor, women’s, and environmental justice movements—writing, speaking, and organizing for the rest of their lives.

In 1995, the Grace Lee Boggs and James Boggs Center for Nurturing Leadership was founded by friends and associates to honor the Boggs’s social justice work. The center collaborates with local, national, and international networks of activists, artists, and intellectuals to “foster new ways of living, being, and thinking to face the challenges of the 21st century.” Visitors may attend political study and discussion groups, as well as   “convenings” on such topics as the economy, labor, police brutality, education, farming and food security, the media and technology. And the center’s Detroit Summer program, which began in 1992, emphasizes youth leadership, creativity, and collective action in solving community issues—including the dropout crisis.

The mission of the Boggs Center appealed to Tawana Honeycomb Petty, a spoken word artist and community organizer. “I was so intrigued by the level of commitment to the study that they were doing, and I wanted to learn more,” says Petty, who has now served on the organization’s board for six years and is one of its primary organizers. 

The 40-year-old Petty has had a front-row seat to the struggles and triumphs of the city, and she says, “I think Detroit is 50 years into the future. A lot of people look at us as the tail end of the great capitalist dream and vision, and we think we’re moving towards another epoch. We think that Detroit is going to create the path for the rest of the world. And so I’m feeling very optimistic about some of the changes that are going to take place coming up. I love Detroit. I don’t see myself living anywhere else, and so I’m really grateful to be part of the change that happens in the city that’s going to come from the grassroots and not from the top down.”