In March of 2014, I saw the movie “American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs” at the Freep Film Festival. The screening was followed by a conversation between Grace Lee Boggs and the filmmaker (see the photo to the right, courtesy of the Detroit Free Press). Grace was 99 years old at the time – the filmmaker had to push her out in a wheelchair and hold the mic while she spoke – and she moved much slower than she did in the clips of her early years as an anti-war activist that played in the film. While it was clear that her years of radical action had taken a toll on her physically, mentally she was incredibly sharp and full of the wisdom of her experiences.
As we left the theater I darted towards the book table to purchase some of her writings, and can distinctly remember raving about and processing Grace’s philosophies on the world during the entire drive home. She challenged the audience to reimagine what the world could look like – to understand that systems do change, and that being patient and determined and creative would lead to a better society.
Grace passed away the next fall, and I spent that day scrolling through pages and pages of her quotes and biographies of her life, feeling incredibly honored for the opportunity to hear her wisdom in person back in Detroit. I was again reminded of her creativity and her challenging of what has always been, and was motivated to return to Detroit after college – after all, Grace once said “I feel so sorry for people who are not living in Detroit.”
Two years later, I found myself in Tech Town as a Challenge Detroit fellow, hearing from a Challenge alum about the upcoming StartingBloc bootcamp, an upcoming one day institute centered around the programming of the Boggs institute and the teachings of Grace Lee Boggs. I signed up that afternoon, and a month later was touring the east side in a bus hearing the Boggs institute perspective on radical community development. I was once again reminded of the power of creativity, and brought this with me back to Challenge as we finished our project with Century Forward and began scoping impact projects. I pushed myself and my team to bring creativity and imagination into every step – from the questions to the ideas to the communication of the final product. Our final product was innovative and original, while being rooted in the big ideas we heard from asking community members open ended questions about the future they wished would be reality. I brought the same creativity into my impact project, as I tried to make the design question as creative as possible to ensure the final outcome would be an imaginative solution perhaps not yet considered.
I am so incredibly grateful for many ways in which the wisdom of Grace Lee Boggs has showed up in my life and for her constant reminder that “we have the capacity to create the world anew.”