Radical axis

Ah, Cass Corridor. While much of it’s still run-down and decrepit, it’s also the stomping grounds of fiery social activists and business owners who see a community with infinite potential.

Along with bombed-out buildings, the area now has gardens, bistros, a brewery, art enclaves, an organic bakery, not to mention new housing developments cropping up. It would be foolish to call this a boom, but the Cass Corridor is undeniably on the rise.

Nonprofits like Detroit Summer recognize this move in the right direction, and are doing everything that they can to help. Often regarded as the most visible grassroots organization in the area, Detroit Summer recently began throwing a series of monthly potlucks that are based around one simple premise: community. The potlucks are a breaking of bread spiked with a dose of political discourse, with a little bit of live hip hop, poetry and electronic music thrown in for good measure.

Last month’s potluck fell on the eve of ex-gangster and Crips co-founder Stanley “Tookie” Williams’ execution. Several Cass Corridor residents — from homeless people to high school students — came together to watch Redemption, the Hollywood adaptation of Williams’ life story. Afterward, the group had a political discussion about the significance of the highly publicized execution.

This month, Detroit Summer founder, the 90-year-old author and activist Grace Lee Boggs, will lead a discussion about what relevance, if any, the message of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has for today’s youth.

Having worked as a social justice advocate for more than 60 years alongside such political luminaries at Malcolm X, Kwame Nkrumah and C.L.R. James, Boggs has much to say about the fundamental gaps activists and theoreticians of her generation have with relating to the youth of today.

“It boggles me that people aren’t analyzing why so many young people these days are walking out of the public schools each year,” Boggs says. “These kids aren’t just dropping out of school; they’re boycotting the entire system.”

Fostering intergenerational dialogue has been one of Boggs’ main goals for years.

“Every time I look out of my window, I ask myself, ‘Why can’t we understand what’s going on with young people in Detroit? Why don’t we understand why sometimes they feel so hopeless?’”

Boggs, who has studied the speeches of Dr. King for decades, believes the slain civil rights activist was dealing with this very issue during the latter stages of his life.

“After the Watts rebellion, King began talking to young people more frequently, to get closer to understanding the despair that was working its way into Northern ghettos like Detroit and Chicago,” Boggs says. “King proposed ‘project education’ — not just academic stuff — where kids could be involved in creating change in their own neighborhoods. Yet for some reason, people have been ignoring that part of Dr. King’s legacy for a long time.”

When asked if she feels the youth of today can even relate to the message of Dr. King, Boggs instinctively cites her upcoming appearance at this week’s potluck dinner. “Well, that’s what we’re going to try and find out! I do know that you can’t wait until a child is 18 to start telling them to be responsible. King wanted to see kids responsible for their own communities at a much earlier age so, hopefully, we can talk about that and see what young people have to say.”

Parents, activists, youth and Cass Corridor denizens and business owners are welcome (and strongly encouraged) to participate in this event. Because it’s a potluck, a dish to pass is appreciated, but no one will be turned away for lack of one.

And since Detroit Summer also strongly believes that the bond between artists and activists in Detroit needs to be stronger, the more musicians, artists and creative-types who show up, the merrier.

In addition to Boggs’ discussion, guest musicians and wordsmiths Invincible and Finale will be spitting truth lyrics, and members of City Wide Poets will also perform.

Jonathan Cunningham is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]
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