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Visionary Voices: YGL in Detroit

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Our Youth Global Leadership 2016 Insight Trip, “Resilient Communities: Exploring Social Change in the Midwestern United States,” came to a close last week. Eleven program participants traveled throughout the US Midwest to explore themes related to community organizing, immigration policy, racial justice, urban agriculture, and alternative economics. The following post provides a first-hand account of the last segment of their experience. Thanks to the YGL documentarian committee for the presentation of this blog post!

During the last week of our trip we visited with a number of local community organizers through a tour with the James & Grace Lee Boggs Center. On Monday we landed at the Hush House, our home IMG_3528for the week. We spent time with Hush House founders Mama Sandra and Baba Charles, who are prominent members in the Detroit community and civil rights activists. We spent time discussing the history of the neighborhood, looking at their African-American history museum, and sharing stories about our lives. We were all deeply inspired by our hosts and the lives they have lived dedicated to justice.

On Tuesday, we started at the Boggs Center with our guide Richard Feldman, a writer and activist himself who asked us to think about the question, “How will people relate to each other in a country that’s been built on racism and corrupted Capitalism?”. We were introduced to the work done by activists and visionaries James and Grace Lee Boggs. With Richard Feldman, we drove to the Packard Auto Factory and discussed the history of the automobile industry in Detroit. Seeing the Packard Plant — a massive building that spans 40 acres — completely empty and caved-in was eye-opening. We then spent time exploring the Heidelberg Project, an incredible neighborhood art installation done by Tyree Guyton. We talked with Tyree about the story behind his artwork, and how it reflects his life. Tyree’s ability to create such beauty with what others consider junk was impressive to say the least. He made a powerful point explaining that “you need opposition to be tough, to become a fighter”. From there we visited Kimberly, a teacher at the Boggs School who asked us the question “What is the purpose of education?”. We finished our day by visiting Yusef Shakur at his house (that he’s converting into a community center) and heard from him about his story regarding resilience and his vision to build a deeper sense of community.

While in Detroit we also visited an urban garden Feedom Freedom, and conversed with founders Myrtle and Wayne and helped out in their community garden. We spent time with Carlos Nielbock, a IMG_3631man who re-purposes recycled materials and builds windmills as a method of producing his own sustainable energy. On our final day we got a chance to go to the Detroit Institute of Arts, home of a world famous Diego Rivera mural which makes a statement on the once-booming automobile industry and then pitfalls of industrialization. Afterwards, the YGLers walked around town and grabbed lunch before doing a group reflection activity surrounding the concepts of immigration, the term “compañerismo”, Capitalism, and education.

We are all sad to be leaving, but beyond excited to be heading back into our own community filled with new experiences and valuable perspectives. We cannot even begin to express how much gratitude we feel for the incredible people we have gotten the chance to speak to, and also for both the Boggs Center and the Hush House for hosting us.

 

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