We are shaking the world with a new dream

Detroit my love…

I recently participated in a learning journey that took place in Detroit, led by visionary author and teacher Margaret Wheatley and local activist Richard Feldman in partnership with the Boggs Center. The learning journey was an inquiry into and an invitation to bear witness how people of Detroit are re-building community and livelihoods in a post-industrial world. I am not going to claim to understand what is going on in Detroit after only spending 5 days in this prophetic city even though I witnessed many things, I heard many stories, I met many local people. Or perhaps I will…First it broke my heart, then it filled me with joy and possibility, and finally it cracked my heart wide open to human suffering and joy and and the mystery of life. I was invited to navigate this journey with a strong back and an open heart, and my heart is now full of Detroit and her people which have undone me in a way that I haven’t been undone before…

I will try to share my experience with humility and without judgments, hopefully. However I am not sure if I will manage for my emotions are stirred immensely.

I am deeply humbled by and grateful to Meg Wheatley who enabled me to join this journey, to Grace Lee Boggs for her unconditional love and her strong feminine lineage that made everything possible in Detroit, to Richard, Barbara, Doc, Diane, Invincible, Deborah, and many others who hosted me/us beautifully and made this journey an unforgettable one…For the visual storytelling, please look at photos page. For even more photos, you can visit Brave New World Facebook page and Flickr page.

***

I am pacing the sidewalk in front of a two-story brick building, inhaling and exhaling deeply, slowly as the cold autumn wind blows the dry leaves all around me. There is a stark contradiction between the abandoned houses that I see across the street and the intimate community gathering I just stepped out of. This is a place of contradictions and what I am feeling inside perfectly reflects that. My tears are coming down my cold cheeks but I am not sure whether I am crying because of immense love and possibility I’ve been immersed in or the undeniable decay and collapse of neighborhoods that I see all around me or the radiant joy and gratitude I feel in my heart having witnessed the most amazing relationships and collaborations in this community or the overwhelming grief of centuries that this place holds – pinnacle of racism, class warfare, the crushing of human potential by a vicious capitalist system.

Right before I stepped into the cold autumn afternoon, I was listening to Grace Lee Boggs at the Boggs Center who met our group as part of our learning journey in Detroit. We asked her – in our awe, desperation, curiosity – many, many questions. We were there to listen to this 97 year old matriarch, the legendary {r}evolutionary activist who literally changed the face of this city since the 1940s. Over the course of two hours we were in her presence, she maybe spoke a few times, very briefly. The fact that she patiently listened to all our questions and rumblings – and there were many, believe me! – with a kind smile was very humbling. When she spoke her wisdom with her deep grandmother voice, something happened to me. I felt this deep churning inside me, something flipped inside out, upside down and I was trying hard not to break down in tears as I was holding my camera, trying not to miss one word from her mouth. This is what she said:

The reason I had to run out of the Boggs Center after hearing Grace speak was to release my tears freely and sob in the empty street without making anyone worried. Witnessing everything I had witnessed in Detroit and then being in the powerful presence of a soaring spirit undid me and broke me open: this stark paradox allowed me momentarily to get in touch with the deep grief for the human suffering – the burning questions: how did we allow ourselves to go this far, what have we done to ourselves, to each other and to this Earth? While holding the monumental pain, being present to the humbling beauty and simplicity of people doing the everyday ‘work’ of living, being in relationship, being in community, doing their very best, every day, to re-create their beloved city, claiming their greatest power as their capacity to love in the midst of a dying world.

In Detroit, everything is in your face:  (the following is taken from Margaret Wheatley’s invitation to the learning journey)

“Detroit is a place of stark and compelling contrasts and contradictions. Once the fourth largest city in America that glowed with the promise of industrialization, it is now an embodied prophecy of the post-industrial world, a world where:

  • citizens have been abandoned by their government and corporations
  • factories that employed tens of thousands of workers now lie in ruins
  • 1/3 of the land once filled with homes and neighborhoods is now grassy fields
  • public schools are shuttered and closed
  • drugs, high crime, and criminalization by the authorities plague youth and destroy their future

Like abandoned citizens everywhere, when people realize that no one is coming to help, the possibility of community arises. As people stop looking outside themselves and turn to one another, they discover the richness of resources to be found within themselves, their cultures and their land. Nowhere in the Western world is this discovery of community-as-resource more vibrant than in Detroit.”

We walked through massive automotive plants falling apart; we drove through streets full of abandoned, burned down, decaying houses; we listened to teenagers singing about social justice; we saw gardens producing abundant, organic food; we have been told by street artists that their measure of success is “the depth and frequency of the unusual relationships in their community”; we listened to stories of pain, injustice, rebellion as well as innovation, possibility and hope; we witnessed an amazing web of relationships cultivated through Boggs Center, particularly Grace Lee Boggs’ unconditional love and support of the community. In the short span of 5 days I have probably seen more contradictions then I’ve ever seen in any other place in my whole life.

When everything arounds us falls apart and the world as we know it no longer works to sustain us and we can no longer ignore the human suffering because it’s everywhere we look, what do we do?

A group of people in Detroit is in this very real experiment: they cannot afford “business as usual” any more. And not only that, they believe in a world where communities can thrive through collaboration, creativity, intergenerational dialogue, play. They also found out the hard way that ‘they were the Ones they’ve been waiting for’ when no one else showed up to ‘save’ them. In Grace Lee Boggs’ words they are RE-IMAGINING everything.

And when they say everything, they mean everything. In 2 days we have seen so many different initiatives – from community gardens to youth street art projects to sustainable businesses to alternative schools (the one that blew my mind was Catherine Ferguson School for pregnant girls and teen moms which has a farm on their campus, teaches permaculture and natural building and is facilitating their students to start an intentional community) to co-working spaces to transformative hiphop venues for youth engagement and social justice.

Every single person we met on this journey, from teenagers to 97 year old Grace Lee Boggs, was grounded, elaborate on their work and purpose, quite aware of their responsibility to re-imagine and re-create their lives, and they were joyful and passionate! Despite everything that they have lived through, I have not heard or seen a drop of cynicism, complaint, not even anger or blame, from anyone.

What I’ve seen plenty of though was enthusiasm, power-with, trust, community, collaborations, love. RELATIONSHIPS. Finally it dawned on me on the last day of our learning journey when we were with Grace Lee Boggs, listening to her and seeing local participants interact with her.

Everything was possible in relationship. They all were in relationship. They were in community, not only because they needed each other but also they loved, respected and cared for one another. My impression was that all those relationships were cultivated in the loving container of Boggs Center and Grace Lee Boggs. Her loving, supportive, powerful presence seemed to be radiating through everyone who come into relationship with her.

It was in these relationships that the projects began, collaborations flourished, newness emerged, more became possible.

The good news is that we have seen the apocalyptic end of capitalism in Detroit and it wasn’t the end of the world. Clearly, a bigger scale, global collapse of capitalist system might cause bigger disruptions in the world but I have faith that the communities everywhere will rise to the occasion and once free off the boundaries of this limited, skewed worldview and open to the boundless collective imagination, we will once again re-imagine everything!

Perhaps I am wrong. It doesn’t matter. I’ve seen great things happening in Detroit. As for myself, I got a great lesson: keep cultivating relationships – deep, intimate, strong, diverse, intergenerational relationships. They will be the ground, the fertile soil from which everything else will grow strong.

DECLARATION OF HOPE AND LOVE

by Ron Scott, Coalition Against Police Brutality, and Yusef Shakur, The Urban Network

Over the past four decades we’ve seen the dismantlement of our schools, jobs, neighborhoods and families. Neither the government nor the private sector seem capable or interested in changing these conditions. We have experienced a form of chemical warfare – drugs – that has left our young people reaching for a community that they have yet to experience.

In Detroit these losses have been deeply felt. But we have an opportunity to respond by putting people and their needs first. We can band together to not only protect each other, but to provide for each other, share with each other, feed each other, care for each other and more importantly love each other in these tough times. We need efficient and effective action to turn to each other. We need to continue to be proactive in rebuilding and re-spiriting Detroit. We have to change the mindset and the culture of Detroit, because if we don’t, all the money in the world will not help in Detroit’s rebirth. The people of Detroit need a rebirth that will fuel the city’s rebirth.

Through this “Declaration of Hope and Love,” we are here to convey to all Detroiters that every life in our community is valuable, every life in our community deserves to be loved, and every life in our community needs to be invested in. If we do not deepen our capacity to love, we are helping to sustain the underdeveloped behavior that is contributing to the social mayhem in our neighborhoods.

We need to develop and create liberated peace zones, which will spread hope amongst us and instill the expectations that we will treat each other like human beings and not like animals! We need every human being to join our ranks; white, black, brown and any other color. We need people to commit themselves to restoring the neighbor back to the hood. If we do not find ways to do this, the hood will be the death of all of us. People survive in hoods through underdeveloped behavior, but people live in neighborhoods through love and care. Our greatest resource is our capacity to love and care for each other and for our neighbors, which will bridge the gap between hope and desperation. We firmly believe that this is not a time for war, but for peace. It is not a time for acrimony, but for harmony. It is not a time for discord but for direction.

Detroit/Seven/Broken-open 
Poem by Filiz Telek

My heart is broken-open
because there’s nowhere to hide.
The city surrounds me,
whispers softly
“look”,
“listen”.
I look in the face of brutality
and broken wings of human spirit.
I have no questions left,
why and how fled my vocabulary.
I hear children singing:
justice, they say,
“we want justice, it is time.”
I listen, I look
at windows and doors
that once were there.
In this house,
Aiyana Mo’nay Stanley-Jones
was shot in her sleep.
She was eight.
someone corrects,
“no, she was  s e v e n
when the police shattered
her dreams.
She was seven,
sleeping next to her grandmother.
w h a t
what happened.
to us,
brothers, sisters.
I surrender my eyes, my ears
I want to cry –
I want to cry a million tears.
weren’t we supposed to care
for the next seven
generations?
I let the stories claim
my innocence,
I burn my ignorance
in the fiery truth-furnace.
The city pulls gently.
Says, “look”,
“listen”.
We pass by houses
abandoned, decaying
row after row.
“and then the crack came”
he says.
it’s always
the same ug-ly game.
“We are re-imagining
everything,”
says the matriarch
to her children.
No hope, no fear.
but there’s faith,
that’s clear.
“We are growing the seeds,
we are cultivating
one another with love.”
“we provide for each other,
share with each other,
feed each other,
care for each other
and more importantly
love each other
in these tough times.”
I listen.
“we shake the world
with a new dream”
My world is shaken.
The city says “look”,
“listen!”
“My children are singing
again,
we are harvesting peace
from our pain”
I look, I listen.
My heart cracks wide open.

Detroit from Sacred Resonance on Vimeo.

6 comments


  • Thank you for this wonderful witnessing, Filiz!

    I’m in Japan, working in the 3.11 disaster region. All you say applies here as well. A few weeks ago I was in Minamisoma, a town 25 miles from the Fukushima Nuclear Reactors. Before 3.11, 70,000 people lived there. 50,000 were evacuated because of radiation, and this year they began returning. Now about 50,000 live in Minamisoma.

    What struck me most was their clarity:

    *THIS IS OUR HOME
    *THE PAST IS GONE
    *THERE IS ONLY THE FUTURE WE CREATE TOGETHER.

    When systems collapse, as the have in Detroit and as they have all over the world. The brave new world is ready to be born.

    November 4, 2012
  • Thanks for this beautiful testimony! The last’ll be first . . . this is indeed our future, the two sides of it all, reflected in each of our hearts.

    November 5, 2012
  • [...] don’t have to control the way we see the world. We can usher in the Feminine. We can “shake the world with a new dream“. We can redefine ourselves as artists. We can build a new sacred economy. We can lead with [...]

    November 5, 2012
  • Dear Dear Feliz,

    I was with you the on the Learning Journey in Detroit AND feel I lived it again through your eyes here. Thank you for your beautiful and meaningful expression in words, images and music.

    With gratitude,
    Carol

    November 5, 2012
  • [...] We are shaking the world with a new dream From http://www.thebravenewworld.org – Today, 3:52 PM [...]

    November 5, 2012
  • I was born in Detroit and left in 1973. I have come back over the years and finally, I am seeing and hearing of a rebirth, a rebirth that can wipe the anger and poor me away. A revitalizing that will bring life back to a grey place. Detroit is an example of the emptiness of capitalism and how the unconscious rage against that can be turned into a quest for life and love. It warms my heart in so many ways that Life is sprouting all over and [r]evolution is real!! thank you so much for your sharing. This article is old, now. I’m wondering where you are and what you are doing now…..

    February 19, 2014

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