Just left Grace Lee Boggs’ 94th birthday celebration. She was the hostess, and planned the program.
The room was full of people who have known Grace for decades, people who have changed their whole lives based on the teachings of Grace and her husband Jimmy Boggs, contributors to the re-issues of her and Jimmy’s books, and young people who have grown up in programs co-founded by the couple (half the room were current members or past members of Detroit Summer).
The food was delicious, in the way food is delicious amongst people who centralize good food access in their vision of movement building.
I had barely sat down when I was put on the spot to lead Happy Birthday. On the spot like I had been dreaming of it all day; on the spot like I jumped up and clapped and got to pour all my joy and honor at knowing Grace into my breath.
I have never been with Grace once when she was not referencing the work and genius of her love and life partner. I think their model of loving comradeship, a logical love, a love passionate about transforming the self to transform the world – is as important to the movement as any project they started.
Grace spoke of how Jimmy knew his time was coming. She has joked for years that her time is coming, while her level of activity and output means that people do laugh at the joke, it’s so hard to imagine.
She had us watch the video that anyone who has ever been to the Boggs Center has seen. Its a video of Jimmy speaking casually and formally, with glimpses of Grace. The video is followed by footage of Ossie Davis giving the eulogy for Jimmy – humorous and precise, a memory of the ways Ossie was “born again” in the analysis and worldview of his friend Jim.
Everyone in the room had seen the video, and watched again. Some had tears, most just smiled. Speakers and performers got up, and each person’s life had been deeply changed by the impact of Grace (and Jimmy’s) work.
Invincible got up to perform, and prefaced the verse and freestyle by saying to Grace: “instead of giving us easy answers, you have asked us the hard questions. Thank you for the hard questions.”
This is true. I have sat with Grace each visit now for the past nearly three years, which makes me an absolute beginner. Each time I push and prod and seek answers, because I like questions and a-ha moments. Each time I walk away still having the conversation in my head. It’s deep to go back and forth with someone who has 64 years of lived experience more than you.
The ideas are so so so complex to actually contend with, internally. Transform YOURSELF to transform the world. It literally means turning from the practices of complaint, reactionary protest, banging at the door of folks who don’t care about you…turning deep within yourself and your community to discover, create, apply and maintain solutions. Even folks who see the logic of these ideas have a hard time letting go of the practice of spending serious time in oppositional, reactionary, anger-driven political spaces.
Grace sits in the ideas with comfort and ease, still learning, still growing, still excited – but with no doubt. Everything is about relationships, everything is about avoiding the trappings of false power and false solutions. I see myself bringing that shift – from reaction to vision – into the work Ruckus does. How can our vision be directly acted out? How can our actions transform the participants in ways that transform the communities and the opposition?
I don’t agree with every point, but I can’t tell if that is just my learning curve or not. I do know that when I started reading Grace’s work and sitting with her, I often found sentences I literally felt I had written or said at some point, and it was like a homecoming to see a politic built around love and relationship and community.
Tonight I was honored to sit in that community and celebrate 94 years of Grace. Send her your birthday love!!
P.S. The event was a fundraiser for Detroit Summer, and included the unveiling of their GORGEOUS new t-shirt, designed by Wes Taylor. You can get one if you donate. Investing in someone’s work is always a perfect gift.