reflections on margaret wheatley’s detroit learning journey

tonight i got the honor of working with margaret wheatley to open a detroit learning journey. folks have come from turkey, brazil, england, canada, and all across the u.s. for this journey.

wheatley is a deep thinker who has worked a lot with organizations and leaders on what is effective. 20 years ago she published a book called leadership and the new science. grace lee boggs read the book a few years ago and began to incorporate some of the ideas into speeches and her own writing, particularly the idea that critical connections are more important in a long-term transformation process than critical mass.

invincible heard those speeches from grace, pursued the book herself and has generated an award winning multi-media interactive album-project called complex movements around these and other concepts at the intersection of complex science and social justice.

wheatley continued developing her thinking on how transformation happens, how communities learn and evolve. she has published a series of books where she is exploring and sharing her learning – dropping into how we listen to each other, and what communities around the world are doing to generate life, to generate cooperation and future together.

a year ago wheatley was speaking at kalamazoo, and a local activist let detroit organizers know. she came to visit, and since then wheatley has been intentionally building relationship with detroit. this weekend is the latest piece of that building.

folks were invited by wheatley to detroit – not to tour the city, but to engage, to understand what is unique about this place and begin to understand place-based education.

we started off hearing the powerful history of the detroit association of women’s clubs, one of the oldest organizations of black women in the u.s., from their current president.

when DAWC purchased their building, the furious white neighbors around them secured legislation that black folks could not walk on the street the building was located on. they had to brick up the door and use the carriage entrance, but they used it, refusing to be blocked or deterred in having the space for social and political gathering.

in such a space we gathered.

we grounded and centered as folks on a journey, lighting candles together to land ourselves in the spirit of openness, learning, shedding light.

then everyone introduced themselves with a question they are holding. the questions were nuanced, thoughtful, and very powerful.

folks from detroit were asking things like how it can be beneficial to detroiters to have folks visit and learn about the amazing work here, how to deepen to commitment and accountability of those who come to see us, and amongst ourselves.

folks visiting were asking things like how to truly engage community, how to show up authentically, how to generate the energy to keep moving forward when it seems impossible.

a question that really stood out to me came from a woman who referenced wheatley’s latest book so far from home: “how can i be more of a warrior, and less of a savior?”

this to me is the crux of the authentic learning experience – which brings the critical connections piece into the present, and the future.

a critical connection is possible when neither person is trying to control or hustle the other. when folks come to detroit not to gawk at what is falling apart, or place organizers here up on a magic pedestal, then something real can transpire. when no one is trying to come save detroit, or save each other – but we see ourselves all as warriors for justice, for the places we love, for the people we are.

then the folks here can share their real human condition, and the struggles of doing work with integrity in a city rife with trauma and corruption. and how fear and hope are both false prophets in that work – that what we need is love and accountability.

in that spirit, everyone can open, open to learning something new, to remembering something deeper than our current analysis…and open to being a conduit of wisdom.

in that spirit of opening, it was such an honor to welcome these journeyers, as someone still landing in detroit a little more every day, and loving it all the time with more breadth and comprehension.

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