Detroit is/as/beyond Wakanda(?/!)

the other day i got be part of a circle of Detroit thinkers, makers and artists considering the relationship between Detroit and Wakanda. in what ways is Detroit a Wakanda? in what ways might we go beyond our in a different direction than Wakanda?

we met at the FabLab, hosted by the brilliant Blair Evans, who gave us a tour of all the equipment that is changing the realm of production. the other invited speakers were myself, Ingrid Lafleur if Afrotopia, and black comic artist Arvell Malcom Jones. the other attendees were comic book creators, technologists, organizers, entrepreneurs, artists, parents, educators, children and more.

i took notes cause it was a great conversation across a lot of walks of life.

Blair shared the democratizing potential of spaces like the FabLab – what if anyone in any community can make whatever they need? how could that shift our economy? and since the technology is basically here, what human systems are needed to make the most of that potential?

i made some connections between Detroit and Wakanda – we are a city that people can’t truly see from outside, that people have written off. but so much innovation is galen here – it’s part of why i moved to Detroit on purpose. i spoke of our practice of small scale innovation and intentional experimentation in projects like the FabLab, Peace Zones for Life, Detroit Summer, and the very idea that we transform ourselves to transform the world. i also spoke of the resource richness of our location, with 25% of the world’s fresh water around us. i asked how we hold boundaries in a way that isn’t isolating.

Arvell spoke on the work of creating comics and stories of our own, and doing this in community. he asked, “if you are taking care of the people and they take care of you, what do you need?” he also noted that the role of monarchy in Wakanda is about managing needs and resources, versus just holding power over others.

Ingrid asked if Mayor Young could be read as a Killmonger – an anti hero working to create Detroit as a safe space for black bodies to prosper. she reminded us that Detroit is built on salt, a crystal city, on incredibly rich soil. she asked, “what kind of orientation do visitors to Detroit really need?”

here are some thoughts from the conversation – i tried to catch everyone’s names*. enjoy!

zoo, the barber, spoke about where conversations really happen – in the barbershop. he said the old, ancient ways were better.

we noted than one strength of Wakanda is that the ancient and future coexist and grow together.

Blair added that if we don’t have a framework, then we will use bigger, better tools to replicate pathological behavior.

Halima and Talon spoke about how WE are vibranium, and our hearts are the purple flower.

Numi, in full Wakanda regalia, shared the Afrofuturist Youth Project, which is teaching youth healing modalities, political education and arts.

Lou pointed out that scale made Wakanda successful – everyone had relationships with each other.

Elandria, visiting us on a tour to learn what different communities think about ‘the Commons’, shared that in her work it’s important to have things you don’t use machines for, so you don’t lose the person who knows that job or skill. and noted that great ideas don’t really matter to folks who can’t pay their bills. she asked how do we meld the
theoretical with the practical?

she also pointed out that the movie, and Wakanda, are still based on extraction. and that actually we need things that are within, that we can all access. she left is with the question, how do we show our shadow side for the sake of being whole in community?

coke spoke on how Wakandans did don’t want to share vibranium if it could be used for harm, and said this reminded him if cell phones in schools, which kids use to access porn, or text people to come fight. he asked how do we change how our children think and act? how do we use technology to do that? so they start creating futures? the children are our vibranium (this point was shared by so many in the room)!

mama lila spoke on how technology interferes with face to face connection. she thrilled us with the reminder that with children we’re building a pathway forward, vs adults, who are unlearning. she said we need to view lived experience as a gift, a source of political education. and reminded us about the importance of our water, that the whole emergency management move was about taking control of our water. wage love.

mohan told us technology is important to empower and augment, not replace. he says we have a tremendous cognitive surplus in this region – how do we bring the tools to ask the people here? he reminded us not to be afraid of failure – an idea isn’t important, but a series of ideas we learn from is very important. he said open source has made so much technology accessible, but we must learn through failing like in a video game. you get good through iteration. (!!)

lauren noted that one of the biggest blocks to actualizing Wakanda is how we think of ourselves. how do we activate that liberator mindset while still in a colonizer-adjacent space?

ingrid asserted that joy is a rebellion. she said “i am active in joy and pleasure to decolonize black bodies.”

upcoming ways to continue conversation:

check out an emergent strategy immersion or facilitation training – www.alliedmedia.org/esii

Ingrid is hosting a conversation on cryptocurrency/black chain on Mar 22 at Norwest Gallery.

Arvell offers ongoing comics classes.

Blair is generating FabLab cities with a vision of Detroit being independent by 2054. he reminded us to generate more than we use, to not be extractive but generate for future generations. to remember we are machines running on DNA coding (swoon). practice makes it real. also community hours at fablab 3-6 daily!

* if i missed yours let me know and i’ll update!

afrofuturism and detroit

what an exciting morning in detroit.

started off with the always elegant ingrid lafleur speaking on afrofuturism and detroit in a talk oriented towards creatives.

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here are some twitter highlights, mostly quotes from ingrid:

“An apocalypse doesn’t end in something destroyed, it’s opportunity for transformation. For example, look at @octaviabutler’s parables.”

images from wild seed, pictures of sun ra and imani uzuri, art from bodys isek kingalez were flipping through as she spoke.

“#Afrotopia (the gorgeous logo/imagery from brilliant wesley taylor) is creating radical futuristic art in a majority black city to generate positive social change. Includes magical daily practice.”

“I like #afrofuturism because u have to know ancient history, cosmology, quantum physics, beyond school, broaden black identity.”

sun ra, who was from saturn and was helping us journey through music.

“I enjoy that #Detroit is 82% black & that informs the culture & art…I believe I live in a magical reality all the time.”

“I don’t think you need disposable income to go beyond your current reality. It’s about getting out beyond assumptions.”

“A lot of these ideas are tradition, are within us, they don’t come from going to school.” (beautiful particular as an offering to the mostly art student audience who were genuinely perplexed as to how to engage)

“#afrofuturism is about black being at center – diversity can come, but it’s about the liberation we, in a majority black city, still don’t have.” (in response to the ever brilliant and fearless dream hampton, who questioned the need to constantly move to diversity instead of learning to be in a black space, where black is the center of the work)

“Within our gritty, our bones are beautiful, we have great housing stock, our city is already beautiful & quite vibrant.”

“I need me to exist, even when I die.” – George Henry, at #afrofuturism talk.

after the talk, a few circles of blackness pooled together in the room, vibrating to be in each other’s presence. we talked about octavia butler salons. we talked about how as black people it isn’t about demanding entree into white spaces, especially white spaces in this black city. it’s about creating work so undeniable that being centered is not a question. it was thrilling to meet folks in the arts, design and performance world also bubbling about octavia and black brilliance.

as we were leaving, one of the lovely black men i’d met at the event backed his car into another’s. we all looked at the damage and instead of anyone getting mad, they decided it was an opportunity to sit down for dinner and get to know each other better. it felt like afrofuturism in practice, leaning into each other, creating more possibility, because we need each other, rather than indulging in potential conflict.

then i took some of my broccoli/cauliflower/leek/manchego soup over to grace lee boggs. on the way i had an exciting scifi idea about self-governance in detroit. i shared it with grace and we giggled our way through updating each other on the opportunities we are seeing now. she’s always been ahead of her time, which is saying a lot as she approaches 98 years on the planet this summer.

i’m nearing the end of a beautiful month at home and spring is everywhere. detroit love, black love, that is all.