On the Cusp of Transformation

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Riverwise Winter 2020 Editorial

On The Cusp of Transformation


As the new year arrived we may have watched the ball drop, the calendar flip, the clock count down, with more uncertainty than usual. Not only because our military is engaged in its yearly holiday incursion into a sovereign territory. Not only because the upcoming presidential election in the US promises to be the most important in history. And not only because the damage we’ve done to our ecosystem is fast approaching catastrophic levels. But because of the realization that, the drastic measures required to reverse any and all of these issues will have to be led by us. Our so-called leaders have proven themselves, over and over, incapable of inspiring the changes in our political and economic systems needed to save our planet and ourselves. For this kind of transformation to occur, we’ll have to look inward. 

We can start within the boundaries of our city, where we find new political modes emerging through collective decision-making and conscious efforts to reinforce the social fabric. The resulting communities are self-reliant— the building blocks for a new society. These are the places where we are growing closer to each other and to the future we long for. 

Keeping in mind that there is no predetermined outcome for our neighborhoods, we can shape the future through the choices we make today. If we desire a society that values equity, justice, sustainability, and quality of life, we must continue to struggle for our right to make decisions about how we shall live. We are all ‘futurists’ when we assume our individual and collective responsibilities. We must learn to listen to the people and places where this new consciousness is beginning to take hold.

The potential to create something very new is magnified by the fact that we are a majority-Black city. The intensity with which we have been economically repressed and displaced over the last 400 years has left us in the best position to spearhead a social transformation. Not to say that it’s our responsibility, so much as it is, simply, a historic reality. Because we have suffered disproportionately from the ravages of industrialism and capitalism, we are, “free to think about a more just society, not mainly in terms of a higher standard of living or more things but in terms of new ways of producing and new ways of living.” (page 247, Living For Change by Grace Lee Boggs) 

In this first edition of Riverwise of the new year and new decade, we feature community-building pursued by socially conscious youth working through the Detroit Community High School makerspace. Their water purification station is having a great impact in the Brightmoor neighborhood, showing that our educational institutions can be directly beneficial to our community struggles. We must regain control over life-giving resources. Rains will have a completely different effect in Brightmoor this coming spring.    


Not all of our young folks have found programs as nurturing as the DCHS makerspace for their creative talents. Many of our brilliant youth are struggling with economic and socially challenging circumstances, including the continued shake-up of the public school system. Without any barriers to entry, school-age children should have access to the finest education we have to offer, including the awareness of how critical their contributions could be to rebuilding and redefining this city. As our school district recovers from the ravages of emergency management, community leaders, parents and students should lead the conversations around policy changes and the purpose of education. 

 One of the hallmarks of community building in Detroit is its intergenerational character. Taking time to share what we are learning together is something best done regularly, and intergenerationally. In movement cities, inclusive politics buttress new tactics from youth activists in response to increasing state violence. In this Riverwise, Shimekia Nichols and Megan Douglass interpret new tendencies to create community leadership. Denguhlanga Kapilango and members of BYP 100 Detroit offer direct-action approaches in the face of continued repression in our economic and justice systems. 

Where we find committed youth activists, we find the birth and rearing of new ideas. But without experience and insights from elder activists like Pam Africa and Aneb Kgositsile, both veterans of the struggle for black liberation, our work wouldn’t have a foundation on which to build. As Africa and Kgositsile pass on their experience, they pass on a legacy and a responsibility to continue movement work. The youth are grounded by the elders and the elders invigorated by the youth. Its this interplay between generations which maintains the liberation and evolution of this work in grassroots communities.

We also need to recognize the spaces which have provided shelter and ground support to carry out liberation work. This edition also presents a glimpse at one such historic location— the Cass Corridor Commons. ‘The Commons’ has been a refuge for movement organizations for two centuries. It’s our responsibility to make sure that it lives on for future generations of community leaders.

As we survey the many efforts across the city of Detroit to improve our communities at the grassroots level, we should always be asking, What stage are we in at this time? What outcomes are we fighting for? How do you measure success or failure?  Detroiters struggling with these realities are the reason why we are looked to as a ‘movement city’. It’s why 18,000 caring people converged in Detroit for the 2010 US Social Forum to declare that, ‘another world is possible, another US is necessary, and another Detroit is happening’. As we approach ten years since that monumental event, as we enter the year 2020, we are taking stock of lessons learned and progress made toward a new society. As we work to transform ourselves and the world around us, our future is less abstract. It is our collective responsibility, emerging out of the choices we make today.