The Ongoing Presence of Charity Hicks

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I fell asleep sheltered by a willow tree that wept for the state of Detroit in 2023. I doze and woke, woke and dozed on a Belle Isle park bench with the Detroit River flowing forever beside me. A police helicopter flew overhead from west to east, too far away for my eyes to see inside. A monstrous cruise ship upset the water with a boatful of hungry tourists. The breeze on my neck was my mother’s lullaby.

In this dream, the sky was a black rich soil churning above us. Thunder boomed everywhere as Charity Hick’s spirit descended on the city of Detroit. 

No one noticed it; everyone felt it. There was a jingling, a jangling like a ring of keys– which one will unlock our chains?

Charity Hicks left an impact on movements in Detroit, throughout the US Empire, and around the world. These included water rights, food justice, women’s empowerment, Pan-African cultural restoration, environmental/ climate justice, healing justice and more. 

The loving, caring spirit who nurtured and mentored. Who sat with her folks well past midnight exchanging ideas in her upstairs office. Who brought children to the river for ritual, and empowerment, helping them to plant their own history inside this place.

The women’s rage from having their work discredited or having their work stolen and their names discredited or being harassed on the way to work or being bullied during meetings, after meetings, on the sidewalks.

We who sat with Mama Charity remember this feeling.  We knew she would open the heavens whenever she walked in a room. She was often asked to open meetings, and goddesses, ancestors, and vulnerable spirits responded to her powerful call. In her presence, our movements were strengthened.

The US Government knew the potential of Charity M. Hicks.  They awarded her an extensive ROTC scholarship, grooming her for a career in military intelligence. Instead, she applied her strategic thinking and expansive intellect to the benefit of Afrikan peoples in Black communities.  She was an Afrikan woman who could walk any city’s streets from Detroit to Dakar. At the same time, she was passionate about bringing the lessons of the war against imperialism or the imperative to build the commons home to Detroit neighborhoods, to talk plain with our folks who face the systemic violence and oppression but aren’t connected to the algorithm of activism.

The storm raged on.

The city under her astral influence was aware of what was at stake.  We could read a headline and know who the unwritten players were, what the slant of the paper would be. We could follow the money- its bloody prints glowed crimson in our collective eyes. We wondered how we hadn’t seen it before.  We would hear advertisements for DTE, for Great Lakes Water Authority, for Rocket Mortgage and felt disgust at how much of the pretty pictures being painted came from money pilfered from our exhausted community.

When Mama Charity’s spirit descended upon Detroit in the Dreamtime, we strung together time into webs that could hold us: visiting elders, protecting elders, being elders to the youngers, bringing food to the ill, offering rides to comrades, trading childcare for groceries, performing poetry of the five sacred elements, canning vegetables and saving seeds. We recognized each other and could see each other’s brilliant sparks: communicating and flowing genius, mechanical inventive genius, geniuses of rhythm and timing, of willpower and survival, genius that helps the children grow, genius that feeds our bodies and hearts. Despite the labels stacked upon us, we saw ourselves and each other with new generosity.  The storm drummed loudly around and inside of us. 

I was sitting by the water submerged in the Dreamtime. I tried to remember the organizations she co-founded, the reports she wrote, the technical policy analysis she shared throughout Detroit and around the world.  I tried to go back and see her decade in community health research, the speeches she gave that strengthened our resolve to fight those who would demolish us like black blight. How she bravely faced the challenges of being a lone woman in organizing circles and grassroots war councils!

My mind wanted to time travel to that May evening in St. Peter’s Church when Charity got out of jail.  Homrich had been stalking her block indiscriminately shutting off water to dozens of homes regardless of the timelines promised the residents or the agreements they had made with the department.  Charity had pleaded with them to slow down so neighbors could prepare by filling up their bathtubs and pots.  Instead, the contractor shoved her to the earth, then she was arrested.  

That night, we crowded the pews craning our necks and straining our ears.  Elder Reverend Nelson Johnson described Southern workers’ violent battles against the combined efforts of the Klan and local police. It was a dirty war we were up against. He quietly advised us to wage love with and for each other.  The church erupted in a thunderous roar when Mama Charity took the pulpit.  We sweated and cried. Our sister comrade was home safe.  

She returned the energy back to us shouting, “Wage Love.”  

We replied with our hearts and souls on fire, “Wage Love!”

Charity spoke to me; my dreaming mind reached for that moment.  She said: Don’t honor me by remarking on what I did in the past. Honor me with your compassion and the boldness of your actions.

In a dream our imaginations expand; our minds can transform both laws of nature and social conventions.  Mama Charity warned us we live in a time where social conventions are disrupting natural laws.  Forces of finance and violence try to put a price on everything boiling us down to investments and percentages.  They want to capture our pensions, our parks, even the water and the sun as they once did our African bodies and flatten our lives into financial instruments and debits on spreadsheets. 

In a dream, our minds create experiences we would deny with our waking thoughts.  Mama Charity called us forward to stand together and interrupt the powerful progress that others take for granted as normal.  She implored us to “get naked” with each other and live more collectively than we ever have before.  

In some Aboriginal cultures, the Dreamtime is a foundation, a hidden place where Creation is ongoing, where Ancestors watched the formation of the world and learned good ways of living.  Mama Charity came to Earth, to Detroit from the Dreamtime to align our justice to the Earth, to hold our struggle true to Ancestral possibilities.  Our water struggle claims her as patron saint, a deity in the making, Harriet Tubman of our time.  Charity Hicks is a nexus between culture and justice, healing and policy, activism and the hood, waking and dreaming.

Wake up, she whispers.

Wage love, she roars.

The fierce storm explodes around us.

The river flows beside us.

Wake up. Wake up. 

Wage love.

In living, loving memory of Charity Mahouna Hicks

Owólabi Aboyade is a New Afrikan citizen, cultural organizer, and multidimensional Detroiter. He is a divorced father and an Orisha priest with a passion for bringing the liberation lessons of Detroit to global audiences. He served as local co-coordinator of the 2010 US Social Forum, an international movement convening where Charity offered leadership to healing justice practices and movement building. He also worked for almost a decade with the East Michigan Environmental Action Council, where Charity served as Policy Director. He is a co-creator of Bullet*Train, a digital magazine chronicling Detroit’s revolutionary cultures.