Self-Reliance: An Enduring Principle

by Riverwise Editorial Board

One of the primary missions of Riverwise magazine is to survey the sites where visionary organizing work is occuring in the city of Detroit. There are many examples of people who are transforming themselves and the stagnant institutions around them through fresh political and economic programs born in marginalized neighborhoods. This is where the social revolution we need to change the world is emerging. By putting these community-building efforts together, we are advancing the commitment to ‘community control’, which has long been an aspiration of many social justice movements.

 

Throughout the ‘90s and 2000s, the concept of ‘community control’ has become even more important to developing a better society, as state power has increasingly sought to subdue and commodify public institutions. Our best defense has emerged in areas where people, no matter what their circumstances, have been able to organize around new ways of living and working by collectivizing their resources and talents.

 

We were reminded of this vital aspect of political organizing during our April 15 conversation with former Black Panther Party members Emory Douglas and Kathleen Cleaver (page 18). We entered that dialogue by asking about the Party’s ideological and practical work that took place behind the scenes and as well as  Douglas’s ways of representing this in his art. Later, the conversation turned to the relationship between the Panther Party and the community, and the emergence of the free-breakfast and other survival programs.

Douglas and Cleaver left no doubt that the Panthers’ early success emanated directly from the resources the community was able to generate. Black Panther Party members were in tune with the needs of the urban centers where they were organizing. The abundance of youthful and political creativity, freedom of expression and self determination culminated in the Panther Party’s model of community control. Not hindered by reliance on outside material support, the original Panthers kept the distance small between themselves and the community, between crisis and solution.

 

Kathleen Cleaver’s descriptions of the cramped quarters in which the Black Panther Party newspaper was compiled provides an important lesson for current political movement activists. Panthers converged in Eldridge Cleaver’s studio apartment sharing everything from emerging political theory to packs of cigarettes. Discussion was focused directly on the response to specific social injustices.  The lesson is: by securing resources from within the community, we strengthen ties to each other and create an environment of self-reliance.  

 

Some of today’s visionaries apply these same concepts of community control and self-reliance to new projects that seek to integrate technology and social relationships in ways that give people greater social and economic independence. Such is the case of the work that is being done by Blair Evans and Incite Focus (page 10). At this point in history, technology should be redefined and only be considered an advance if it benefits our collective well-being. Blair Evans and advocates of the fabrication labs, or Fab Labs, emphasize the potential that machines and technology might allow us to focus even more so on community building and at the same time alter the conventional idea of work itself. It seems like we’ve heard this before (see how auto industry sold us the automation of assembly lines). Nonetheless, considering the recent abandonment by the auto industry and the subsequent wide-scale destruction wrought by emergency managers and greedy realtors, Detroit seems the perfect place for us to explore the concept of building, at the community level, only what we absolutely need. In any case, all such issues can only be decided if our social consciousness is heightened and community control becomes a prerequisite for any society-wide industrial endeavors.

We must begin to find ways to make distinctions between what we need and what we want, between what we can do and what we should do to develop our communities and protect our earth. We can only make these decisions if our social consciousness is transformed from a “thing-oriented society” to a “people-oriented society.”

 

In many Detroit neighborhoods, the fight to stop home foreclosures due to rampant tax and water bill assessments is the necessary first step to ensure we are developing compassionate, inclusive communities. While many have heard that homes can be foreclosed on due to water shutoffs, not as many are aware just how difficult it is to erase debts caused by either tax-foreclosure or water bills and how inextricably linked they can be.

Foreclosure resistance activists like Michele Oberholtzer of the Tricycle Collective  (page 24) and Donna Givens of the Eastside Community Network (page 25) relate their community-based fights to keep people in their homes on opposite sides of town.

 

While the city of Detroit has seen its share of media coverage of vacant buildings, the stories behind the foreclosed homes and shuttered schools have remained largely untold. Especially the stories of the people who lived in those homes and the memories they took with them when forced to leave. Our Spring/Summer2018 cover’s central image is from a recent multi-media performance, part of the Good Bones project, during which the building literally tells its story. On May 4 and 5, community voices narrated true stories over shadow puppets and projections displayed directly on the building formerly known as the Sophie Wright Settlement and Community Center. Their oral histories came directly from their experiences, not only in that neighborhood, but in that particular building. The structure now houses the James and Grace Lee Boggs School, so it’s far from vacant. But the Good Bones project reminds us that every vacant structure in the city, especially the homes, are deserving of such a commemoration.

 

Using the Boggs School as the stage for Good Bones’ presentation underscores the importance of education to a self-reliant community. The state-led aggression recently unleashed toward Detroit schools has enabled a movement seeking real education alternatives created by vested community members, including parents. The potential leverage created by the Detroit Independent Freedom Schools (page 15), for example, seems the only way forward as yet another Superintendent is assigned the task of reforming the system as opposed to remaking it.

As DIFS promotes a multi-faceted curriculum designed by community activists to address institutional deficits, other educators like Salima Ellis (page 14) are teaching even closer to home. The home-school movement in Detroit can add even more to the dialogue about greater participation in our children’s futures and, furthermore, what education means to us.

 

And finally, we can celebrate the Allied Media Conference (AMC) convening of diverse communities meeting for the 20th year to promote media-making for social justice. Although the digital influence in media organizing is at the forefront of many AMC workshops and activities, the real potential for healing comes from the personal relationships that are created and strengthened throughout the AMC weekend.

 

Our interview with AMC directors (page 7) shows one reason why the conference  has proven sustainable— its ability to be self-critical and keep pushing the envelope of its evolving mission. As with any movement activity, the challenge of widening the circle of participants remains the underlying objective. For the AMC, this means making all Detroit communities aware of our potential to describe our own lives  and create our own social realities.

 

Several Detroit-based initiatives, or tracks, have been created within the AMC , only to later become independent organizations of their own— groups like the Detroit Area Restorative Justice Center, People In Education and the Detroit Community Technology Project. The Dream Café will bring food justice issues to the table at this year’s AMC (page 8). The weekend-long pop-up kitchen will be housed at the historic Cass Café for the three days of the conference. The concept of rotating visiting chefs of diverse backgrounds and their various approaches to radical dining is one that could find a permanent home in Detroit and add some more color to Detroit’s resurgence in the culinary scene.

 

With all these advocates for the establishment of community self-determination how can Riverwise, yet another media project, be more than just a reflection of that work? How can we become a more vital part of that effort? By securing resources within the community first, and strengthening ties to each other to create an environment of self-reliance. Please join us at a community conversation, a writing workshop or by submitting a subscription envelope, or share your thoughts and ideas for publication. Submit an article, poem or original artwork to riverwisedetroit@gmail.com. We appreciate your support and hope to support you back.

                                                                Free Siwatu!

                                                                In love and struggle, Riverwise

 

                                                  

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A Letter from Siwatu Salama Ra

Never in a million years would I have thought I’d be sitting in a prison cell facing the unimaginable. (Giving birth to my son.) The strength to get through such a thing I often don’t believe I possess it. Then I read all the letters people have written me, I hear about all the endless support, and I am able to push another step.

 

Please tell everyone my heart is filled with gratitude. This is the importance of community. This is why we invest in each other, because it is only us who will protect each other from this evil system. Tell Tyree to keep moving mountains. I’m so proud of him. Tell our community, this is the energy needed to create and birth the reality deserved for our children. #WageLove

With much love and struggle,

~ Siwatu-salama Ra

 

 

Allied Media Conference: 20 Years of Organizing Independent Media Makers

Riverwise Interview with AMC Organizers Jenny Lee and Morgan Willis; Interview conducted by Eric Thomas Campbell

 

Allied Media Conference (AMC) has been a point of convergence for visionary media makers for 20 years. Thousands of participants from around the country will convene June 14-17 on the campus of Wayne State University to explore how social justice can thrive through media-based organizing.

Riverwise spoke to Allied Media Project (AMP) Executive Director Jenny Lee and AMC Program Director Morgan Willis about how the conference has worked to be wholly inclusive, how participants have transformed the conversation around digital media, and how the AMC has evolved into one of the most dynamic events in the city.

Detroit’s involvement in the AMC began partly with the regular attendance by members of Detroit Summer, a youth-led collective, during the conference’s early years in Bowling Green, Ohio. We began by discussing how the conference moved to Detroit and developed into its current form, which includes over 300 workshops, panels, film screenings, tours and related events.

 

Jenny Lee: There was a lot of excitement amongst the people that had been attending over those years which was primarily a Midwestern audience. It wasn’t primarily Bowling Green residents, but it was people from all over the Midwest. And they were increasingly intrigued about what was happening in Detroit in terms of social movements and learning things about Detroit, that especially at that time, people didn’t know or care because everyone had written off Detroit in so many ways nationally.

 

Morgan Willis: Right before it became the Allied Media Conference it was The Underground Publishing Conference which was a growth from the Midwest Zine Conference. As media continued to evolve and became understood as something that was more accessible by not just mainstream media, not just journalists or filmmakers or formal people who had studied media, but all of us with our phones, recorders, pen and paper, and zines, the concept of who the conference was for expanded. Underground Publishing was an effort to expand with the expanding frame of what media was and who was using it. And then it became the Allied Media Conference.

 

Jenny: Yeah, I think the origins of ‘zines, it was always about do it yourself media, grassroots media, anti-corporate media. But then with the internet it took on a whole dimension of digital media as Mo (Morgan) was saying. And then the AMC, and the shift to Detroit specifically, came out of the focus on media-based organizing for social justice. So more about the media as a part of movement building, but also this idea that the process of community media can itself be an organizing process, can itself be a transformative and visionary process. So again, tying back to Grace Lee Boggs and Jimmy Boggs, Detroit Summer’s ideas around self-transformation and structural transformation, the move to Detroit really grounded those ideas in the context of media making.

 

Riverwise: And you’ve mentioned, that a big component is the digital justice piece, which developed as the technology advanced and access to it became a digital rights issue.

 

Jenny: Yeah, another global thing that was happening was the growth of indie media as a network. There were dozens of sites that popped up around anti-corporate and anti-globalization protests all over the world. The idea was to push back against corporate narratives with these really basic internet citizen journals and tools. So these were online publishing platforms where anyone could post. This was before blogging was a thing, before Twitter, before any type of social media. Very rudimentary, independent publishing on the internet. So people who were organizing with that network started attending the AMC and using that as a space to convene. Some of the problems with that was that it was very tech-dude focused and, especially in the U.S., it was primarily white spaces organizing. So another shift that happened around the time of the move to Detroit was the conference becoming more about people of color, women, gender non-conforming, queer POC as media makers and technologists and how that meant a different kind of technology, different relationships to technology and ultimately better, more liberatory technologies.

 

Morgan:  I think about the earliest iterations of the internet also being, not just potentially restrictive to who gets to access it, but the other side of it being this open space, this space of huge potential. And it felt really radical to bring together this group of radical folks and get to dream about the ways we could use this space. And I think that a lot of that has to do with the work that’s happening now: for example the Detroit Community Technology Project, with tons of our sponsor projects and partners. The outgrowth of being able to dream together about how we can take this thing, this entity, and make it work for us, use it to build our stories or our work, connect with each other. And as the internet has continued to grow and evolve, as one of the bases of how we access and share information, so has the conference. It’s a really beautiful thing to look back over 20 years and just be able to see this history of how social justice organizers have continued to work around some of the limitations of the internet, the opportunities of the internet and maybe some of the things on the internet hadn’t even been thought of yet.

 

Jenny: I think at the core of AMP’s theory of change is that when we shift from just being consumers of media and consumers of technology to be active creators of it that the technology itself changes. Our experiences on the internet changes and who we are changes because we are infinitely more powerful than all of these circumstances. You mentioned the digital justice coalition, which did grow out of the AMC. A big part of the vision behind that work was increasing access to media and technology throughout Detroit, not only on a consumption level, but really increasing access to the tools and the skillsets to create the internet and create the content of the internet. So out of the digital justice coalition group the Detroit Future Media program, Detroit Future Schools, Detroit Future Youth, were all these intensive digital media trainings for people whose voices were not on the internet, were not shaping the narrative about what Detroit was and what Detroit could be, to then gain that access. And so we saw these notable shifts in the online story of Detroit through the way that people started using the internet to tell their own stories and to push back against prevailing narratives on Twitter, on Facebook, on their own websites that they built through the classes that they took. And so all of those three or four years of trainings that we did grew out of the digital justice coalition which grew out of the AMC. There’s a lot of examples of these ripple effects that you can trace back to the AMC because it’s been such a rich space.

 

Riverwise: That’s intense. From your remarks, I’ve already gotten a better sense of that duality of working in this new realm of technology and doing it in a space that’s safe for marginalized communities. So we see a dual transformation happening— to systems outside and within yourself as well. It’s vital.

 

Morgan: And simultaneously, on the complete other side is also this continued investment in developing and understanding technology as also being non-digital. So what are the things that we’re already doing in our communities that don’t necessarily rely on the internet. Like, farming, healing justice work, asset mapping, community mapping, the ways that we intentionally gather to have conversations that are either based around strategies that at the AMC led to things like the WNUC coming out of a lot of the work that happened in non-digital person-to-person, brainstorming, dreaming together ways. So I think it’s also exciting to think about there’s also been a really deep investment in remembering that there have always been ways that our communities have exchanged information, ideated, grown, organized, communicated with each other and figuring out how those innovations can look online but also in person, among each other.

 

Riverwise: So the community that has grown up within and around AMP and the AMC, how do you discuss taking that to communities in Detroit that aren’t necessarily getting involved in these circles, or getting involved in tech at all?

 

Morgan: Moving here for me it was very important, and I felt very aligned with AMP’s network principles, and the main one being we begin by listening. So, it was very important to create a space of listening and not a lot of prescriptive thinking around how the context should look and feel, and really to receive the guiding lights of AMP in Detroit, which are Detroiters who are doing community and media-based organizing work in Detroit, who are mainly black…. Having content that’s open to people who are not registered and content that’s not even on campus…. we’re working with community partners in spaces all over the city, specifically in the area around the conference where folks can access it readily.

 

Jenny: One of the reasons that the AMC is still here after 20 years is that there is a cost to it and people pay for it. And that cost is prohibitive to a lot of people. Even though on the national scale of conferences it’s super cheap, but because it isn’t free and by a lot of standards it isn’t cheap, the people that come every year keep us accountable in that it has to be really good and really relevant to be worth it to people to spend that money. It also keeps it afloat because we’ve never been completely reliant on foundations. So, if any one funder were to be like, this is too radical, I’m not gonna support it, it would not take the AMC down because it’s user owned.

But that does create this tension where, for so much of our city, it’s unaffordable. I think it’s important to be said that we never want cost to be a reason that someone who really wants to be at the AMC can’t attend. And that’s why we have scholarships available for Detroit and Flint residents who just can’t afford to pay the registration…. anyone that wants to attend and is looking at the registration cost and feels like they can’t should absolutely contact us. We can work to figure out ways to make it possible for people to be there.

 

For more information on the Allied Media Conference and Allied Media Projects, visit www.alliedmedia.org.  

Dream Café: Cultivating Cooperation

By Serena Maria Danielsphotos by Ara Howrani

 

When asked to describe everything that goes on at the Allied Media Conference (AMC), organizers liken it to an ecosystem. It’s a multi-layered laboratory of organizers, media-makers and youth gathering around the power of storytelling, strategizing and mobilizing for a more just and resilient world.  

 

But how does food fit into this ecosystem? And how can food serve as a means of resisting the effects of colonization and land destruction, while at the same time preserving cultures from erasure?

 

These are the sort of lingering questions that— for many of the thousands of activists who’ve descended upon Detroit for the conference the past 20 years—  hadn’t really been explored as part of the programming until recently in the AMC’s evolution.

 

“Here we are to share strategies and create a lab for a more just world, while struggling to feed ourselves and the youth we serve,” says Ora Wise, the AMC’s culinary director who’s also behind the Feeding Emergent Resistance Movements, Envisioning Nourishing Traditions, or FERMENT.

 

The idea around FERMENT is that food is a medium through which we all share knowledge and connect across time and space. Food allows us to communicate our culture over generations. But the way we eat is also a direct result of a legacy of colonization, capitalization and an exploitative, globalized food system— a system that demands the most of vulnerable populations who toil away for the enjoyment of those in power.

 

This new AMC track will imagine the possibility of a world freed from this exploitative system, as well as how cooking and eating can be collaborative processes between people and nature, between farm workers and cooks, and between generations.

 

On top of hands-on workshops for youth and adults, field trips, roundtable discussions, storytelling, cooking demonstrations and lessons, recipe-sharing and meals, this year’s AMC will welcome the Dream Café. The Dream Café will include a takeover of midtown’s Cass Cafe, located down the street from the conference, where attendees and Detroiters alike can engage with art, music, food, and storytelling in an experimental restaurant space reflective of AMC’s ethos.

The Dream Café will feature a rotation of pop-up menus, both on and off the Cass Café site, from visiting chefs like Brooklyn-based Anya Peters of the Kit & Kin Caribbean-inspired eatery; I-Collective’s network of indigenous chefs, activists and herbalists; and walk-in breakfasts, lunches and a market farm stand from members of FoodLab Detroit, a nonprofit network in support of the city’s good food movement.

Shane Bernardo, a community organizer who focuses on food justice and equity, is coordinating efforts to bring produce sourced from local Detroit farms and gardens, such as from Oakland Avenue Urban Farm in the city’s North End neighborhood, founded by Jerry Hebron, into the hands of Dream Café chefs.

 

If you think about it, the acronym, FERMENT,  fits perfectly. After all, the idea that food can nourish a movement has been fermenting among AMC organizers for years. It was just a matter of letting it develop organically over time.

“It’s one of the great examples of how the AMC is shaped by participants,” says Jenny Lee, executive director of Allied Media Projects.

 

Each year, the AMC puts out a call to organizers all over the country for input on programming,  and a rethinking of the role media plays in pushing forward movements.

“I think that there’s a lot of cultural information that we communicate through food,” Lee told Riverwise. “There’s a lot of family memory and cultural memory that gets communicated through food. As it relates to communities of color, marginalized communities, food has a way of bolstering and passing on resilience strategies.”

 

Both Lee and Wise, a Brooklyn native, have been working together at the AMC in different capacities for more than a decade. The two say the need for a food-focused track had been apparent for some time but what that might look like didn’t start taking shape until about four years ago with the creation of a community dinner on the Saturday of the AMC. It was at that dinner, says Wise, that the pieces started coming together.

 

“We cooked in a small kitchen for maybe 130-140 people, there was so much love,” Wise told Riverwise. “It was following the Iraqi Transnational Collective so there was also music and film and discussion around everything in Iraq like peace and the struggle for water. There was also a water march that culminated at the dinner. People in Detroit were talking about their struggle to access water and so were the people in Iraq. It became even more clear that there was a hunger for this.”

 

Joining the growing food focus is Munira Lokhandwala, a chef based in Oakland, Calif. She says another need the FERMENT food track  fulfills is the lack of access for conference-goers to food that is produced in a sustainable, non-destructive way.

 

Over the past few years, a lot of attention by national media outlets has been paid to Detroit’s growing dining scene. But a lot of that focus has been centered around large-scale commercial developers — not exactly in line with AMC’s goal of empowering communities of color. Whatever programming the conference had around food would have to address sovereignty from that corporate approach.

 

“We were talking about ways to make food accessible and exciting and building communities around food,” says Lokhandwala, FERMENT’s co-founder.

 

Last year, the AMC held its first food-related track, Food Focus, that featured, among other things, a Cambodian pop-up dining event organized by Chinchakriya Un, an artist and chef who creates spaces to share personal narratives through food. The dinner was held at New Center Park and hosted 250 visitors. Money was raised for Un’s family’s village but at the same time, produce was being harvested by Earthworks urban farm, storytelling around culinary traditions and trauma were taking shape, and young chefs got the chance to learn from veteran cooks.

 

Anya Peters, whose New York-based popup and catering, Kit & Kin, centers around Trinidadian and Jamaican food traditions, was among the chefs brought on to collaborate on last year’s effort.

 

This year, on top of preparing a popup dinner, Kit & Kin will emphasize the importance of intergenerational learning through cooking classes with her grandmother and mother by her side.

 

“Last year at the AMC a really big paradigm shift for me was learning from Char (Un)… when I went to school, I was French-trained, all my instructors were white and male. They didn’t know how to teach, they just knew how to cook. Here, I was seeing a matriarchy in the kitchen, learning from our elders and making this space to connect and be inspired,” says Peters.

 

For Dream Café hours of operation and a complete schedule of meal service during the Allied Media Conference, visit www.alliedmedia.org/dream-cafe .

 

Serena Daniels is the co-founder and editor of Tostada Magazine, an independent new media outlet that celebrates the rich culture of Metro Detroit’s food scene. Her food writing appears in NPR’s The Salt, Lucky Peach, Eater, Extra Crispy, Thrillist, Next City, the Metro Times and others.

Reimagining Our Relationship with the Material World

by Blair Evans

photos courtesy of Incite-Focus

What Would You Like to Make?

Incite Focus is tucked inside a nondescript complex in the Warren-Conner area of Detroit’s east side. However, it is operating within a much grander vision than its modest accommodations suggest. Its combination of people, technology and vision for the future set into motion a series of  “light bulb” and “a-ha” moments for visitors who venture into the Incite Focus Fab Lab.

The Incite Focus Fab Lab is part of a network of over 1,000 such labs in 78 countries.  The network was started by MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms, born out of a class taught by Neil Gershenfeld titled “How to Make (Almost) Anything.”  Each lab is equipped with digital fabrication technology: 3D printers, CNC Routers, milling machines, laser cutters and more. With a goal of creating a more self-sustaining Detroit, Incite Focus is committed to providing free community access to such tools and the knowledge necessary in using advanced digital technology.

As part of the Fab City Global Initiative, Incite Focus is about radical transformation, about rethinking and changing our relationship with the material world and, in turn, each other. It is about shifting to systems that nourish ourselves, one another, and this planet.

The Fab City Global Initiative proposes a real-world model for communities to recover the knowledge and capacity to make things, produce energy, harvest food, and develop ways for people to decide their own destinies. The Initiative calls for cities to become self-sufficient by 2054 and produce everything they consume. Detroit joined the pledge in 2016.

The Fab City Global Initiative was started by the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC) in Barcelona, Spain, MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms, the Barcelona City Council, and the Fab Foundation to develop locally productive and globally connected self-sufficient cities. Other cities committed to the Initiative include Boston, Cambridge (UK), Ekurhuleni (South Africa), Shenzhen, London, Copenhagen, Paris and Santiago de Chile.

Collaborating with local communities, companies and institutions, the Fab City project will assist cities in revitalizing manufacturing infrastructure and incentivizing a new economy. Information, economic and social networks will replace global supply chains. With drastic reduction in the movement of materials, as well as their associated energy consumption and carbon emissions, a city’s resilience is increased and a more ecological system is developed. This shift requires us to exercise our social lenses by understanding the objects we use, not as things that will eventually become obsolete and disposable, but as re-imagined and reusable fixtures.

The Fab City strategy is unique in that it addresses a range of environmental, social and economic objectives:  reduction of carbon emissions, waste minimization, re-localization of manufacturing, democratized work and a reduction in degrading environmental practices. These objectives are brought to a practical level by connecting with the Fab Lab Network, where concerted and coordinated efforts are being made to reimagine how, where, and what we make in order to live harmoniously within the bounds of the planet’s resources.  

As technology continues to progress in leaps and bounds, jobs are slowly disappearing. As automation continues its spread and stratification of wealth becomes more extreme, solutions to these changes cannot look like more of the same. We must ask ourselves: How do we harness the energy of these changes and technology? We must apply our ancient ingenuity, our social and collective nature and bring about solutions that lead us in the direction where we don’t just survive, but we thrive.

Detroit’s destiny as a Fab City will not be determined by a single organization, but by this technology being embraced by all community members.  When people have the capacity to make the things that they need, they begin to have a greater sense of control over their lives.

Incite Focus’s efforts to provide people with access and resources for empowerment don’t end with the lab. The Detroit Fab Lab is hard at work developing a digital platform that connects independent designers, makers and conscious consumers from around the world. This platform will utilize the latest advancements in design technology and allow the customer to make alterations to existing designs so the product is personalized to their specifications and manufactured on-demand. For instance, if the customer desires to purchase a kitchen table they find on the platform but the size isn’t appropriate for their kitchen they will simply modify dimensions and the software will alter the design of the product. The same goes for manipulating other characteristics.

The platform will be a resource for independent and emerging designers to provide their quality product designs as well. This will give them access to a global audience and catapult the sale of products produced from their designs. Once the buyer finds and customizes a design they wish to purchase, the platform will quote cost and delivery and coordinate local makers and workshops which will fabricate the product. Although the platform embodies technological complexity, the idea is quite simple. Incite Focus’s platform looks to empower the consumer by allowing them to personalize the products they consume and giving them the option of buying from specific designers, whether on the basis of aesthetic preference, cultural identity, and so on. The designer is empowered by the platform because their designs will be placed on a global stage, growing their customer base and allowing them to receive royalties every time their design is purchased. The platform empowers the maker by giving them more opportunities to do what they do best: make quality products and have flexibility in controlling their time. The maker is also included in a global collaboration that produces products locally, relative to the customer, instead of making in a central location and shipping around the world.

Information being designed and shared globally but produced locally is one of the motivating factors of both the Fab City initiative and Incite Focus’s digital platform. The platform in particular creates an on-ramp to gaining skills in and experience with these enabling technologies while earning supportive income. Both endeavors will do their part to engender a circular economy and community self-reliance in Detroit. What if Fab Labs enabled self-determination through self-sufficiency?  Imagine it is 2037 and Detroit is now a beacon for a “post-salary” future, that is, where individuals can be self-sufficient and find meaning, purpose, and dignity by increasingly making what they consume—self-determination through self-sufficiency. In this model, people spend about 30 hours per week working individually and in community-anchored cooperatives, making what is needed for the family and community, and making additional designs and items for sale and exchange in support of others following similar desires. The remaining 15 to 20 hours of what was traditionally time on the job is spent combined with other free time to pursue personal passions and personally motivated activities around growth and personal development.

This is not some distant future. It is now a focused effort in Detroit and in urban centers around the world, where communities move to emitting and degrading less, and enjoying and thriving more. The team at Incite Focus believes in the philosophy, “Work and spend less; create and connect more,” and sees our work in digital fabrication technology as a foundation for community-based production. By incorporating concepts of social solidarity economy, zero-growth economies, steady-state economy issues; by building cooperatives and community transformation models; by fostering small group project management, and development of individual and group agency, the Incite Focus team is helping people not just learn stuff, but learn self.

Incite Focus invites you to ponder: What would a healthy community, a well community, BE if we could actualize a society driven by self-determination and self-sufficiency? Imagine actually designing and building what your community needs. It starts with the simple question, “What would you like to make?”  

Blair Evans, Founder and Executive Director of Incite Focus, is a Board Member of the Fab Foundation. He has helped position Incite Focus as the “principal collaborating partner” in Detroit’s commitment to the Fab City Global Initiative. To find out more about Incite Focus visit incite-focus.org.  

Riverwise Writing Workshop: Poetry as Visionary Resistance

by Tawana “Honeycomb” Petty

photos by Jamii Tata and Tawana “Honeycomb” Petty

 

Poetry saved my life. I wrote my first poem when I was seven. It was a poem about sorrow. I had experienced so much of it by the time I was in second grade that I needed an outlet. My second-grade teacher provided that outlet for me. She taught me how to love and heal with words. I’ve been utilizing the healing power of poetry ever since.

 

I’m 41 years old. I grew up in Detroit, a city that has suffered under a literal half-century of propaganda assault. For my entire childhood, and into my early adulthood, I believed nothing good could come from living in Detroit. I believed that the only way to become “successful” or do anything with my life was by getting a “good job” and “getting out” of the city. I believed what I heard about myself, other Black people and about the Black city I was raised in. So I moved up the corporate ladder and left the city.

 

My stint living outside of Detroit didn’t last very long. I quickly learned from the outside looking in how Detroit was being viewed and discussed. I decided to come back home and be part of the solution. I understood that, as an artist, it was not only my responsibility to contribute to shifting the negative narrative that was plaguing Detroit, but to use the talents God gifted me with to re-spirit community members who had been dehumanized through the five-decade assault on the city. This included the children who were now on the frontlines of that assault.

 

One of the ways that I serve my community is through teaching art education workshops, and by teaching poetry as an avenue for visionary resistance. I have been honored to teach thousands of youth, elders, (y)elders and community members to realize their creativity through poetry and become visionary contributors to society.

 

Recently, I teamed up with literacy guru Jamii Tata to co-teach a series of workshops for Riverwise Magazine. One of the most significant was Poetry as Visionary Resistance: Literacy by Any Means Necessary. It was a collaboration between my organization Petty Propolis and Jamii’s organization Know Allegiance Nation. Most of the workshops convened at Jamii’s bookstore KAN Books and one was held at the James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership. Each of our workshops was intergenerational, with  participants ranging from elementary school students to elder retirees.

 

I was grateful to team up with Jamii, because of his consistent focus on literacy through his bookstore and literacy programs. The collaboration was seamless.

 

“The workshops helped contextualize the power of words in the Black radical and revolutionary movements that have shaped the nation. In the classes taught at KAN Books, we shared how the Black Power Movement was uplifted by the Black Arts Movement and writers and writings of the times. In the Poetry as Visionary Resistance: Literacy by Any Means Necessary workshop, we framed that our writing of today builds upon the legacy of resiliency against biased and false negative narratives. The workshops also offered an opportunity to engage adults in literacy development as Know Allegiance Nation primarily focuses on literacy development with youth. We created powerful pieces of creative writing that affirm our existence. It was a great opportunity to partner to achieve greater literacy for all.” – Jamii Tata

 

Our collaborative workshops taught poetic technique, structures and devices, as well as offering poetic history and performance tips. We provided writing toolkits, custom notebooks and writing supplies. Participants enjoyed vegan food catered by Chef Nezaa of Paradise Natural Foods. Workshop attendees were nurtured in mind, body and spirit.

 

Each workshop was unique. Workshop sizes ranged from five to twenty participants who ran the gamut of experience— from seasoned veteran poets to those who had never written in the presence of other people. Poets were able to share their work publicly and offer feedback to one another. One participant revealed that the workshops had given her “a space to heal.”

 

In every workshop, participants created individual poems emphasizing technique. Then we created poems together. The first collective poem came from the February workshop. Each collective poem was written in a way that only allows each poet to read the line in front of theirs. They do not see the full poem until every person has contributed a line, sometimes two. This technique is called the accordion poem. The first poem did not have a theme:

 

creativity is my soul

it moves me

but when I travel

it’s astral

my journey had no words

no words that could adequately describe it

good, who needs words anyway?

prefer to fly beyond all that

take hold of new light

and rise above the blight

outside of myself in flight

I believe I can fly

transformative wings of sight

my vision of resistance is clear

 

  • Tawana, Blair, Debra Taylor, Deb Hansen, Pilar Cote, Djenaba Ali, Jamii

 

 

In our March workshop, our collective poem was themed around the new moon. The rules remained the same. Each poet could only read the line in front of theirs:

 

new moon, I feel your energy

on my skin and in my soul

 

the moon in my pocket

keeps me looking skyward

 

the moon shining so bright and beautiful

the wolves sit in front of the moon with their family

 

new moon, new energy

we absorb the light and calm

 

to carry us through the storms

we long for darkness to turn to daylight

 

birthing our creativity in its fullness

healing as the moon waxes and wanes

 

purging past hurts

praying for our hope

and solace for our present

 

  • Alexis Draper, Djenaba Ali, Barbara Jones, Makini Kweli, Aaliyah Sanchez-Kweli, Willie Williams

 

 

In our April workshop, our youngest participant who was 9 years old, selected the theme dancing for our collaborative poem. Again, participants could only read the line in front of their own when creating.

 

moving effortlessly with the wind

my body flowing from within

 

capoeira connects corners of the diaspora

spiritual sensibilities moving energy as we begin

 

closing my eyes as the rhythm overtakes me

attached to strings unseen, moving my being

 

movement that moves the soul

like a galaxy swirling in space

 

dancing is like chicken and fries

African dance and hip hop

 

fire in the belly

dance like no one’s looking

 

  • Shayla L. Gardnier Tyler, Salima K. Ellis, Larry Gabriel, Shakara Tyler, Jamii, Tawana

 

Our workshops covered everything from abecedarian, acrostic, alliteration, sonnets, haiku, contrast poems, nocturnes, deep rhyme, internal rhyme quatrain, and much more. However, the collective poems were the poems that the poets were most comfortable sharing at the end of the workshops.

 

The workshops were three hours long and not every poet was able to stay all three hours, so not all poets are reflected in the group poems, which were created at the end of the workshops. However, we look forward to receiving additional poems as the poets get into the groove of writing in their new notebooks and with their newfound motivation.

 

The final workshop in the series was May 4, 2018 with a special presentation from Khalid El-Hakim of the Black History 101 Mobile Museum. We look forward to reading the poetry that comes from such a tremendous inspiration.

 

You can learn more about the literacy work of Riverwise Collective member Tawana “Honeycomb” Petty and Petty Propolis by visiting honeycombthepoet.org, and Jamii Tata and Know Allegiance Nation Books (KAN) by visiting kanbooks.wordpress.com.

 

The Riverwise Writing Workshops will continue throughout 2018 with the support of the Detroit Journalism Engagement Fund grant. The next series will be facilitated by Ebony Williams at Detroit Thinkers Coworking Spaces on July 7 and July 14. Two more dates for this series will be announced soon.

 

The following Riverwise Writing Workshop will be hosted by Tiarra Overstreet-Amos of Moon Reflections Photography at the Baltimore Gallery on July 15, July 28, August 4 and August 18.

 

For Riverwise Writing Workshop times and exact locations, or if  your community has the capacity to host a Riverwise Writing Workshop, contact riverwisedetroit@gmail.com. or visit www.riverwisedetroit.org.

 

The Detroit Journalism Engagement Fund was launched in March 2017 as a partnership between the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan. The purpose of the Fund is to increase the quality, outcomes and reach of journalism in the region, with an emphasis on engagement, innovation and the equitable recovery of Detroit. For more information, please visit www.cfsem.org.  

Detroit Independent Freedom Schools: Continuing to Offer Educational Alternatives to Youth, Adults, Broader Community

photos by Dareese Cobb

This summer the Detroit Independent Freedom Schools Movement (DIFS) will again partner with the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History to develop a vibrant vegetable garden space on the Museum grounds. The summer program follows a second full year of weekly Freedom School classes, offering art, African American history, dance, science, math, fab lab technology, drumming and more.

 

To complement the ongoing youth programs, this year DIFS initiated an adult “Freedom University.” Twice a month adults gathered for conversations and learning sessions while children met in Freedom School.  Adult classes included the history of African American farming and land use, a report on recent developments in South Africa, instructions for sustainable water and energy use, reflections on how African Americans are portrayed in popular media, and research-based methods for teaching children to read.

 

DIFS also continued to educate the broader community about policies in public education that will impact our children. They conducted public forums, produced a statement opposing the state-sponsored Third Grade Reading legislation, and offered the following series of demands as the basis for creating healthy learning environments in community-controlled schools. –ed.

 

Detroit Independent Freedom Schools Demands…

  1.  Employment of an adequate number of teachers and end of classroom overcrowding. Limit student enrollment per class to 20-25, or less if warranted by special needs.

  2. Assignment of teachers according to the subjects/disciplines they are certified to teach.

  3. Dismantle the DPSCD (Detroit Public Schools Community District) Command Center. End the militarized, oppressive surveillance of our children, parents and community members. No other city in Michigan has subjected its children to this level of police control. First a racist system fails to educate our children, then it labels and portrays our children as enemies of the dominant society who have to be technologically monitored, documented, and finally imprisoned. We object to the way our children are being portrayed and labeled.

  4. End the school-to-prison pipeline that takes our children away from our communities during their most important developmental years as young adults.

  5. Promotion of administrators based on proven competence as educators.

  6. End of excessive, oppressive, futile testing of our children– methods that have been proven ineffective, and only advance the profits of test-making corporations

  7. Reinstate the arts, music, and physical education as vital components of our children’s educational experience.

  8. Encourage engagement of parents in the schools, as self-determining leaders and co-creators of educational programs with teachers and administrators.

  9. End the deceptive relationships with foundations. Expose the fraudulent role played by foundations like Skillman, which undermine community self-governance in order to facilitate corporate control. Skillman formerly collaborated with the appointed Emergency Manager in the dismantling and embezzlement of the Detroit public school system.

  10. Insist that public school environments be clean, properly maintained, safe, and respectful of the human dignity of all who pass through them.

  11. Reinstate the democratic, representative powers of the elected School Board by ending the rule of the state-appointed Financial Review Commission. Work towards ever-greater involvement of the neighborhoods and communities in formulating school programs and policies.

 

For more information and to see how you can volunteer to support freedom schools in your neighborhood, contact DIFS313@gmail.com.

 

DIFS Demands courtesy of Detroit Independent Freedom Schools Movement

Former Panthers Visit Detroit Artists and Activists

Interview conducted by Riverwise Collective; photos by Alex DaVeiga

 

Former Black Panther Party (BPP) leader Kathleen Cleaver and internationally recognized BPP artist Emory Douglas visited Detroit recently for a series of lectures and art workshops in support of the community center, Feedom Freedom, which has established an art program named after Douglas.  One of the sessions with Emory and Kathleen included a long conversation with local artists and activists, including Riverwise editor Eric Campbell, Tzu Pore, Wayne Curtis, Tawana Petty, Ingrid LaFleur, Rich Feldman and Shea Howell. The following are excerpts from that intense, historic exchange, concerning key aspects of the African American liberation movement, ‘60s – ‘80s, reflections on the role of art in political work then and now, and thoughts on the way forward during the current era of right-wing politics in the United States. Ed.

 

Creating the iconic pig image of the Black Panther Party (BPP) newspaper

Emory Douglas: To put it in context, Huey and Eldridge started the paper and they had a vision of the paper to tell our story from our perspective. And it would be like a double-edged sword. It could praise you on the one hand and criticize you on the other. When I got involved, they wanted me to be the artist. My first title was Revolutionary Artist, which I liked. Then came the title Minister of Culture.  Initially, I was mainly doing production work, cutting, pasting, those kinds of things. Maybe by the fourth or fifth paper is when I remember Huey giving me this pig caricature, clip art, that we were going to put in the paper every week…

 

Kathleen Cleaver: You mean the skinny one with no clothes?

 

Emory: …with four hooves, like a real pig. Each week, we would put on the pig the badge number of an officer who was harassing or intimidating, disrespecting people in the community.  After I gave some thought to it, it just came to me: Why not stand the pig up on two hooves, keep the snout, the tail, the flies, the whole badge, the whole bit? And that became the image that [heightened recognition of] the Black Panther Party and became an iconic symbol that people identified with as being oppressed by the system of injustices taking place.

 

The BPP newspaper as a tool for organizing

Emory:  It was definitely a tool. The community then wasn’t a reading community, but learned through observation and participation. So what they wanted to have in the paper was some large type print, with photographs and artwork for those who weren’t going to read the long articles in the paper, so they could get the gist of what was going on. So the artwork contributed to informing and enlightening the community. People would identify with the artwork.  I remember when we did the Panther exhibition at MOMA in New York, we had a reception and a brother from Harlem said he used to take the paper every week and show the artwork on the back. Then you had people who said they could tell the politics of the Party by looking at the artwork. Those who were inspired, who couldn’t read and write began to learn how to read and write because they wanted to know what was going on. The Party had that kind of impact with the paper.

 

The evolving style of the paper

Emory:  The style evolved as you critiqued and evaluated your work — improving it, not wanting to be monotonous in creating imagery and design elements inside the paper.

 

The Party’s approach to organizing

Kathleen:  Well, we were very, what was the word we used, self-reliant. There’s a North Korean concept, “juche,” which means self-reliance.  Once we heard of “juche,” we knew that’s what we had been doing anyway. So the idea was community organizing, activism.   Eldridge had a slogan: “Ready or not, here we come.”  

 

Emory: Plus we had a lot of hustlers who came into the Party. Now they were doing constructive things [to bring resources into the Party] as opposed to criminalizing and hustling off each other, and their skills were being used to uplift [the community].

 

Kathleen: We basically functioned on ideas of self-reliance and community support and donations. I don’t even remember any idea about getting grants….

 

Emory Douglas’s experience as a young BPP recruit

Emory:  I was glad to be able to make a contribution and share my artwork for a cause, a constructive, positive cause. And that was the inspiration for doing the artwork … having this platform with the limited education I had going to junior college. It was a good thing I took up commercial art, as opposed to fine art. In commercial art you learn the production skills needed to put a publication together and design elements and all those things. So that played right into when we started the paper. I had those basic skills.   In the Black Arts Movement, I had been doing posters with Amiri Baraka when he was out there in the Bay Area. All that played right into giving me that foundation. We were fearless, you could say, as young people. You’re just inspired!

 

Political prisoners in the movement

Kathleen: One of his [Emory’s] most famous and most appealing to me and lots of other people is a drawing done during the huge uprising in Newark, of LeRoi Jones, who later became Amiri Baraka. There was a lot of news about his arrest, along with the news about that uprising.  And Emory did a drawing of Baraka’s face and his striped suit, his prison suit. It’s just so graphic and so memorable. Most people don’t think of Baraka as a prisoner, but this is what this poster was. And at that point being a prisoner was not a bad thing, in the rebellion of ’67.

 

Tzu: Was it more like a badge of coming of age, or a rite of passage?

 

Kathleen: Well, maybe later on you might look upon it as that, but we didn’t look at it like that.

 

Emory: No, it was just the reality of getting arrested for being involved.

 

Contributions of young people in the Black Panther Party

Kathleen:  … It was a liberating time. Teenagers are imaginative. Their imaginations haven’t been suppressed yet.  So that was the Black Panther Party in many ways — the imagination of teenagers. Maybe a little smattering of [older activists].  You know, Bobby Seale was about 30, Huey was 23, Eldridge was 31. We had a leader in New York, Chairman Brothers, who was in his 50s.  But other than that, it was teenagers.

 

The role of art in contemporary social justice work

Emory: Well, I can say that some of the art is intellectually stimulating to individuals, but if you’re talking about art for the masses — that relates to [uplifting] all kinds of people, to enlighten — I think that it’s still lacking.  There needs to be more art dealing with the social issues that we’re confronted with today, not only on a domestic level, but on an international level as well…. It can come out of the context of today, how artists interpret those things. There are artists doing it, but it’s not on the scale now as it was back then. You had all kinds of artists who were making political and social commentary during the ‘60s and ‘70s.

 

The Vietnam War, worldwide revolution, and the African-American liberation movement

Emory: We had support committees of ex-Vietnam resisters who went to Scandinavia, who used to sell the BPP papers.

 

Kathleen:  In Vietnam, there was a huge number of blacks. They [the U.S. military] hadn’t drafted so many Black people ever before. They were emptying out high schools to get the troops they needed for Vietnam and a large number were Black, who weren’t really happy about being treated in a racist manner.  And they retaliated…. And what was intriguing, looking back, is how divided the United States was about the Vietnam War; but a whole lot of citizens could agree that it’s bad, and my son is not going to go. And so there were these women who would take their children, their boys, to Canada, others would go to Sweden and so this repudiation of the war in Vietnam [emerged]. I don’t think that’s ever happened in America, where the citizens and a large number of people supposed to be drafted refused to fight.

 

Emory: That’s why you don’t have the draft today. You’re not drafted.

 

Kathleen: Right, you have to volunteer, you have to show up.

 

Rich Feldman: There were ten million people in the streets protesting the Iraq War before it started and it didn’t matter — you know, worldwide. What was fundamentally different [from the Vietnam era], and I think this is the hard part for today’s folks to understand, is that there were rebellions in Detroit, in Newark, fifteen years after the movement starts, and freedom struggles were winning, they were winning across the world.

 

Kathleen: You mean the revolutionary side was winning, right?

 

Rich: Right, I mean it was a world where the empire was crumbling and then all that happens since that time is that the empire figures out how to respond in a very brutal way. That’s why we have counterrevolution now…. That’s why I appreciate the self-reliance conversation, ‘cause that’s where we end up coming back to.

Advancing justice work in today’s world

Emory: You have to learn the lessons from then and figure out how you’re going to do it today.

 

Kathleen: You can’t push a button and get your instructions — revolution in America, 2018. You can’t do that. You have to think it through and see who’s doing what. What do you call this — trial and error? Or what did Eldridge call it? He said, “good old Yankee doodle dandy can-do.”

 

Shea Howell: I think it’s hard for younger people to realize how much went on before things jumped off, before there was a movement here. There was so much work that people did.

 

Kathleen: Wait a minute! That was two generations of work. I’m thinking about my parents. My parents were activists.  My father was in the movement to put an end to the all-white primary in Texas, which really was a life-threatening movement. I didn’t realize it at the time. I knew he did that, but I didn’t realize that people got murdered for trying to [change unjust practices]. And my mother was an activist.  She was involved in something called Southern Negro Youth Congress, which was challenging segregation. In fact, my parents met here in Ann Arbor because they didn’t have any graduate school facilities for Black people in Tennessee, where my father was from, or in Virginia where my mother was from. So they had both graduated from college, but to do graduate work, Blacks could come to the University of Michigan as students. They just couldn’t live in the dormitories. So people in the community would take them in, which was fine.

 

So I grew up with people who were aware of challenging racism, the right to vote, so we’re kind of geared to  [continuing the struggle]. I remember I would tell people that I was in the boycotts in Tuskegee. Well, actually I rode in the car when my parents would boycott and drive to Atlanta to buy groceries or whatever.  We refused to shop because the Black citizens couldn’t get the right to vote…. In Tuskegee, the city changed the outline of the city limits to make sure all the Black people except for about four were outside, so they couldn’t vote…. People said it looked like a seahorse, the boundaries of the city. You know, most southern towns look like a square, that’s the boundary. Well, they didn’t like that square.  There were too many Black people inside. It went up to the Supreme Court, argued by the NAACP, and they lost. Meanwhile, a lot of Black people never got to vote.

 

Emory: They never want what happened during the ‘60s to happen again. We almost started an American revolution.

 

Kathleen:  It was an American revolution.  It was just sabotaged.

 

Establishment strategies that undermined the movement

Emory: So they began to have think tanks and all that…. and then you had the crack cocaine come into the community, destroying communities. And then you had social programs cut back by Reagan; then you have babies having babies, four or five generations into that, with no assistance, no help. All these problems. That’s a disconnect, a whole other dynamic going on — people just trying to survive.  

 

Then you have these youngsters … on TV 24 hours, seven days a week, MTV, BET. So now you have another dynamic you’re confronted with. You’re looking at the “bling, bling,” the Maseratis, the cars and all, before the conscious Hip-Hop comes in to play. Then today you’ve got people who’ve become a part of the middle class. They got a car, they got a house, some of ’em got a yacht, or whatever.   They tryin’ to pay them bills and all those things. You’ve got those dynamics that you’re dealing with. So you got to figure out how you deal with that context today.

The necessity of creating spaces where new ideas and community can evolve

Kathleen:  Lots of people can have ideas and lots of ideas are good ideas. But they have to have legs.  It’s like Emory says, you know, like he gave the pigs their uniforms and then their hat and then, you know, it has to develop.   So you have an idea, but then you have to have a crew. Then you have to have some resources, you have to have space…. That’s what organizing is. Talk to a preacher:  They have to know how to get the church built. You have to get church members to show up — and the choir. In the Black community, church people usually are very good organizers.

 

Wayne Curtis: Right. It was like the Terminator. They understood the importance of neighborhood, so they brought in the dope, the crack. They destroyed the schools; they broke all that stuff down; maybe for different purposes but it took away our abilities. So I think that the Black Panther Party was very ahead of its time in creating the school, our own safety, our own means of providing safety, amongst ourselves and amongst the people….  So I think that creating community is even more important now. The Party created its own intelligentsia, and we still have to create our own means of analyzing things and making it happen. Cause you have a biological need, which is to answer those hunger pains, and you goin’ to have to find out a way to get some food in your stomach or shelter over your head, just like the Black Panther Party did.

 

Kathleen: That’s called community organizing.

 

##

 

On Seeing Sun Ra at Alvin’s

by John G. Rodwan, Jr.

 

Space might be the place

but there was no space in the place –

not on the stage, filled

with members of the Arkestra

as well as shirtless fire dancers,

and not at the tables, surrounded

by rapt responders.

 

I got in with a bit of luck:

I’d bought a ticket in advance, yes,

but sold it at the last minute

to someone waiting outside

when it became clear

that P-Funk’s George Clinton, who was on

the guest list, wasn’t coming

and a friend working the door

let me in in his place.

 

I can’t recall that guy’s name,

or who I sat with,

but I do remember

Sun Ra, crowned,

gold cape concealing

his wheelchair,

stoic at his keyboards, orchestrating,

as if telepathically,

interstellar cosmic bop

with horns, percussion

and Jaribu’s bass.

 

It wasn’t the first time,

or the last,

that the place to be

was on Cass

but seeing Sun Ra

launch his retro-futuristic,

earthy-ethereal

space mission at Alvin’s

was something else altogether,

something of this world and out of it.  

Detroit Kite Festival 2018: Oh, What a Feeling!

by Margo Dalal and Lex Draper

Photos courtesy of Detroit Kite Festival and Daniel Wylie-Eggert

 

For nearly forty minutes this complete stranger and I negotiated give and take around trees, other flyers, and each other. We untangled by ducking armpits, hi-stepping over strings and at least once sharing water from our coolers. Eventually we broke free from one another. Once a high-stake twist-up, it turned into free ’n’ easy smiles and fist bumps to acknowledge our accomplishment. What a relief and what a feeling!  — Dean Kuhnlein

 

I remember my first kite-flying experience as a child. It was terrible. My mother took my sisters and me to the National Kite Festival in Washington, D.C. We were late, and a Spiderman kite was the only one left. I was seven and preferred anything but Spiderman. My kite barely flew, and somehow I missed the excitement of watching the hundreds, if not thousands, of kites flying above my head.

I grew into an adult who now finds immense joy and satisfaction in bringing people together, in connecting people. One afternoon last March, I jotted an idea in my journal:  “Kite festival in Detroit? What better way to bring together people?”

A few months later, something serendipitous happened. My idea for a kite festival won at the first Belle Isle SOUP, a gathering where individuals compete for community funding of their projects. I had doubted it would win, and almost left before the announcement was made. I was surprised to be handed an envelope of cash and permission to host a kite festival on Belle Isle. I probably had not flown a kite since that day in D.C. I had no team, and no idea what I was doing.  

 

It turned out others were excited about the idea of a festival and had much more experience flying kites than I did. The Detroit Kite Festival team came together quickly: Matt Tait, Katie Hearn, Zoe Minikes and Arthur Bledsoe, along with Dylan Welch, Erika Linenfelser, Tucker Adams, and so many others who made signs, donated materials, shared posters, and connected us to people and organizations around the city.

 

In the months leading up to the Kite Festival, we worked really hard to learn more about the history of kite flying in Detroit. We learned that young men flew kites on Belle Isle in the late 1800s, that there were “Kite Ins” in the ‘70s, and that the Detroit Free Press had hosted a series of “Kite Kaleidoscope Days” downtown, with kite-making competitions. We spoke to Detroiters and community leaders, and they shared their memories of kite events they had put on across the city.  We featured their memories in our on-site “kite museum.”

 

Word got around in the Michigan kite-flying community, and The Windjammers, one of the oldest kite flying teams, came out and performed all day. We welcomed other avid kite flyers from across the state. We like to think that well over 3,000 people attended the Festival. The Detroit Institute of Arts gave away 1,000 kites and we sold out of kites.   Michele Oberholtzer mused on the experience: “There is something about a kite that renders articulate people tongue-tied — it’s hard to be eloquent about something so elemental. You could say that a kite is a way to vicariously experience freedom from gravity. You could say that it has a way of making adults smile and kids run and elders wax nostalgic.  Either way, Kite Festival 2017 was one of my favorite days of the summer and one of my most treasured Detroit memories.”

 

This year we are thankful to say we will be flying kites together again, this time with new faces behind the scenes, and hopefully with even more Detroiters creating more kite memories together.  

 

Margo and Lex are members of the organizing team for the 2018 Detroit Kite Festival. The Detroit Kite Festival 2018 will take place on Belle Isle on Sunday, July 15th from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m., near the James Scott Fountain. It is free and open to everyone. For more information, visit www.detroitkitefestival.org .