By Faith Burns
Afro-Asian solidarity in the United States showcases the common struggle that minorities experience against white supremacy. Grace Lee Boggs, born in 1915, was a Chinese American woman who fought for social justice among communities in Detroit. Her work in Detroit began with a radical left-wing activism to uphold the rights of women, workers, and the black community; however, by Boggs’ death in 2015, her activism had expanded to include transformational community organizing.[i] Alongside this activism, Boggs’ revolutionary philosophies about social change reflected the connection between black and Asian lived experiences around the globe. Grace Lee Boggs’ activism in Detroit uniquely demonstrated how domestic Afro-Asian partnerships can reflect solidarity and internationalism. With a focus on economic stability and political power in Detroit, Boggs made significant positive contributions to the experiences of minorities, all while being informed by globalism.
While existing scholarship engages Grace Lee Boggs’ interesting life and work, her contributions as an Asian American woman and a black ally can be meaningfully considered in relation to internationalism and Afro-Asian solidarity. Internationalism and global citizenship influenced Boggs’ personal perspectives on activism. Moreover, her well-developed sense of self and her philosophies regarding internationalism are seen in her lasting contributions to Detroit. One of the most significant contributions was the founding of a “multi-racial, inter-generational collective” called Detroit Summer. According to Boggs, the program began in 1992 as a way to engage the city’s youth in volunteer work and community dialogue, yet it has since developed into a highly organized collection of efforts to help vulnerable populations in Detroit. Still active today, Detroit Summer is a real manifestation of Boggs’ identity and philosophy of “Think Globally, Act Locally” In a 2004 speech at the Community Cultural Development Leadership Summit, Boggs directly addressed this connection by asserting that global issues “can be most effectively addressed on the local or regional level. That is what we have been trying to do in Detroit.” According to Boggs, community development and interpersonal connections are the foundation of change that is needed across the globe. Her address at the Leadership Summit also touched on the presence of Asian Americans in Detroit. She reflected on the decline of Detroit’s Chinatown and how the city could evolve into a more culturally and ethnically diverse place. In addition, Boggs mentioned a murdered Asian American Detroiter named Vincent Chin. Detroit Summer is responsible for over twenty murals in Detroit, one of which depicts Chin and draws parallels with the struggles of Detroit’s black community. Detroit Summer’s specific efforts have also included poetry workshops, bike repair programs, media centers, environmental projects, and community gardening. One project acquired abandoned homes in Detroit near a public high school for teenage mothers; these homes were refurbished for student mothers in crisis.[ii]
Detroit Summer’s breadth and capacity has allowed the organization to wrap around the community as a provider of practical human services, as well as means by which marginalized individuals can participate in enriching experiences. Furthermore, the organization promotes a multi-ethnic solidarity and embraces peoples’ global citizenship. It has also been just one way in which Boggs manifested her theoretical ideas about local action’s relationship to global issues. This sense of internationalism makes her work particularly unique, as well as extremely meaningful for the city of Detroit. Her work provides a new, exceptionally dynamic way of applying global values to local activism.
Boggs, Grace Lee, and Robin D. G. Kelley. Living for Change: An Autobiography. Minneapolis; London: University of Minnesota Press, 2016.
Boggs, Grace Lee, ““Think Globally, Act Locally” Towards a New Concept of City-zenship” (speech, Minneapolis, June 24, 2004), Detroit Summer, boggscenter.org/html/detroit_summer.html
[i] Grace Lee Boggs, and Robin D. G. Kelley. Living for Change: An Autobiography. Minneapolis; London: University of Minnesota Press, 2016
[ii] Grace Lee Boggs, ““Think Globally, Act Locally” Towards a New Concept of City-zenship” (speech, Minneapolis, June 24, 2004), Detroit Summer, boggscenter.org/html/detroit_summer.html