Celebrating Grace Lee Boggs' 100th Birthday

The Allied Media Conference Closing Celebration is the show-and-tell culmination of our four days together, where we celebrate the creations, connections and transformations that happened at the conference. This year’s Closing Celebration included a special tribute to Grace Lee Boggs to celebrate her 100th birthday.

Detroit philosopher-activist Grace Lee Boggs’ ideas of transformative social change organizing have profoundly shaped the AMC. Grace, an honorary board member of Allied Media Projects, became a centenarian on June 27, 2015.

AMC2015 closing celebration
Participants gather for the Closing Celebration at AMC2015. Photo by Ara Howrani.

The Closing Celebration began with the arrival of a marching band, included music from DJ rAt, the performance of a gospel song created at the Queer Black Sunday School workshop, and more share-outs of ideas and media created through AMC workshops.

At the end came the tribute to Grace. Professor Scott Kurashige, co-author of The Next American Revolution, explained Grace’s life and historical impact. We heard personal stories from those close to Grace. Poet Marcia Lee read an original work written for Grace (since published in Hyphen Magazine) and then in a surprise moment of dramatic flair, we dropped 1,000 multicolored paper cranes from the balcony of the McGregor Conference Center. The cranes, a symbol for good luck and a long life, were folded over many hours by members of the AMP community. The origami paper used was printed by the Ocelot Print Shop with some of our favorite Grace quotes.

Paper Cranes
Photos of cranes taken by participants at AMC2015

Quotes by Grace on the Origami Cranes

Here are all the quotes as well as links to their original sources for further reading.

  1. "A revolution that is based on the people exercising their creativity in the midst of great devastation is one of the great historical contributions of humankind." - Online statement (2014)

  3. "Whether you win or lose every struggle brings forth new contradictions, new and more challenging questions." - “Living for Change: An Autobiography” (1998)

  5. "The time has come to grow our souls." - Speech made in San Francisco (2012)

  7. "History is not the past. It is the stories we tell about the past." - “The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century” (2011)

  9. "We are at one of the great turning points in human history when the survival of our planet and the restoration of our humanity require a great sea change in our values." - Read more here

  11. "We have not emphasized sufficiently the cultural revolution that we have to make among ourselves in order to force the government to do differently." - Interview with Bill Moyers (2007)

  13. "A Movement begins to assume momentum when people begin exploring visionary answers." - “Towards A New Vision and a New Movement,” University of Michigan Law School (1995)

  15. "The revolutionary should be able to conceive of struggling for a society which is based more on the wisdom of [people] than on laws." - "Conversations in Maine" (1978)

  17. "Any group that achieves power is not going to act differently from their oppressors as long as they have not confronted the values that they have internalized and consciously adopted different values." - “Living for Change: An Autobiography” (1998)

  19. "Our deepest need, as human beings, is to keep developing our natural and acquired powers to relate to other human beings." - “The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century” (2011)

  21. "We need to be more like midwives, supporting the birth of movements that are already emerging." - Paraphrased from a conversation with ill weaver (2007)

  23. "Each of us is called upon to embrace the conviction that we have the power to create the world anew." - “Seeds of Change” (2007)

  25. "What time is it on the clock of the world?" - “Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century” (1976)

Cranes Falling
The crane launch! Photo by Ara Howrani.

Remarks from Jenny Lee at Grace's birthday celebration

The Friday following the AMC, hundreds gathered for Grace’s birthday celebration at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. Jenny Lee, executive director of AMP, shared these words for Grace:

I first met Grace in 2002, as a 19 year old participant in Detroit Summer. Being a part of Detroit Summer altered the course of my life and has shaped, directly and indirectly, all of my work since then, most significantly, my work with Allied Media Projects.

I want to share this quote from James Baldwin, which reminded me of Grace. He wrote this in 1971:

"An old world is dying and a new one, kicking in the belly of it's mother, time, announces that it is ready to be born. This birth will not be easy, and many of us are doomed to discover that we are exceedingly clumsy midwives. No matter, so long as we accept that our responsibility is to the newborn: the acceptance of responsibility contains the key to the necessarily evolving skill."

Throughout her life, Grace Lee Boggs has accepted responsibility, profoundly, for the newborn world – that world being a post-capitalist, dialectical humanist, beloved community world. She has also created invitations and opportunities for so many of us to also take up that responsibility, however clumsily.

One of the things I love and appreciate most about Grace is her embrace of the messiness required of midwifing new worlds into existence. She has never become complacent with an idea or set of ideas to explain reality for the sake of ease, or simplicity.

Throughout her 100 years, she came to recognize that social transformation is not a singular event, nor an external phenomenon separate from ourselves. Rather, it is a constant process of old worlds dying and new ones emerging within our hearts and minds, our relationships and communities, and within our political and economic power structures simultaneously.

This is why her persistent question, or mantra, is so urgent: "What time is it on the clock of the world?" I think she asks us this because midwifery is all about timing.

She teaches us to remain attentive to the present, but the present as it's enmeshed with the whole history of human evolution and the planet.

She teaches us to remain receptive to ideas and moments, victories and failures that can change everything.

She teaches us to position ourselves to catch the future and take responsibility for it.

Thank you Grace and happy 100th birthday.

Read next: