Detroit

By Accident of Birth

Eventually, Butch invited me to come to his home and meet his family. I felt deeply honored and very eager to go. But every time I asked him to write directions to his place, he would change the subject. Finally one day with pen and paper in hand, I sat him down and said, "Look, Butch, how do you expect me to get to your house if you don't write out directions for me?"

Awkwardly he began to scribble on the paper. I was deeply sad when I realized the reason he had hesitated before was that he could barely write; I was ashamed at my insensitivity.

That small incident was very significant to me. I went home that night and both cried and cursed. I could not believe that someone as bright as Butch had hardly been taught to write. I was furious at a system that had given me so much and him almost nothing, simply by virtue of our skin color. By accident of birth, I had all the benefits and he all the suffering. I vowed again through angry tears to do everything I could to change that system.

New & Noteworthy

A VITAL WORD
In I Told My Soul to Sing: Finding God with Emily Dickinson, Kristin LeMay explores in detail 25 poems as "witnesses" to Dickinson's wrestling with God. LeMay elegantly combines accessible literary analysis with her own spiritual memoir of search, doubt, and faith. Paraclete Press

BLESSED ASSURANCE
South African native Jonathan Butler has earned praise in the R&B, contemporary jazz, and gospel music fields. His latest album, Grace and Mercy, offers gentle songs that proclaim faith and hope in the midst of troubled times. Rendezvous Music

NO EASY FREEDOM
Sharon Leslie Morgan and Thomas Norman DeWolf explore the continuing legacy of American slavery in Gather at the Table: The Healing Journey of a Daughter of Slavery and a Son of the Slave Trade. In alternating narratives they reflect on three years of travel, historical research, and mutual vulnerability. Beacon Press

ALIVE AND KICKING
We Are Not Ghosts, a film by Mark Dworkin and Melissa Young, is an inspiring, but not sugar-coated, portrait of how some people in Detroit are recreating life and community there in the wake of industrial collapse and suburban flight. Bullfrog Films

 

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An Assault on Local Democracy

A big change came down in Detroit this spring. Under sanction of Michigan’s Emergency Manager Law (Public Act 4), on April 4 the city council authorized a “consent agreement” ceding its authority over the budget to a shadow body of corporate leaders (emergency manager by committee). For some, this bodes fast-track redevelopment and downsizing the city. For others, it means the end of collective bargaining. For Detroiters, it’s the blunt face of political disenfranchisement.

Although Public Act 4 is being challenged for its constitutionality in court and for its political legitimacy in a statewide repeal effort, the assault on local democracy remains in full tilt. Triggered by financial insolvency, governor-appointed emergency managers are empowered from above to remove top administrators and elected officials, void union contracts, cut and remake budgets, overturn local ordinances, and sell off assets. The “consent agreement” keeps the mayor and city council in place, but vastly disempowered.

But, apart from the vacant land so plenteous these days in the city, are there assets in Detroit to be desired and seized? The water works may quickly be sold or controlled by a suburban arrangement. It is one of the few revenue-generating departments in the city, and it is among the key infrastructures of white urban sprawl. Then there is the riverfront itself, and the gem-of-an-island city park, Belle Isle, which casino-owners and developers have eyed lasciviously for years. There are newly built or rehabbed schools sought by for-profit charters. There is the privatization of services or entire city departments. And, of course, the deregulated clearing of the way for projects yet to come.

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Resurrecting Detroit

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT advocate Angela Glover Blackwell makes no bones about why PolicyLink, the nonprofit she leads, held its 2,500-person Equity Summit in Detroit last November: “Detroit represented the problem and the hope.”

It’s the problem because it’s “a classic example of what happens when you don’t keep up with the needs of a changing population.” It’s the hope because it’s a hub of fresh energy—from government, foundations, community groups, and business—aiming to “build a future based on the people who are going to be the future.”

When Blackwell talks about that future, she means one founded on the people who live in Detroit now, “not some imaginary people who aren’t here—and not based on trying to attract people who have decided they don’t want to be here.” Over the last half century, fewer and fewer white people have decided to live in Detroit. This trend started in the mid-20th century as more and more people of color did live there, and continued over the last three decades as many people of color also started to move away. In the 2010 census, Detroit registered at just over 700,000 people, down from 1.2 million in 1980. Those that remain face a stark economic situation: 34.5 percent live below the poverty level, Blackwell points out, compared to 15 percent nationally.

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A Farm Grows in Motown

The city of Detroit has several thousand vacant houses, but Darryl Howard has at least as many worms. Howard is an intern with Earthworks Urban Farm, a program of the Capuchin Soup Kitchen on Detroit’s East Side. He dreams of running a small business that supplies worms to farms that dot the city landscape.

As Howard and his colleagues (invertebrate and vertebrate alike) know, worms work with materials that, from the outside, appear spent—and surprise us by producing rich, healthy soil. As he digs his hands into the dirt, still in the phase between food scraps and soil, a smile breaks across Howard’s face. “This is how I feed myself, my family, my community, and the world.”

Detroiters often use the phoenix rising from the ashes as a metaphor for the city’s resilience; in its 300-year history, Detroit has gone through several periods of bad times and has come back each time. Yet worms might be just as apt a symbol this time around.

Detroit could come very close to feeding itself. According to the Detroit Food Policy Council, farming less than half of the vacant publicly held land in the city could yield three-quarters of the vegetables and almost half of the fruit consumed by Detroit residents. In a city that bleeds money when buying food, that could be enormously stabilizing.

Furthermore, the economic impact is far from the only benefit. There is cultural and social power in growing food for your community.

The Detroit Black Community Food Security Network cultivates that power alongside the food it grows. Hanifa Adjuman roots herself deeply in this call to cultivation. As education coordinator for the network, she is steeped in the story of farming in Detroit, bringing elders with decades of experience together with youth for whom agricultural work carries reminders of their slave forebears.

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Jim Wallis on "All-American Muslim": "These critics are nothing more than hate groups."

Many of All-American Muslim's critics seem to be upset that the Muslim folks featured on the show are not spending their time making bombs, planning attacks on their neighbors, or just screaming their hatred of America. The show, they fear, could give Americans the wrong impression: Muslim families are much like other American families, not secret terrorist dens plotting to infiltrate America with Sharia Law or attack us from within.
 
The critics are actually angry because no jihads are discussed around these Muslim family dinner tables and demonstrates to the rest of us that our Muslim neighbors are a lot like us.

The families in the show don't conform to distorted Muslim stereotypes that its critics had apparently hoped to see on All-American Muslim.
 
Well, too bad for them.
 

Why I Don't Heed "The Call"

Lou Engel (center with mic) at the Call Nashville event in 2007. Image via Wiki
Lou Engel (center with mic) at the Call Nashville event in 2007. Image via Wiki Commons.

Though I treasure my Pentecostal heritage, these days I feel like an outsider looking in, because though it started out as a pacifist movement in the early 20th century, today Pentecostalism (at least in America) is largely known as a religion that spawns extremist movements that trumpet militarism and bigotry.

Chief exhibit: The Call

Founded by Lou Engle, The Call is a movement that regularly holds massive prayer events in stadiums across the country. Engle is part of a network called the New Apostolic Reformation, which believes that God is raising up an end-times army of apostles and prophets to take over earthly governments before Jesus comes back.

A few of its prominent leaders are Peter Wagner, Cindy Jacobs, Rick Joyner, and Mike Bickle. Though the end-times theology of these individuals may vary, the underlying principle that binds them together is the idea that Christians are called to dominate earthly governments and civil society, and that apostles and prophets are supposed to pave the way to make that happen.

#OccupyWallStreet News: The Latest Headlines from the Weekend and Monday Morning

Protest sign from an Occupy march in New York City on Oct. 30. Image via Wylio.
Protest sign from an Occupy march in New York City on Oct. 30. Image via Wylio.

Police surround Occupy protest in Oakland Monday morning. Hackers threaten to "remove" Vancouver from the Internet if Occupy demonstrators are moved. Violent fringe is a challenge to Occupy movement. Are sexual assaults being under-reported at Occupy encampments? Popular Hawaiian musician occupies Obama event with a song. Occupy protesters set up camp outside a second UK cathedral. Are Occupiers the new Progressives? And much more news from the Occupy Movement worldwide inside.

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