Speaker, writer and activist Grace Lee Boggs spoke to about 40 students and administrators yesterday afternoon, as they gathered for the dedication of the Grace Lee Boggs Multicultural Lounge in Baits II residence hall.
Boggs, who is best known for her activism and community building in Detroit, spoke about the importance of social activism during difficult times.
The Baits Multicultural Council selected Boggs as the honoree of the University’s newest multicultural lounge in the Coman House of Baits II. Boggs, now 95 years old, has been active in Detroit for over 50 years. Since she graduated with a Ph.D. in philosophy from Bryn Mawr College in 1940, Boggs has been involved in activism for civil rights, the labor movement, the environmental movement, the Black Power movement and the advancement of Asian Americans and women.
Together with her husband and labor activist, James Boggs, Grace Lee Boggs wrote, spoke and organized protests, including Malcom X’s Grassroots Leadership Conference in November 1963. The couple continued its work in community activism until James Boggs’s death in 1993.
Grace Lee Boggs has most recently worked toward the revitalization of inner-city Detroit, collaborating with Detroit residents to rebuild neighborhoods and communities.
During her speech yesterday, Boggs urged the audience to continue to be passionate about activism in the community despite problems that may arise along the way.
“What I would like students to do as they come to this room is to realize that crisis, setbacks and failures are not necessarily a bad thing,” she said. “They are what we need to become the kind of people we need to be.”
At the dedication, Boggs, whose parents were Chinese immigrants, described how her encounters with social injustice as a child shaped her future activism. Boggs’s mother never learned to read or write because there were no schools open to her as a girl in rural China. Boggs’s father ran a restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island, where Boggs remembers overhearing waiters say, “‘Leave her on the hillside, she is only a girl child,’” when she cried.
“We have to undergo great suffering to become the kind of people we need to become,” Boggs said.
Boggs ended her speech encouraging those present to become more socially aware.
“I think if we understood how the world is changing, if we see how much truth is coming from countries we call underdeveloped…we who have so much technology need to learn from them,” she said. “Out of devastation, out of the end of something, something new is born. You are the generation that will give birth to a new world of hope rather than despair.”
The Grace Lee Boggs lounge is the University’s 15th multicultural themed lounge. The lounge is intended to be a space for meetings and events that celebrate minority cultures, as well as to serve as a daily reminder to students of the importance of diversity on campus, according to a press release for the event distributed by University Housing.
One photograph and one painting celebrating Boggs’s life and work — which will hang in the lounge — were also unveiled at the dedication.
In an interview after the event, Boggs spoke about her current work, which aims at improving conditions in Detroit public schools. She also urged students to do more with the degrees that they are earning at universities like the University of Michigan.
“So much of what is wrong with the world is the rapid growth of MBAs and Ph.D.s who haven’t thought about consequences,” she said. “Students need to think about the consequences of our education system. Another world is necessary, another world is possible and another world is happening.”