The internationally acclaimed actor Danny Glover is coming to campus today at 4 p.m., and it’s important to understand the reason why. Our region has been uplifted by a surge in Hollywood celebrity sightings because of the film industry tax that may soon expire.
This visit, however, isn’t motivated by quick economic incentives. Beyond the Hollywood spotlight, Glover has devoted countless hours to the cause of social justice, garnering numerous awards for his humanitarian efforts. Today, he will honor the unique spirit of community building and creative organizing emerging from Michigan, especially the grassroots activist movements rising out of abandonment and destruction in post-industrial Detroit.
Glover emphasizes these points in his foreword to “The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century”, the new book by Grace Lee Boggs that I helped to produce. “What does it mean to develop the life-affirming relationship that we must have not only for our own survival as a human species but also for the survival of the planet itself?” he challenges us to answer. “How do we bring out of these ashes the ideas, the motivation and the spirit of this particular moment and take it to the next step?”
Boggs is a 95-year-old philosopher and activist with seven decades of community organizing experience, including the last 58 years in Detroit. Baits Residence Hall has named a lounge after her, and she received an honorary doctorate from the University in 2009. As University President Mary Sue Coleman then remarked, “By nurturing Detroit as a city of Hope, (Boggs has) brought optimism and inspiration to our state and country.”
Together, Glover and Boggs embody a vision of humanism and global citizenship that carries on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. On this date in 1967, King gave one of the most important and courageous speeches in his life when he declared it was “time to break silence” by denouncing the Vietnam War. The urban rebellions of the 1960s had convinced him that local and international pursuits of nonviolence needed to be connected.
“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death,” King proclaimed. What our society needed was a “revolution of values” against the “giant triplets of racism, militarism and materialism.”
Exactly one year later, April 4, 1968, King was assassinated.
We have all inherited King’s unfinished agenda. With American troops engaged all over the planet, education systems in crisis and economic hardship crippling household and government budgets, his prophetic words ring as true today as they did 43 years ago.
Because the problems we face often seem so overwhelming, students often ask, “What can I do to make a difference?” There is no easy answer.
We can start by taking the time to reflect on how we came to this point as individuals, as a nation and as a society. The next step is to educate ourselves about the struggles for social change from the bottom up that are already in motion in Detroit and places around the world.
Today, we have a unique opportunity to learn from Glover, Boggs and two award-winning scholars of African American history, Robin D. G. Kelley and Gwendolyn Midlo Hall. Professor Stephen Ward, who has played a pivotal role in connecting students to Detroit, will moderate this historic discussion, “Sustainable Activism for the 21st Century: A Forum in Honor of MLK.”
Join them from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. this afternoon in the Modern Languages Building Auditorium 3.
Scott Kurashige is director of the Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies Program and associate professor of American Culture and History.