when I was beset in a city under siege.
A week ago, we picked up our friend Susan (her husband has been in the hospital for a week) and took her to the Kroger grocery store in Dearborn. We were there for but 5 minutes when a fight broke out between two grown men in the canned veggies aisle. The large white guy was the instigator and tried to sneak out of the store as the Middle Eastern man called the police. A crowd of mostly African-American shoppers and workers followed him out. It was quite a scene. Lindsay and an African-American female employee at the store gave eye-witness testimony to the police. The man was arrested. After the dust had cleared, we found Susan in the frozen veggie aisle, still shaking from witnessing this random act of violence.
On Sunday, we arrived to church surrounded by drunk white people wearing green. These people take St. Patrick's day seriously. Religiously.
The snow has melted, exposing all the trash and clutter that was hibernating for the past few months.
In the midst of these scenes, we were inspired by the artistic and authentic lives of people we spent Time with this week. We met Barbara, who works for the Center of Peace & Conflict Studies at Wayne State University in Detroit. Her son is a victim of gun violence and she told us a recent story about her daughter, who had just moved, calling her distraught: she had misplaced a box of photos and obituaries of childhood friends. This sudden realization floored Barbara: that so many of her daughter's friends had become victims of violence and drug addiction.
Life in America puts people of color through immeasurably more grief and pain than white folks. It reminds me of a quote from Sherman Alexie's book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (2007):
I'm fourteen years old and I've been to forty-two funerals. That's really the biggest difference between Indians and white people. A few of my white classmates have been to a grandparent's funeral. And a few have lost an uncle or aunt. And one guy's brother died of leukemia when he was in third grade. But there's nobody who has been to more than five funerals. All my white friends can count their deaths on one hand. I can count my fingers, toes, arms, legs, eyes, ears, nose, penis, butt cheeks, and nipples, and still not get close to my deaths.But there's resilience in this city! We heard an amazing rendition of the 19th century African-American spiritual "There is a Balm in Gilead" at the inauguration of the new president at Ecumenical Theological Seminary in Detroit:
There is a balm in GileadIt was sung by an African-American woman who is the VP of Administration at the seminary. No one knew she sang like this. It was a gift to hear the moans and shouts of joy coming from so many in the room.
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin-sick soul.
One of our mentors out here, Dr. Jim Perkinson, a professor at the seminary, delivered a spoken word charge for the new President. A sampling:
Outside this door are the streets of the largest black metropolis of the nation, made poor in a thousand policy decisions not innocent of this land’s continuing legacy of brutal exploitation and rabid killing of people of color. The City of the Strait boasts art that rates world class, music that has rocked a planet, activism that shaped the nation and sheer survival grit on the part of ordinary folk up against impossible odds that would make even a Jesus coming back from a grave fall into a fit of shouting.On Saturday, we attended the annual Buck Dinner, a legendary and lively gathering of activists and community organizers in Detroit. In the 40s and 50s it was infiltrated by FBI agents. These days, it's not nearly as subversive.
In the midst of all the foreclosure ruination and brownfield decimation, 2,000 gardens are giving green nutrition to hungry mouths and purpose to struggling lives. And beyond the core city is a bioregion full of the collisions of history, harboring skill and fear, leering misunderstanding and clear power to make the world otherwise.
Our friend Tawana Petty, a poet and organizer, was the emcee. A sampling from one of her proclamations:
While we sit chained to oppression,The wells of this city are deep indeed.
chain reactions cause little girls to rest peacefully before their time.
Stop counting your dimes,
cause your tax money won't pay for street freedom,
you have to fight for it!
The warzone has moved to your front porch where your children play,
the street lights don't keep us safe,
there are no "witnesses!"