A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

It was Tuesday, June 22, the first day of US Social Forum in Detroit, Michigan. My daughter-in-law, Malika, drives me the hour and fifteen, from Burton, MI, where my son, Kamau and family now live. At Detroit’s Cobo Hall, I stand in the long lines for another hour and a half to register with thousands of mostly under 30 participants, sprinkled with gray hairs like me, wearing colorful T shirts from Palestinian solidarity to climate change. My 4 grandchildren, play and wait with me. We reach registration moments before it closes. Almost 3pm, time for the Opening March through the streets of Detroit! Uh-oh, the kids are hungry. Do we march or eat? We eat, of course.

It’s 4:30 and our stomachs are filled with the yummy bread and sandwiches from Avalon Bakery. No time to go back for the opening ceremony of the US Social Forum, they’re waiting for us at Genesis Church. I have rehearsal with the Choir and dancers for the “I Dream A Garden” dance. We drive east, passing abandoned, broken buildings, remnants of Motown, once center of industrial America. We pull into Genesis, an orderly green oasis. Busy teens are building a vegetable stand for their harvest with the amazing Ashley Khyber, environmental architect. In 2002 we collaborated on the first “I Dream A Garden”. My grandkids bolt out of the car. Before you know she has their hands in the earth, then wielding color-filled paint brushes.

At the music rehearsal Malika is welcomed into the choir. My son arrives from his job as chaplain at Beaumont Hospital adding his voice to the song. Asiyah, my take-charge 13 year-old grandaughter knows the arrangement and helps the choir leader. I’m just teaching the dancers. Wow, this is feeling like home! The next day, another dance rehearsal and the following morning I work with the teens to create a percussion band, a welcoming for Friday’s event. We’re interrupted by a busload of USSF people on the garden tour. We’re just one garden of hundreds that fill Detroit’s empty spaces with promise. The kids and me perform a welcome song for them.

Okay, it’s Thursday and I’m wondering how on earth I’m going to make it back to the Forum? What am I missing? Thursday night the USSF is celebrating Grace Lee Boggs birthday! I’m torn…and tired. At Genesis, we’re on countdown, trying to get the space and people ready for the garden celebration and dance for Friday, 7pm. The fact is, I never made it back…and finally realized, it’s okay. This is my offering. My role is to help to make a little magic on the corner of Grand and Mack, just a few houses down from Grace Lee Bogg’s house. And she came to the dance, along with others who believe that gardens are a real and powerful way to remake Detroit. So, this was my way of sharing my work with the US Social Forum. No meetings, no talk, just hands-on…making art, making community, making change.

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