INVST Students Experience Community Leadership in Detroit

"What time is it on the clock of the world?"

This question is often posed by Grace Lee Boggs, a 97-year-old Detroit resident and social change activist. In other words, what shape is the planet in right now, as a result of human activity? What impact have our actions had?

Given what time it is on the clock of the world, we are being called to re-imagine our cities, our institutions, to re-think what our professions and livelihoods ought to look like. Grace Lee Boggs and her organization, the Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership, hosted a conference in October 2011 on Re-imagining Work, and recently, a CU-Boulder course on Detroit and the transformative examples it offers, was based upon conference outcomes.

"Our home is being fouled by the way we live and the work we do," writes Matthew Fox in The Reinvention of Work. In INVS 3402, students critically examined how occupations and industries we have chosen for decades have actually contributed to damaging the Earth and human communities. We re-imagined Detroit, a post-industrial city where change is most urgent and therefore most viable, by looking at community groups that have emerged to offer solutions to the most pressing social and environmental problems. We looked at urban farms as community-based solutions for sourcing healthy food in neighborhoods in Detroit that are classified as "food deserts." We looked at youth-led organizations using technology to empower and engage, and alternative schools that are providing meaningful learning opportunities.

Author Rebecca Solnit calls Detroit not quite "post-apocalyptic" but somehow "post-American," with an unemployment rate at 28.9 percent according to ABC news (March 2012), and one-third of Detroit's people living below the poverty line, including 47.8% of children who live in poverty, ever since the "Big Three," Ford, Chrysler and General Motors, sent the majority of their industry overseas and economically crippled this city. This course, offered as a leadership elective by INVST Community Studies and taught by Sabrina Sideris, was focused on grassroots efforts to transform the city of Detroit.

Students in INVS 3402, "Another City is Possible: Re-Imagining Detroit, Michigan," also served as volunteers with local organizations, in order to apply what they were learning by reading and watching films in class, to several local organizations doing work that directly related to the course. Students volunteered with Boulder Green Streets to encourage folks to get out of their cars and ride their bikes. Others volunteered with Boulder Food Rescue to pick up fruits and vegetables from local markets and redistribute it by bicycle to about 52 local charities serving folks who are homeless, living in poverty or living in affordable housing communities.

One student from INVS 3402, Cory Ketai, moved to Detroit after taking the course in order to be an Acquisition Intern with BEDROCK Real Estate Services in the heart of downtown Detroit on Woodward Avenue. Cory's uncle is a leader in this development company and he is being challenged to apply what he learned at CU about grassroots change, to his internship with a for-profit company driven by their hopes for a new Detroit. As in all the classes offered by INVST Community Studies, young people learn by doing. They have the most rich and challenging experiences learning how to be leaders when they are trusted to dive in and work with some of the most complex and interesting challenges facing our communities, our economy and our nation.