“Water is Life! It’s A Human Right! The Time is Now! To Stand and Fight!” you hear the 60 plus youth and adult leaders yelling as they march down the streets of Detroit Saturday afternoon. This past week 60 plus youth and adults came into Detroit for the 17th annual Rooted In Community Summit to “Wage Love, Build Power, Grow Change”
This year Rooted In Community took place in Detroit, MI a place of hurt that was turned upside down but is a resilient and ever rising to the challenges they are facing. Thanks to the contribution to my plane ticket from Lorette Picciano and the Rural Coalition, I was able to participate in a beautifully moving summit for a week. I got there on Tuesday night and spend the night with part of the RIC planning team Ari, Beatriz, Brooke and John at an Air B&B as we finished up some last minute planning for the summit. Then on Wednesday we made our way over to the campus we were staying at for the summit and started doing registration for the groups coming in. We were staying in a small town right outside of Detroit called Ypsilanti at Eastern Michigan University. While we were registering groups Gerardo Marin shows up with his parents and his brother who I got to meet for the first time. They are all super nice and I loved meet them and getting to know them. They spend most of the summit with us.
After we got all the groups registered and with keys to their dorm rooms everyone went over to the cafeteria to eat dinner then headed over to the outdoor amphitheater for our opening ceremony. During our opening ceremony Gerardo Marin, Travis McKenzie from Grow the Future in New Mexico, a few of the youth and myself helped do a beautiful four directions ceremony. I played a beautiful native drum with some of the youth playing a few other instruments while Gera played his conch shell we said some prayers for the four different directions, the sky, mother earth and the spirit inside all of us and Travis burned some sage and prayed with us. Once the opening ceremony was over, I introduced the RIC planning team then John Wang led us in a game of Elbows to Elbows which was a fun ice breaker for everyone. Next we did intention/culture settings with the youth where they got into groups and came up with norms for the summit environment. One norm I liked a lot that a few groups came up with was to say Farm Voice when you’re speaking to a group and they can’t hear you very well, you say Farm Voice to get them to speak up.
The next day was our day at D-Town farms run by the Detroit Black Security Network. When we got there we set up breakfast and ate then played a big game of the Biggest Fan which is basically like a big game of rock, paper scissors where the person who wins becomes your cheering squad until the last person wins. After a rousing game of Biggest Fan, we then went on a tour of D-Town with Brother Kaddafi who gave a really great tour of the whole farm set up and Jaleel gave some information about the bees they have on site. Did you know that rubbing mud on a bee sting it takes the stink out?
Once they finished our tour of D-Town we grabbed lunch and boarded our busses to our respective tours. There were three tour options that where offered Oakland Avenue Artists Coalition & Incite Focus L3 Fab Lab, Feedom Freedom Urban Farm, and the Boggs Center. I went on the Boggs Center tour which was basically a cool site seeing/historical tour. Our tour was led by Richard Feldman who is an amazing tour guide and really knows his stuff about the city. We visited four different sites starting off with an abandon lot called the Packard Automotive Plant where we learned about how slavery, the great migration and the auto industry effected Detroit in various ways which were not always good. The Detroit auto industry and big industrial companies taking over agriculture and small businesses took a lot of people’s jobs but also gave a lot of people jobs. But as time progressed and technology got more advanced then more robots began taking over people’s jobs more people were left without jobs, which hurt the Detroit economy a lot. The next area we visited was the outside of an old factory building called the Poletown GM Hamtramck Assembly where Rick told us about the Polish people who came to Detroit. Once we left there we made our way over to the Heidelberg Project. The Heidelberg Project is basically an art work project by a guy named Tyrese who makes amazing art, sculptures all on this block in the city. He is also a dope motivational speaker with words of wisdom for the ages. The next stop on our tour we met another artist Carlos Neilbock at his arts yard called Can Arts who makes windmills to make art as well as for a good source of energy. Last stop on our trip was at the Boggs Center which is the home of Grace Lee Boggs an educational/community meeting center. Grace Lee Boggs is an Asian-American women who in the ‘60s & ‘70s fought for civil rights for African Americans and later would go on to help her own people’s struggles. One of her big teachings is that there can’t be any revolution without evolution meaning what we will do after everyone is free, we must continue forward. Grace Lee Boggs just celebrated her 100th birthday in June. While at the Boggs Center we took that time to debrief from our tour and think about all the things we learned. My favorite part of the tours where the Heidelberg Project and Tyrese who was very inspirational.
Once our bus tours where over we all made our way back to D-Town for our group debrief. Everyone got into their tour groups first and discussed what they liked about the tours, what inspired them and what they would take back to their communities. They then got into home groups and debriefed about the various tours and then one person or a few people from each tour group would go up and tell us what they learned from their tour. Later after a catered dinner, we made a mini panel with some of the youth from Detroit Future Youth. They talked about the all the different things they do in Detroit Future Youth. One of the guys is an MC and using what he learns during his time with DFY to inspire youth. There was also another youth named Tigger who works at Earthworks Urban Farm and has been into farming since he was 6. Currently he works with little kids from 5-12 and is working on a farming card came for kids through the DFY. After the panel with Detroit Future Youth a few local folks came and rocked the farm stage for us with beautiful singing, guitar playing and spitting bars. Then we had a mini open mic with some of the RIC youth and then went home after a long day.
Friday, was our youth led workshops day. We had breakfast in the campus dining hall and then made our way to the student center to partake in the student led workshops. The first workshop I went to was put on by East New York Farms and EcoStation New York who do a lot of work together. Their workshop was on the concept of adultism. Adultism is basically the premise that adults have a lot of power over young people and might think young people are not as capable of doing things adults can do. It can also be seen as a bias towards adults as being better than younger people. So we did an exercise where we told what a receipt is from our family, a food we ate during the holidays and what traditions we have with food when we eat it. I got to be partnered with a great youth from FoodWhat?! in Santa Cruz, California Aaliyah was my partner who told me about her grandmother’s egg pie. After this exercise we learned some more of what East New York Farms & EcoStation which are out of Brooklyn are doing. I learned that EcoStation has an activism team through their program and have had press conferences in favor of better school lunches. They are also connected to Why Hunger who has supported EcoStation and thanks to Beatriz Beckford help they made it to RIC this year. Another thing I picked up from their workshop was the way they make commitments by making a thumb circle. What you do is say a commitment to something (for us it was the food justice movement) and then you put your thumb out then the next person says theirs then they grab your thumb and put their thumb out and you do that until you have a circle.
The next workshop I participated in was run by some of the local Detroit youth on creating a food system. First we introduced ourselves to the group and then we went over what our favorite food is, then we drew pictures of the process it takes to get our ingredients to us. They also gave us pictures of a person or item in the food system and we were to say how they fit into the food system. My group got a guy or girl in a hazmat suit who was spray pesticides on some plants which is what they do to make the plants last longer. The last thing we did was we had to draw on a piece of paper a house then add what stores and places are within 5 miles of your house. Some people had a lot of food places near them and some people didn’t really have any. The people who had food places near them some were lots of fast food places and some were urban or rural farms. This got our workshop to start a good conversation sovereignty vs. security which lasted the rest of our time.
Next was lunch time and we had a really great bbq lunch then it was time for another panel. This panel was really amazing it was our Water Warrior Panel where a few people from the community and some youth & Travis from New Mexico talked about some of the water issues in both Detroit and New Mexico. It started off with Travis introducing the panel and then giving a little blessing by playing his flute. Matt and him then talks about the New Mexico acequia and how they work. Also about the Acequia Association He then has the Detroit folks talk about the issues that are going on in their communities. One lady named Valarie Jean who has five kids told us her story of when her water got turned off. Now if you don’t know in Detroit the water companies have been turning off 10s of thousands of people’s water due to lack of payment. Now these are people who literally can’t afford to pay to have their water on because it’s either having water on or paying your mortgage or your car note. Valarie tells us how one morning she wakes up and hears the water company truck outside her house getting ready to turn off her water valve. She runs outside and tells them to stop and thankfully they do but then she watches them go to each house on her block and turn off their water. She said that there were old ladies, a pregnant women, a women celebrating Ramadan and there all yelling at them to not turn off their water but sadly they don’t listen. She also talks about the times she did have her water turned off and how hard it really is to deal with having no running water. This also though brought her community together as people brought cases of water to her neighborhood and then community pots of soup and they even started having community meetings about this issue. Then we heard from Tawana a local poet and activist and she told us about the work she does as well the local activist Charity Hicks who last year July 8th, 2014 was hit by a car while at a conference fighting for the Detroit water rights. She was big on the Detroit scene fighting hard for the voices of the people who have had their water turned off. We then herd from Emma another New Mexico youth who did a research paper on this, talked about this toxic waste in one of their lakes that is near a military base. It’s been there since the ‘40s and the more it seeps into the water it can eventually turn the water coming out of their taps toxic. They ended the panel with a beautiful poem Tawana wrote called “Detroit” and then took pictures with the group.
Once the panel was done we went on to some art workshops like a poetry one led by Tawana, a music one led by Travis, and an art build/zine workshop led by me. So I led the zine/art build workshop and we had about 10 people in my workshop and the first part of it was me going over what a zine is and how you can make one and use in for activism. The rest of the time was used to make signs for our day of action on Saturday. The Youth Food Justice Zine which I helped to create was delivered on Thursday when we were at D-Town farm. So Beatriz who also helped with the Zine and I talked about the making of the zine and how we were able to afford it. Then we spent the rest of the time talking about direct action and making posters for the action. I had some great conversations with Damien a youth from Grub in Olympia, Washington about direct action and the black lives matter movement. Later once the workshops finished we had free time. During my free time I went to Gera’s self-care workshop where we did some breathing exercises, stretching & meditation which was very revitalizing after a long two days. Once that hour of rejuvenation was over we went to dinner and I had dinner with Gera, his parents and Travis which was nice to hang out with my long distance brothers.
After dinner was done we made our way to the piano lounge room and had another panel with a women and her children who live in Flint, MI another town with water issues. The women talks about the terrible water that is coming out of her tap which is totally contaminated and the city is not doing anything about it. She showed some of us pictures of the crazy things that have happened to her and her family like hair loss, bad diseases, rashes, dietary restrictions and more. She said her water turns brown, green or even light blue which cause’s health issues. She said that many people have this issue with their water but are being told that it’s not harmful by the media because the government does not want to clean up this mess. This is why she runs this org called “Water You Fighting For?” which is for advocating for clean, safe, affordable water in Flint, MI. Next we all watched a documentary on Grace Lee Boggs who I talked about earlier. The documentary is on Netflix called American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs and it’s basically about her life in the civil rights moment and as a leader in this movement as an Asian-American. One quote I really liked that she said in the documentary is “Creative is the key to human liberation” also that there is no revolution without evolution.
Saturday was our day of action so we started our day off at the outdoor amphitheater for breakfast and then we went and did some more sign making, chant learning and media prep before the march. Before we got started with that we played a game where one person was in the middle asking a question and if it applied to you then you had to get to a different place before the person in the middle or you’re in the middle. I helped youth make some poems or speeches to say during our different stops along the way of our march. Once we finished there we went grabbed our stuff for the day and went to the first stop on the march. I ended up on the party bus with all the music and chant makers which was a whole lot of fun. Once we made it to Chene Park we ate lunch and then had Gera’s mom give us a beautiful blessing before the march. We then started our journey marching all the way to the river and did a water ceremony by throwing pieces of rice paper into the river with our good vibes, prayers and intentions with the help of Gera, Tasha, Travis and myself. We then heard some beautiful words from a local Detroit youth and then we passed by a statue of some slaves which brother Jaleel told us that the river we were on was the last station on the Underground Railroad on the way to Canada and freedom in which we took a photo in front of it. Then we picked up the march again and made our way to the water company’s building who is helping to privatize the water so people can’t afford it. Once we got there some youth read some poetry and said some speeches and then we made our way to Cast Commons a local church building.
Once we got there we first partied in front of the church with a few people from a different conference that was being held that same weekend. Then we made it inside and played a game called zip, zap, zop and then did a gratitude exercise all led by the girls at Eco Station. During our gratitude exercise we had the adults and youth split up and we had the adults say how we felt about the summit, our youth and the experience. Once we were done we made a thumb circle of our commitments and then ate dinner after Hai Vo said the Vietnamese commandments to bless the found. Then it was chill time and some of the youth went and explored the city a little and some stayed back and did some freestyling on the mike. Around 7:30 we boarded the buses and made our way back to the dorms where most folks freshened up and then we had a dance party/open mic where people told rittles, sang songs, said some spoken word and some poems. That night was a lot of fun just chillin with everyone and unwinding after a long few days.
Sunday was our last day together so we had breakfast by the amphitheater then went right into doing our evals and pros & grows. We slit into the adults and youth and then came together to do a report back. Once we finished that we found a shady tree area and did our closing ceremony where we all went around and said how we felt about the day of action or the summit in general. People said some incredible things and this was really the point in which if we weren’t before we became a family. Once everyone said their piece and how they felt our special announcement happened. First we had the Detroit youth come up and say a few works and thanked us for coming to their city. Then we told everyone that GRUB (Garden Raised Bounty) out of Olympia, Washington are hosting the summer summit in 2016 something I’m super excited about and some of the GRUB youth spoke a little about that. After that we did a water/soil ceremony where took everyone who brought water with them into a bowl then took everyone who brought soil and mixed it with the water. I took some home with me and plan to soon get a little container garden going in my window seal. After that it was hug time & picture time before people had to leave which is of course the best part. Before I left my brother Travis gave everyone a turquoise bead to connect the RIC family.
I really enjoyed RIC Detroit as this was my first time coming to this city. I had a lot of fun like I always do and feel like the local folks really felt an impact on Detroit and how united and in solidarity we felt with Detroit and the issues that they face every day with their water. Water should not be a privilege but a right as water is life. It’s important for all people of all cultures to have access to something as basic as water. Learning of these issues and how horrific they really are makes me want to fight back and help those who are suffering from these crazy situations. The privatization of water a basic need for life is just ridiculous and anybody who can go to people’s houses and just turn off their water are unhuman people. I stand with you Detroit now and always to help you fight these greedy water companies! #ItsNotOurFaultButItIsOurFight
Well readers I hope you enjoyed my mini snap shot of the 17th Annual Rooted In Community Summit and stay tooned for more.
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Till Next Time Remember: “It’s Not Your Fault but it is Your Fight!”
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