Detroit, Michigan

TDI is not currently working in Detroit, but we chose to feature this incredible community to showcase its resilience, creativity, and hopefulness in bringing leaders and residents together to make a big, sustainable impact on their futures. We commend and are inspired by their hard work, and are grateful to the scores of individuals and organizations for opening their doors to us and allowing us to feature here their stories, thoughts, and images.

The Stark Facts & A Community Response

Detroit is a place of stark and compelling contrasts and contradictions. Once the fourth largest city in America that glowed with the promise of industrialization, it is now an embodied prophecy of the post-industrial world, a world where:

  • citizens have been abandoned by their government and corporations
  • factories that employed tens of thousands of workers now lie in ruins
  • 1/3 of the land once filled with homes and neighborhoods is now grassy fields
  • public schools are shuttered and closed
  • drugs, high crime, and criminalization by the authorities plague youth and destroy their future.

Like abandoned citizens everywhere, when people realize that no one is coming to help, the possibility of community arises. As people stop looking outside themselves and turn to one another, they discover the richness of resources to be found within themselves, their cultures and their land. Nowhere in the Western world is this discovery of community-as-resource more vibrant than in Detroit.

Intentional experiments are underway to explore:

  • Food self-sufficiency. 1600 vacant lots have become gardens and small farms.
  • Reimagining work. Distinguishing work, which is purposeful and contributes to community, from jobs that employ individuals in existing capitalist systems.
  • Reimagining education. Creating place-based public schools rooted in community and culture.
  • Public safety. Creating Peace Zones to put "neighbor back in the hood."
  • Arts for social change. Training youth to give voice to their experiences through music, theater and visual arts.
  • Conscious conversations. Determining future direction and actions based on decades of experience with social movements and a profound understanding of society, economics, and the role of grassroots change.”

--Margaret Wheatley, Leader, Detroit Learning Journey, and Author, Leadership and the New Science; Turning to One Another; and So Far from Home: Lost and Found in Our Brave New World.

We Are Not Ghosts

Fifty years ago Detroit was booming, with two million hard-working people living the American Dream.

Then the auto industry fell on hard times and so did the Motor City. Most people moved away. Whole neighborhoods turned Into wastelands.

But some didn’t give up on the city they love. They had a vision for a new Detroit, as a human-scaled city in a post-industrial world. And with urban farms, peace zones, and spoken word poets, among many others, they are starting to make that vision real.

“We Are Not Ghosts” tells their stories: from community businesses, to place-based schools, to thriving urban gardens and spoken word artists. These are the tales of Detroiters remaking and reinventing their city with vision and spirit.

Among those featured are Jessica Care Moore and Grace Lee Boggs. Official Selection Langston Hughes African-American Film Festival.

This is a preview for the 53-minute film available from Bullfrog Films:

Grade Level: 10-12, College, Adults
US Release Date: 2012
Copyright Date: 2012
DVD ISBN: 1-93777-225-X

Detroit Learning Journey

led by Margaret Wheatley & Rich Feldman
in partnership with the Boggs Center
October 25-28, 2012

The learning journey was an inquiry into and an invitation to bear witness how people of Detroit are re-building community and livelihoods in a post-industrial world.

For more information on the Detroit Learning Journey, go to:

A Brave New World:

A video on the Detroit Learning Journey:

A photo stream on Flickr, copyright by Sacred Resonance, Filiz Telek:


Be Black and Green:
Be Black and Green is a site that networks, supports and promotes Black farmers, gardeners and food activists.

The James & Grace Lee Boggs Center
The Boggs Center’s mission is to nurture the transformational leadership capacities of individuals and organizations committed to creating productive, sustainable, ecologically responsible, and just communities. Through local, national and international networks of activists, artists and intellectuals we foster new ways of living, being and thinking to face the challenges of the 21st century.

Brave New World
On the Detroit Learning Journey:
Brave New World is the greatest story of transition, humanity coming of age, in all of human history. It is a story-weaving project that illuminates inspiring stories of individuals and communities transforming themselves and the world.

Detroit 2012
Reimagine the World, Transform Ourselves, Fight for the Future
July 1-14, 2012

Detroit: Community of Hope
Detroit: Community of Hope Campaign was initiated in 2007 with the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of MLK’S speech: Break the Silence and the 40th anniversary of the 1967 Detroit Rebellion. DCOH’s goal is to create and support the emerging web of activists, artists, architects, community gardeners, poets, organizers, entrepreneurs, block clubs, peace makers, workers and thinkers—and all those seeking and creating solutions to the ills that have kept our communities in “cycles of broken-down everything!”

NPR’s “On Being” with Krista Tippet
(from NPR website):
January 19, 2012—A Detroit you probably haven't seen in the news. It's a city of vigor — a place where neighbors are reimagining work, food, and the very meaning of humanity. To meet these people is to gain perspective on all of our work, and how we might imagine possibility in our own backyard. Krista Tippett and team travel to the Motor City to meet the civil rights legend Grace Lee Boggs. We find the 96-year-old philosopher surrounded by creative, joyful people and projects that defy more familiar images of decline. It's a kind of parallel urban universe with much to teach all of us about meeting the changes of our time.

Economy Score
(Unemployment, median income, number of people below the poverty line. Availability of banking institutions, affordable housing, and internet access.)

Education Score
(Children in preschool, on-time high school graduation rate, and post-secondary education rate.)

Community Score
(Percentage of teenagers working and not in school, rates of violent crime and homicide, access to healthcare, and availability of healthy foods.)

The Opportunity Index, a measure of opportunity at the community level, is produced by Opportunity Nation in partnership with Measure of America.

Poem by Filiz Telek

My heart is broken-open because there’s nowhere to hide. The city surrounds me, whispers softly “look”, “listen”. I look in the face of brutality and broken wings of human spirit. I have no questions left, why and how fled my vocabulary. I hear children singing: justice, they say, “we want justice, it is time.” I listen, I look at windows and doors that once were there. In this house, Aiyana Mo’nay Stanley-Joneswas shot in her sleep. She was eight. someone corrects, “no, she was s e v e n“ when the police shattered her dreams. She was seven, sleeping next to her grandmother. w h a t what happened. to us, brothers, sisters. I surrender my eyes, my ears I want to cry – I want to cry a million tears. weren’t we supposed to care for the next seven generations I let the stories claimmy innocence, I burn my ignorancein the fiery truth-furnace. The city pulls gently. Says, “look”,“listen”. We pass by houses abandoned, decayingrow after row. “and then the crack came” he says. it’s always the same ug-ly game. “We are re-imagining everything,” says the matriarchto her children. No hope, no fear.but there’s faith, that’s clear. “We are growing the seeds, we are cultivating one another with love.” “we provide for each other, share with each other, feed each other, care for each other and more importantly love each other in these tough times.” I listen. “we shake the world with a new dream” My world is shaken.The city says “look”, “listen!” “My children are singing again, we are harvesting peace from our pain”I look, I listen. My heart cracks wide open.