Growing Fruits, Vegetables, and Souls

In Grace Lee Boggs’ book The Next American Revolution, the legendary Chinese American activist of the counterculture era reflects on what revolution looks like in the twenty first century. This is a fitting subject for her final book, given that a theme in her autobiography Living For Change is the necessity to read how the currents change and critically reflect on them before responding. To her, gone are the days of explicitly radical and political campaigns. Now is the time for community development and, by developing community, “growing” our souls, especially the souls of the young. In short, the revolutions of the twenty first century will happen within communities, and participating in these revolutions will impart an education of its own.

As someone in the generation she directs her words to, the prospect of heeding them is a little intimidating. What am I to do with such an awesome responsibility? Luckily, Boggs was a real activist; she led by example. In her final years, she organized youth environmental and food activism in Detroit, and this was in response to not only local urban devastation but also global environmental catastrophe. Children and youth learned to be stewards of the earth. In this pivotal role, they actively made their surroundings and the planet a better and healthier place to live. What made her work even more affecting was that it primarily involved the youth of color in Detroit. By planting greens, these youth responded to community concerns and found agency in the garden, not the streets. By growing greens, they ‘grew’ their souls. Even after Boggs’ passing, her legacy by virtue of these programs continues on in Detroit, stretching the humanity of everyone who participates in them as well as inspiring hope in onlookers, like me, who seek to emulate Grace’s grace in their own lives.

It isn’t insignificant that Grace worked primarily with Black people throughout her life. She was firmly integrated within Detroit’s Black community, to the extent that FBI records speculated that she may be “Afro-Chinese.” In a social environment that consistently asks us to retreat into individual identities, including racialized ones, Grace undermined race as a construct by reaching across artificial barriers and, by doing so, emphasized our common humanity as her most salient and transcendent identity.

I do not think it is a coincidence that she made the issues she wanted to focus on during the latter part of her life environmental and food justice. As countless indigenous cultures teach us, a hallmark of humanity is being one with the environment. The planet provides for us, and it is only moral that we provide for it. A mutual relationship that secures life for both parties, to the extent that the lines between both are erased. By diminishing racial barriers, I believe Boggs set the groundwork for dissolving the industrially erected barrier between the individual and the environment.

Engaging in environmental and food justice can undermine some aspects of identity, especially its divisive elements, but it also nurtures aspects of identity that are life-giving and communal. Indigenous communities all around the world are fighting not only for control of the local resources, but also the right to continue living through their sacred cultures that were and continue to be ravaged by colonizers. Through an indigenous paradigm, biodiversity and human diversity are one. Many indigenous cultures invoke the natural world in their traditional stories. Knowledge of the natural world is linked to literal and cultural survival. Homo sapiens sapiens roughly means “the one who knows,” and it is through this reminder that we come full circle and realize that education is the key to liberation, and that we must pull from an educational tradition that began with the dawn of humanity and fundamentally reaffirms what it means to be human.

Of the little humans in my classroom, there are various words that can describe them. These words are white, Black, white American, Black American, African American. And the list of nationalities, Syrian, Afghan, Congolese, Indian, Nigerian, Korean, and the word “American” can be appended to all of them. It warms my heart to see children from all over the globe interacting with and befriending each other, and my heart grows warmer knowing that they also share a school garden. I don’t have a set topic for my capstone project yet, but I know it will have something to do with that garden, allowing for even more interconnection to take place. So, maybe the radicalism of the 60’s and 70’s hasn’t died. It just must grow anew, along with our fruits, vegetables and souls.




masters student in educational psychology

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Nathan Reddy

Nathan Reddy

masters student in educational psychology

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