"Grace Lee Project" film screening benefit this Saturday; event featured in Metro Times

film premier:


Do You Know Grace Lee? Questioning conventional stereotypes of Asian American women

Film Synopsis:
When award-winning Korean-American filmmaker Grace Lee was growing up in Missouri, she was the only Grace Lee she knew. But when she later moved to New York and California, everyone she met seemed to know "another Grace Lee." But why did they assume that all Grace Lees were nice, dutiful, piano-playing bookworms? Pursuing the moving target of Asian American female identity, the filmmaker plunges into a clever, highly unscientific investigation into all those Grace Lees who break the mold - from a fiery social activist to a rebel who tried to burn down her high school! With wit and charm, THE GRACE LEE PROJECT puts a hilarious spin on the eternal question "What's in a name?"


“Fun and offbeat! Told with humor and insight.”
-Los Angeles Times

“Delightful! A funny but complex meditation on identity, ethnicity, and cultural expectations.”

Filmmaker Grace Lee will be in attendance at a Detroit screening of The Grace Lee Project, on Saturday, March 18, 2006. The film features an interview from Detroit’s very own Grace Lee Boggs, long-time movement activist who will be speaking at the event. Grace Lee Boggs has been involved in the Civil Rights, Black Power, environmental justice, and Asian American movements (www.boggscenter.org). All proceeds from the event will go towards Detroit-based youth organizations, Detroit Summer and the Detroit Asian Youth Project.

Event Details:
Saturday, March 18, 2006
Barth Hall in the Cathedral Church of St. Paul (4800 Woodward)
6:30 pm VIP Pre-Screening Reception with Director Grace Lee (Tickets: $35)
8:00 pm Film Screening with Q/A session with Director to follow (Tickets: $10-20 Adults; $5 Students and Youth)

All persons named Grace Lee can attend the VIP Pre-Screening Reception and Film Screening free of charge. Please bring valid identification.

Detroit Summer is a multiracial, intergenerational organization fostering youth-led movement to rebuild, redefine, and re-spirit Detroit from the ground up. Co-founded by Jimmy and Grace Lee Boggs, Detroit Summer was launched in the summer of 1992 to involve youth in hands-on projects, including community gardening, public art murals, a community bicycle repair/recycle shop called Back Alley Bikes, intergenerational dialogues and community organizing. www.detroitsummer.org.

Detroit Asian Youth (DAY) Project was established in 2003 to engage Asian American youth in Detroit to develop leadership skills and awareness for social justice. DAY Project works with Hmong and other Asian American young people in the city to explore the youth’s identities, history, culture, and experiences through community projects and other educational forums.

The Grace Lee Project is reviewed in the current issue of the Metro Times. Read the review here.


Detroit Summer Collective members publish interviews in Critical Moment

Beyond the Superbowl
Interviews with Progressive Detroit Community Leaders

by Jenny Lee, Ilana Weaver and Ben Chodoroff

The recent Superbowl XL and the years of redevelopment projects leading up to the event have sparked a great deal of debate and speculation about the future of the city of Detroit. Is the Superbowl the kind of development that the city needs, and if not, what kinds of development can we imagine that would make Detroit a more just, safe, healthy and beautiful place to live?

Before and after the games, Critical Moment, in partnership with the Detroit Summer Collective, interviewed several longtime Detroit activists to get their take on the problems facing Detroit and possibilities of rebuilding Detroit.

Click here to read the full article.

Click here to listen to a radio piece based off of the interviews.

Check out coverage of Grace Lee Boggs in Detroit Free Press in anticipation of upcoming "Grace Lee Project" event

Activist Boggs learned from mom's regrets
March 9, 2006
BY DESIREE COOPER, Detroit Free Press


At 90, Grace Lee Boggs is a one-woman revolution.

Raised by her Chinese immigrant parents in a New York, upper-middle class family, she attended elite colleges in the 1930s. From a rat-infested room in Chicago, she joined the civil rights movement in the 1940s. Unlike many women of her day, she married late in life and never had children.

In 1953, Boggs met an African-American labor activist in Detroit: James Boggs. Together, they influenced a generation of civil rights leaders with their books, including actors Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis.

A half-century later, Boggs feels the revolution is far from over.

"I see Hurricane Katrina, the Iraq War and the Detroit public school dropout rate as atrocities on the same level," she said Friday. "They are all signs that we have to change."

What inspires her to continue to rail against the establishment?

"I've always felt a philosophical and spiritual connection to Hegel, Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi," Boggs said. "They all believed that change was not only necessary, but possible."

But there's one other person who unwittingly influenced Boggs' progressive politics: her traditional Chinese mother, Yin Lan.

One woman's prison

Boggs' living room at her home on Detroit's east side is like a professor's, each chair cuddled by stacks of books. On her aquamarine wall hangs a photo of her paternal grandmother from about 1934.

"She lived to be 104," Boggs said. "She had boys, so they said that she was 107."

The Chinese honored women with an extra year each time they bore a boy.

Boggs' mother, Yin Lan, gave birth to four boys, but she didn't always feel so honored.

Born in rural south China, Yin Lan had been sold into slavery as a girl. At 21, she escaped through an arranged marriage with Chin Lee, a successful Seattle restaurateur 20 years her senior.

Yin Lan gave birth to their first child on the ship steerage floor during their journey to the United States. Soon after the couple arrived in Seattle, Chin Lee decided to move his family to the East, escaping the racial violence against Asians on the West Coast.

"They had a child and a restaurant in each new place they settled after that," Boggs said.

Boggs was born in Providence, R.I., as the fourth of six children.

In New York, her father established two successful restaurants on Broadway in the 1920s. The success was bittersweet for Yin Lan, who felt increasingly saddled by marriage and children. "My mother saw all that was available here," Boggs said, "and the waste of her own life became overwhelming."

In the 1930s, Chin Lee put his business and home in his wife's name to protect his assets from creditors, Boggs said. "When my mother found out, she locked my father out of the house and never let him back in," she said.

Like mother, unlike daughter

Boggs wasted little time taking advantage of what America had to offer, fueling her mother's resentment. But she soon realized that for an Asian woman, freedom had its limits. In the 1930s, she was removed to the Jim Crow section of a train. Later the conductor returned and said he'd been mistaken, but she refused to move to the front.

Boggs was one of only three minority students at Barnard, where she studied philosophy and played sports. In 1940, she earned a doctorate in philosophy from Bryn Mawr.

"But I was Chinese and I was a woman," said Boggs. "There were no jobs waiting for me when I graduated."

Boggs resisted marriage, determined to sidestep the trap that had caged her mother. Instead, she got a library job at the University of Chicago, earning $10 a week. Unable to find anyone who would rent a room to an "Oriental," she accepted a free couch in a woman's rat-infested basement.

Soon, she became involved with Chicago's South Side Tenants Organization and A. Philip Randolph's call for a 1941 March on Washington to demand African-American access to wartime jobs. The movement's success convinced Boggs "to become a movement activist in the black community," she wrote in her 1998 autobiography, "Living for Change."

Living for change

Boggs migrated to Detroit in 1953 to work on a grassroots newsletter, the Correspondence. The editorial board chairman was James Boggs, an Alabama native and father of six who was going through a divorce.

Their first date was memorable. He arrived two hours late and thumbed his nose at her special lamb dinner. He hated the Louis Armstrong music she played, considering the trumpet player an "Uncle Tom." But before dinner was over, he proposed.

They married in 1954. On the way home from their northern Michigan honeymoon, they had to sleep in the car because no one would rent them a room.

Few of their inner circle objected to the marriage, but one of Boggs' close friends, West Indian Marxist C.L.R. James, worried that she would become a follower of her husband.

"I did follow Jimmy at first, consciously and openly," Boggs wrote. But eventually they interacted as peers, coauthoring "Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century" in 1974.

Boggs' parents never discussed the interracial marriage. Eventually, Chin Lee came to live with the couple in Detroit.

Yin Lan moved to Florida and seldom communicated with Grace and James. After her mother's death in Hawaii in 1978, Boggs discovered that her marriage to James may have prompted Yin Lan to shun her daughter.

Still mothering revolution

Grace and James, who died in 1993, never had children together. "I saw what having children did to my mother," Boggs said.

Ironically, Boggs seems to have an endless capacity for nurturing young people and obsesses about the need for education changes.

"I think that the dropout rate is really a walkout rate," she said.

Schools are designed for upward mobility, and that means leaving their neighborhoods behind -- something we can no longer afford, Boggs said. Instead, schools should engage children in urban farming and community cleanup.

"We need to teach them how to make a life, not make a living," she said.

Still a weekly columnist for the Michigan Citizen, Boggs is traveling to Milwaukee today to visit an urban farming youth group.

"The secret to my long life is that I am not afraid of change," she said. "And these days, the only other people who are willing to embrace it are the young."

Contact DESIREE COOPER at dcooper@freepress.com or 313-222-6625.

What's in a name?

  • To Korean-American filmmaker Grace Lee, it seemed that everyone knew an Asian woman named Grace Lee and thought of her as a dutiful, polite bookworm. That was the genesis of her documentary "Do You Know Grace Lee?" -- a film that explores the colorful, diverse lives of Asian-American women who hail by the same moniker. A standout among them is Detroit civil rights activist Grace Lee Boggs.

    When: The documentary will be shown in Detroit at 8 p.m. March 18 at Barth Hall in the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, 4800 Woodward. After the film, the director and Grace Lee Boggs will speak.

    Tickets: Adults are asked to donate $10-$20. Donations are $5 for students and youths and $35 for anyone who also wishes to attend the VIP reception before the film, at 6:30. Anyone named Grace Lee may attend the film free with valid ID.

    Proceeds will benefit Detroit Summer, a youth program for community involvement cofounded by Boggs, and the Detroit Asian Youth Project, a social justice and leadership development organization.

    Details: Call 313-333-3112 or e-mail mlinz@riseup.net.


Upcoming DS event featured in the Detroit News

Project shows how Detroit's Grace Lee stands out in a crowd
by Laura Berman, Detroit News
March 02, 2006

In a sea of 2,000 women named Grace Lee -- many of them fulfilling a stereotype (nice, quiet, forgettable) of "generic Asian girl" that filmmaker Grace Lee wittily explores in a new documentary -- it is the Grace Lee of Detroit who emerges as the unforgettable one.

This is Grace Lee Boggs, who at age 90, after 53 years in Detroit using words like "struggle" and "revolution" as often as most of us say "car keys," is forging a new identity as Asian-American role model.

The daughter of Chinese immigrants who owned Manhattan restaurants, Detroit's Grace Lee earned a Ph.D. in philosophy from elite Bryn Mawr, before moving to Detroit in her 30s and marrying Jimmy Boggs, an African-American activist whose radical vision of a better America matched hers.

In the 68-minute "The Grace Lee Project," one of Boggs' Detroit neighbors says, "We used to call her Grace X because she's such a revolutionary."

A world of Grace Lees

Director Grace Lee -- the Missouri-born daughter of Korean immigrants -- was searching databases for her "Grace Lee Project" seeking to belie the statistical evidence that the typical G.L. is an American-born 25-year-old woman, 5'3", probably has a master's degree and almost four years of piano lessons under her belt.

Frustrated by the common-ness of her name among Asian-Americans, the filmmaker sought proof that "we're not that Grace Lee," high-achieving, sweet and indistinguishable, one from the other.

In the world of Grace Lees, it was the Detroit version who uniquely identified with the struggle of African-Americans. Why not her own ethnicity?

Because, she answers onscreen, neither the Chinese-American nor women's movements had emerged when Grace Lee Boggs came of age. To the filmmaker, "who can't imagine a world that is not preoccupied with identity," and to the viewer, Boggs' long, historical perspective is a revelation.

Catalyst for change

Boggs lives on Detroit's east side in a house decorated with books, fine art and "End Apartheid" posters. Over the years, her house has been stripped by thieves of its beveled glass, statuary, and even an oak front door. She stays on "because it is home," and perhaps because she sees struggle as part of life and progress.

At 90, she is intensely, actively engaged by the world she still intends to change, working with university students, surfing Web sites and reading at a ferocious pace -- smashing stereotypes and refining her politics.

As Grace Lee, the director, says in a phone call from Los Angeles, "In the end … we all have the potential to be statistically average and to be Grace Lee Boggs." To be categorized and to defy categorization.

That's the reflective and ironic message of "The Grace Lee Project," and the story too of its longest-lived -- yet ageless -- subject.

Visit Detroitsummer.org for information about a March 18 screening in Detroit, with remarks by Grace Lee Boggs and director Grace Lee. All Grace Lees will be admitted free.

You can reach Laura Berman at (248) 647-7221 or lberman@detnews.com.


DS Community Potluck comin' at cha one more time

2nd Thursdays of each month
Hosted by Detroit Summer

at the CCNDC Community Space, 3535 CASS AVE
(Corner of MLK Blvd and Cass Ave)

Please bring your favorite dish or try something new, it need not be fancy. Bring the whole family! No one turned away for lack of dish!

Thursday, March 9, 2006, 6:00 p.m.
this month's potluck theme:
"LIVE ART", featuring:

-youth poets from Catherine Ferguson Academy
-hip-hop from the Philistines & N.O.M.A.D.S., Stacy Epps, and Detroit Summer youth leaders
-breakdancing by Hardcore Detroit
-dj set by Munk and the Youthville djs
-live art by Sterling Toles

tell a friend to tell a friend....
Upcoming Breaking Bread Community Potlucks: April 13, May 11, June 8