Reconnecting Generations

This blog post is reprinted with the kind permission of Grace Lee Boggs. It was originally published in the Living for Change Newsletter, published by the James & Grace Lee Boggs Center in Detroit.

The older I grow, the more I am convinced that the human race can only continue to evolve if we overcome the age segregation that has contributed so much to our dehumanization over the last few decades.

When I was an undergraduate in the early 1930s, I heard Ira D. Reid speak at a weekend college conference and learned truths about the African American experience which I felt had been kept from me.  At the time I was in my teens. So Dr. Reid (1901-1968), who was in his 30s and director of research for the Urban League, seemed much older and wiser than I would ever be. 

I never met Reid again. But today, 80 years later, when I talk to students, I recall the impact he had on me and wonder whether decades hence they will remember me the way I remember Reid.   

That is why I was so happy to read on Facebook the following comments from students at the Wayne State University commencement ceremony two weeks ago when I received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.  In my brief remarks thanking WSU for the award, I urged graduates to stay in Detroit because its devastation by deindustrialization offers everyone a unique opportunity to use our gifts and skills to build, redefine and respirit a new 21st century post-industrial city from the ground up.   

MM: “What an honor to have you speak at our WSU Commencement Friday. Congratulations on your Honorary Doctorate. I am inspired by your life long commitment to making this a better world. God Bless.”

KG: “I wanted to write and tell you that my classmates and I were inspired by your words of encouragement during the Wayne State University commencement ceremony on May 7th. 

“As graduating social workers, we were honored by your presence and moved by your message. Your call to ‘put the neighbor back in the hood’ resonated with many of us, and I will remember that call to action now and in the future.

 “I am proud to report that myself, and the majority of my classmates, plan to dedicate our careers to serving the Detroit community. In my mind, there is no better place to be.” 

Recently I have also been talking to students from Kalamazoo College which, historically and currently, is one of our most forward-looking colleges. Kalamazoo College pioneered coed education; in 1845-46 almost half of the 90 students enrolled were women. The college also hosted Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass when they were in Jackson, Michigan, for an Abolitionist convention.

Five years ago Kalamazoo College appointed an African American woman, Eileen Wilson-Oyelaran, its 17th president.

Over the weekends of May 8 and May 15 Kzoo students visited Detroit to get a sense of both the devastation and the signs of hope in our city.  The young people in the May 8 group were mostly students of Education Professor Olga Bonfiglio who, ever since she visited Detroit’s community gardens a few years ago, has been writing and speaking all over the country about the huge role that urban agriculture can play in enhancing our health and the health of our cities and our planet. 

Following lunch the students and I carried on a spirited conversation, in which I emphasized the importance of maintaining an overview of the many thousands of generations during which human beings have been evolving. 

I love participating in these intergenerational conversations. Our reconnecting of generations in today’s rapidly growing movement to build cities of hope marks a sharp break from the youth movements of the 60s when it was fashionable to say “you can’t trust anyone over 30.”  

Nowadays I not only find younger people willing to listen to their elders.  But veterans of the many movements of the 60s are also ready to entertain hard questions from younger activists. 

In the multitude of counsels there is wisdom.