Archive for the 'detroit summer' Category

The old Art Center Music School building

Is haunting me! For the past 7 years or so I’ve walked past it and thought it would be the ideal home for Detroit Summer. It wasn’t always abandoned during those years. In fact, these pictures I found on flickr make me realize it’s only been abandoned for a year or two. Now, the brass around the door (below) has all been stripped and a lot of the windows are broken.  The roof is in good shape though.


It’s 2 buildings– one, a rectangular sandstone building, which looks 2-storied from the outside but which is actually a large, open recital hall with high ceilings and beautiful acoustics. Attached to it is a mansion, which in the early 20th century was a funeral home, but since 1929, is where the music lessons of the Art Center Music School were held. The ACMS’s mission is to provide affordable private music lessons to Detroit kids and adults. A lot of my friends remember taking lessons there when they were little.  But it seems that the school was so devoted to this mission of benefiting the community over profit-making, that they eventually ran out of money.

The miracle is that that the buildings are still owned by the board of the ACMS non-profit. According to my landlord who heads a low-income housing non-profit in the Cass Corridor, a majority of the buildings around here are owned by speculators who think if they just hold out long enough they will be able to sell their property for a million dollars or more. In the meantime, people with energy and vision for transforming those buildings can’t afford to buy them and they remain hazards to the community.


The board members of ACMS are older African Americans, some of whom taught at the school or studied there, many of whom are in their 90s. They have staunchly protected the buildings from developers who would have bought them and turned them into lofts or bulldozed them for parking lots. They remain devoted to the vision of providing affordable music lessons for Detroiters, but seem to lack the capacity to bring the school back to life.

I learned all this in the past 3 days, after AMP and Detroit Summer found out we have to move again (from the amazing space we relocated to at Warren and Grand River only this Summer). We have until the end of March. Luckily, 2 things– 1) the people I’ve talked with at the ACMS are energetic about the possibilities of working with us. We haven’t met all of the board members, and we anticipate that some of them will be more reluctant, but it seems hopeful. 2) We are moving with our friends Carl and Monte who run the 555 Arts Gallery and are two of the most skilled, hard-working, resourceful building-renovators I know.


I’m so excited about the possibility of this move I can barely stand it. I’m not even sure why. Part of it is how sweet the building is, and the fact that it’s around the corner from my house. Another part is the history of the building. Houdini was laid out in the funeral home after his untimely death in Detroit! When Steve, one of the board members was giving us a tour on Saturday he said they used to talk about the idea of holding a seance as a Halloween fundraiser. All kinds of jazz and Motown musicians passed through the school or performed in the Hall. Apparently even some seminal Detroit Hardcore bands– Negative Approach and Necros performed there in the 80s.

It would be amazing to move Detroit Summer back into the Cass Corridor. But even more amazing to do it in a way that builds upon the legacy of the Art Center Music School, takes it to the next level, doesn’t let it die.


Plug Into the LAMPpost

By Invincible and Jenny Lee

Originally published in the Newsletter of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Detroit

“They used to plug into the lamppost, wiring sound systems, linoleum ground spinning, wind-milling a dance broke.

Vocal emceeing, mobile museums-transport untold stories for the global to see them, call them vandals. Battles instead of bullets…”

20 plus years after block parties in the South Bronx midwifed hip-hop culture, we found ourselves in a time warp, but rather than New York City, we were on the corner of Poplar and Lawton on Detroit’s near West side. This block party to connect hip-hop and activism was for a youth leadership and community organizing program we work with called Detroit Summer. It consisted of all day performances including the neighborhood church children’s choir, Miz Korona, Black Bottom Collective, DJ Len Swann, live graffiti murals, and head-spins on sun baked concrete. Since the early 90s, Detroit Summer had been doing the nuts and bolts work of growing community– working with youth to rehabilitate abandoned houses, paint murals and take over vacant land with community gardens. Ever since the success of the first block party, we saw how Hip-Hop could bring people together and transform a community in the same way. It brought new life into our work by tapping us into the undercurrent of youth energy that is the Detroit Hip-Hop scene. We were also fortunate enough to connect with one of the culture’s pioneers living in our midst, Bronx native, Prince Whipper Whip. By making a link between our block parties and Hip-Hop’s origins, we resurrected the value system that produced Hip-Hop–relying on our own ingenuity to solve problems creatively without violence, and reclaiming our community power—plugging into lampposts.

“Self taught. Each one, teach one ruling their school of thought.
With no diploma we stand on the shoulders of soldiers.
breakin the status quotas and wake us out of comas that control us.”

Detroit’s school system is in crisis. While some might try to paint hip hop as part of the problem, we looked to it as part of the solution. We saw that youth were coming into our programs through Hip-Hop and often times it was Hip-Hop that kept them there. More than just learn how to emcee, they learned critical thinking and creative problem solving with Hip-Hop as the vehicle. Detroit Summer is modeled after the Mississippi Freedom schools of the 1960s, where amidst a failing and unjust school system, the community provided the kind of education people needed in order to take power over their lives and shape their own futures.

In Detroit, with one of the nation’s highest dropout rates, we can see that this approach is needed now more than ever. One of our great mentors and a founder of Detroit Summer, Grace Lee Boggs wrote, “Instead of trying to bully young people to remain in classrooms structured to prepare them to become cogs in the existing economic system, we need to recognize that the reason why so many young people drop out from inner city schools is because they are voting with their feet against a system which sorts, tracks, tests, and rejects or certifies them like products of a factory. They are crying out for another kind of education that values them as human beings and gives them opportunities to exercise their Soul Power.” In its best form, Hip-Hop culture can play an integral role in the kind of education that allows young people to revalue themselves as visionaries, leaders, and shape shifters.

“So now we plug into the LAMP quotes. Drop outs and walk outs.
They say you ain’t got a say you’re too young and you can’t vote.

Demanding understanding they shove it down your damn throat,
while you’re checking ya man’s pulse. I’m checking the public schools hand’s pulse.
Almost a flat line. Try to make a change and get slapped with a fine. Suspension or a felony charge.
Expelled or put in jail behind bars we got a vision for a new way of living.
Rebel(v.) with a cause”.

In the summer of 2006, Detroit Summer launched a campaign to transform the entire education system in Detroit, inspired by several young people we worked with who had dropped out, or were considering dropping out, as well as some who were organizing in their schools for a change but were suspended or arrested as a result. After attending several community forums on the issue we noticed a glaring piece was missing; no one was asking youth, the people most impacted by the schools crisis, what they thought. There were fingers pointed but no long-term sustainable solutions proposed. We realized that we needed to evolve the whole concept of what it meant to campaign for social change. What would happen if we explored the question of why people drop out as a community, in order to generate solutions as a community, while prioritizing the voices of youth? And what if, instead of a standard campaign 12-point platform, we created a Hip-Hop audio documentary to express our demands? And what if we didn’t just critique the outdated teaching methods that are in place, but also modeled the process of hands-on real life learning? We launched the Live Arts Media Project (LAMP) as an answer to all those questions and an experiment in a different type of community organizing.

We’ve found that the model of Hip-Hop-based community organizing, developed through the Live Arts Media Project, is useful to people in many different places, facing similar crises as Detroit. Since the completion of our first Hip-Hop audio documentary, entitled “Rising Up From the Ashes: Chronicles of a Dropout”, LAMP youth and artist mentors have traveled around the Midwest, California, and as far as Deheishe Refugee Camp in the West Bank, Palestine exchanging models with other youth leadership projects. In LAMP, we use Hip-Hop to investigate, illuminate, and transform. Through that process, we’ve learned that the lasting solutions to our deepest problems will emerge from the ground up.

“Not just numbers they added up on count day. The heart strength and ambition they wanna down play. Channel the Anger the apathy and the outrage. Get with the movement or get out the way.”

(Lyrics by Invincible taken from the song “LAMPpost” by Finale and Invincible-as appears on LAMP’s “Rising Up From The Ashes…Chronicles of a Drop Out” CD.)

Detroit Summer Collective celebrates two years of Breakin’ Bread

By Jenny Lee
Originally published in The Michigan Citizen

Kase n Point @ Nov. Potluck

More Pictures

The walls inside the Cass Corridor’s Neighborhood Development Center are undergoing transformation. On the east wall a new mural commemorates the two year anniversary of the Breakin’ Bread Community Potluck Series. In a landscape of deep purples and blues kids are walking out of schools, towards urban gardens, and into block parties where turntablists and breakdancers have taken over the streets.

The Breakin’ Bread gatherings bring people together every month to share whatever they have to offer. On the food table: Mom’s chicken, homegrown salads and Faygo 2-liters.

On the mic someone tells a story of police brutality, a young mother reads a poem about her hopes for her new baby, someone answers the question “What would it take to end youth-on-youth violence?” which leads to more questions. There’s always someone hauling turntables, crates of records and a cider press. At the end of the night a breaking cipher and upsidedown buckets, turned into drums by Corridor percussion legend, Larry Hull, accompanies clean-up.

On Nov. 8, Detroit Summer celebrated this powerful model of decentralized community organizing with the theme “Rep Your Hood: Graffiti and Community in Detroit.” The new mural in the community center was put up by renowned local artist, Sintex, as a way of telling the story of the past two years of potlucks.

As always, the event featured youth DJs Kase N Point and Dr. Seuss, and the legendary breaking crew, Hardcore Detroit. It was hosted by two of the youngest members of the Detroit Summer Collective: Starlet Lee and Josh Tuck.

After food and an open mic, Lottie Spady and Alia Harvey-Quinn of the Urban Artists Collective led a discussion around the question, “What does it mean to rep your hood? “They told the story of how gangs were originally created as a form of protection for a community but how, with the advent of drug economies, especially the crack economy in Detroit, they came to be a destructive force.

Quinn and Spady asked, “How can we rep our hoods in ways other than fighting for them? Do our hoods rep us?”

The people in the room, mostly youth, responded with ideas like mowing the lawns of senior citizens on the block, by hanging out with the younger kids and helping the younger ones clean up the trash or planting a garden.

“If your community was a potluck, what would you bring to it?” asked event organizers who broke everyone into groups. With markers, magazine scraps and found objects, each group built the collage of their ideal communities, while DJs Kase n Point and Doctor Seuss fed the creative energy in the room.

Afterward attendees explored each other’s collage neighborhoods. At the center of one there was a bird’s nest filled with things like Black history, dignity and a picture of Malcolm X. In another, Tupac Shakur stands at a podium in a suit imploring his neighbors to grow their own vegetables. Biggie’s head pops out from behind a fence, declaring, “I grow my own vegetables!”

These collages are only the beginning. A larger graffiti mural is yet to come. The mural is a collaboration between Sintex, youth from the Cass Corridor neighborhood and youth from Expressionz, a youth organization from Southwest Detroit.

The November potluck represents the best of what the Detroit Summer potlucks have been—a point of contact for hundreds of different people who otherwise might never have met, of all ages, doing all kinds of amazing work in every corner of the city and beyond.

The potlucks produce tangible things like murals, collages, new connections and and plates of leftovers. But we also walk away with subtler things, like confidence, affirmation and the belief that our communities are powerful.

Detroit Summer is a multi-racial, intergenerational collective in Detroit, working to transform communities. Detroit Summer organizes potlucks, speak-outs and parties throughout the year. For more information contact 313-333-6779

The SOURCE believe it or not

has published a story about Detroit Summer by our buddy Biko. It’s awesome to be able to flip through the pages of the Source, and stumble across something so real. Now we need to get busy writing our own articles that will tell the myriad of other angles to this story. (Click on each page, for a larger version, which you can zoom in on and read better)

Lamp Source Article page 1

Lamp Source Article page 2

Lamp Source Article page 3

End the Wars at Home and Abroad

“End the War at Home and Abroad”
By Jeanette Lee
Originally published in The Michigan Citizen, January 4, 2007

“I hope people can live their dreams without getting killed. I hope nobody dies over stupid things.”

This statement, together with hundreds of others, is posted on the wall of the Community Center in the Cass Corridor where the Detroit Summer Collective hosts our community potlucks on the second Thursday of every month.

Some of the statements are written in clean, careful middle school print, others in hurried cursive. Many “i”s are dotted by hearts. Each is an answer to the question, “What are your hopes and aspirations for the young people of our city?”

Last fall , with the help of Cerveny Middle School students, we distributed cards asking this question at schools, libraries and local businesses around the city.

Reading the responses posted on the wall, most people remark on their unanimity. “My dream is to stop all the violence in Detroit,” “I want no more drive-bys,” “Stop the fighting in the streets,” “No More War.”

The cards also depict scenes of block parties, swing sets and colorful houses with people planting flowers next to them, contrasted with pictures of gunfire and stick figures with x-ed out eyes.

The urgency of these responses convinced us that when we celebrate Martin Luther King birthday on January 15 and his anti-Vietnam war speech throughout 2007 our attention must be focused on ending the war, both at home and abroad.

In 1967, in the midst of the Vietnam War, and after traveling through “the ghettoes of the North,” MLK wrote:

“As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked — and rightly so — what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.”

We know that we have to end the war in Iraq. But we also know that protesting the war is not enough. As long as we lack real solutions and alternatives to poverty and hopelessness among young people in cities like Detroit, the U.S. military will continue to prey upon our communities, recruiting young men and women to fight senseless, unjust wars.

But what are those alternatives? We don’t claim to have easy answers.

But we believe that as a community, through our creativity and compassion, we can devise alternatives to military enlistment, and that these alternatives will also work towards ending violence in the streets.

During 2007 our monthly potlucks will provide opportunities for Detroiters to explore these and other hard questions as an inter-generational community, putting the voices and visions of young people at the center.

The theme of our first 2007 and our 13th community potluck on January 11th will be “Not Your Soldier.”

Co-hosted with Finding Alternatives to Military Enlistment (FAME), our aim at this potluck is to break the silence around the wars being waged on the people of Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan AND the youth of our city.

We will also be celebrating FAME’s recent success in obtaining the unaninmous decision of the Detroit Public School Board to allow FAME entry into all schools where military recruiters are stationed.

Please join us. Jan. 11, 2007, 6 p.m. 3535 Cass (Cass Corridor Community Development Corporation) Free * All Ages
Please bring a dish to pass!