Programs & Events

Learning Journeys

New Stories from Detroit with Margaret Wheatley

Detroit, Michigan, October 25 – 28, 2012

In partnership with The Boggs Center of Detroit and timed with the publication of her new book, So Far From Home: Lost and Found in Our Brave New World, Margaret Wheatley hosted a learning journey in Detroit, Michigan. 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. No where 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.

Detroit offers us the opportunity to meet with those experimenting with radically new approaches to work, education, public safety and sustainable community. Co-­hosts for this journey are Margaret Wheatley, author and teacher, and Richard Feldman of The Boggs Center. The James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership was created to continue the work of James and Grace Lee Boggs. James died in 1993, Grace is still going strong at age 97. Together they led the way in Detroit for many decades, reimagining what’s possible, reviving the human spirit as the means to create a healthy and sustainable city. Grace has been active in every major movement since the early 1950s. She and her colleagues work from a deep understanding of social change, political philosophy, economics, healthy community, and what’s possible when we rely on the human spirit.

On this journey, participants had the opportunity to be with those who, in Martin Luther King’s phrase, “make a way out of no way.” They visited several initiatives but left plenty of time for good conversations. People were able to sit and share experiences, laugh, cry, and find the joy always available even in the most challenging circumstance as we connect with one another. Throughout the journey, participants were accompanied by a core group of community activists from Detroit.


The journey began with an evening gathering where participants met one another, were welcomed to Detroit and learned about the journey ahead.


From industrial glory to post-­industrial abandonment. An exploration of Detroit’s past economy and what’s being born from the wreckage. The focus included issues of viable local economies, distinguishing work from jobs, and the many efforts set in motion in Detroit to reimagine work.

From schools to education. Those on the journey learned of the devastation of public schools by the State government and Federal policies, and the consequences for kids and community. They met those creating place-­based schools that develop kids, community and positive futures.

Arts for social change.


Sustainable local agriculture. Including a visit to “Feedom Freedom” and other local garden initiatives that not only grow food, but focus on developing kids and adults to be responsible citizens and leaders.

Creating safe community. This outing included the exploration of “Peace Zones,” efforts to put neighbor back in the hood, encouraging relationships of mutual respect and affection, restoring harmony and possibilities. Participants learned of efforts in restorative justice and re-integrating those imprisoned back into community as returning citizens.

Arts for social change part II


How does societal change happen? Meg and the other hosts brought the journey to a close by reflecting on the experiences in Detroit. The group was lucky enough to have a conversation with Grace Lee Boggs, at age 97 America’s last great movement leader who still speaks clearly and passionately about grassroots change, political and economic philosophy and movement building.

Walking Out, Walking On. The final session supported both personal and collective inquiry about who we choose to be for this time. What beliefs, situations and perspectives are limiting contributions and effectiveness? What might we need to walk out of? And looking forward, what situations, ideas and relationships might we walk on to, those that support us to be more curious, more dedicated and more effective?