An Interview with Grace Lee Boggs

An Interview with Grace Lee Boggs

As staff of the NoVo Foundation and Move to End Violence (MEV), we had the opportunity to interview Grace Lee Boggs for one of our first Fireside Chats, which bring MEV cohort members into conversation with extraordinary movement leaders and create a space to share stories, experiences, and perspectives.


IMG_1195A 97 year-old activist, author, and speaker, Grace Lee Boggs has participated in almost every major movement in the United States in the last century. A truly visionary movement activist, Grace challenges us to redefine our own understanding of humanity, community, and social change. Having lived in Detroit for over 50 years, Grace Lee Boggs and her husband James Boggs founded The Boggs Center in 1995 to nurture and grow community leaders. Whether organizing with communities of color to reshape our education system, supporting youth leadership through the Detroit Summer program, or creating new ways to connect to our environment, Grace’s work continues to inspire many movement builders today.

We would like to share a part of our experience with you through video clips taken from our conversation with Grace.

We met in her home in Detroit, where we facilitated a video conference session with the MEV cohort during their convening in New York. In this first clip, the cohort has just been introduced to Grace, and we now get to hear from Grace Lee Boggs herself.

The following four video clips are excerpts highlighting key portions of the Fireside Chat.

Caitlin: I first met Grace speak at a reading in New York City for her book, The Next American Revolution. I remember how she asked us to “embrace our power to create the world anew.” This idea has since stayed with me; it stirred my thinking around my own place as a young person learning about movement building. As Grace spoke with the cohort, I was once again moved by her ability to spark critical discussion around our own capacities to create radical change. It is through these kinds of conversations that we consider how we each have a role in creating a world without violence. In this clip, Grace talks about her most personally transformative experience as a movement activist, and highlights the work of Detroit Summer to engage youth in transforming their own communities.

Lan: I first had the opportunity to hear Grace Lee Boggs speak at the 2010 U.S. Social Forum in Detroit. She spoke passionately about Detroit and how people are reimagining work—not so much as jobs, but as work that invests in bettering one’s community. This theme continued to come across as I participated in local tours of Detroit, led by community leaders. The tours provided a glimpse into Detroit’s deep history–I saw signs of the struggle and devastation, but I was also introduced to the blooming possibilities of Detroit’s “expanding sustainable future.” In today’s transient world, the idea of place-based community work is becoming more rare. Little did I know that I would return to Detroit a year later to interview Grace on this very topic. In this clip, Grace is asked by cohort member Aimee Thompson Arevalo to speak about the importance of place-based work in the context of movements. Drawing from decades of grassroots organizing in Detroit, Grace reminds us of its importance.

Caitlin: As an undergraduate, I participated in work to support the voices of students of color on campus. We often discussed the concept of “beloved community,” and I found myself wondering: How do people realize and live beloved community? What does it mean to create a beloved community that is tangible for others to build upon? These are questions that the MEV cohort members are also engaged in and posed to Grace. In this clip, cohort members ask Grace how she defines “beloved community.” Grace reflects on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of this concept and describes how people are working towards MLK’s vision today.  

Lan:  At Move to End Violence, we embrace collaborative leadership as a crucial way to do the work of ending violence against girls and women. In fact, MEV’s logo, a flock of birds flying in a V, symbolizes this. The image represents working together in a directional movement and refers to the leadership that is required for birds to take turns breaking the wind; when one tires, another takes up the point. I’ve personally seen this collaborative leadership in the MEV’s pilot cohort and believe it is pivotal to creating deep movement change. In this clip, Grace talks about her ideas and experience of the kind of leadership that is necessary to move a movement. Her framing of horizontal leadership greatly resonates with MEV’s concept of movement leadership.

Sitting with Grace in her home as she engaged in dialogue with MEV leaders was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. For us in the room and those in the pilot cohort, Grace’s rich perspectives and constant questioning were thought-provoking and inspiring. We hope these excerpts of the Fireside Chat have captured some of that inspiration.

It is not only Grace, but also all the wonderful work coming out of the Boggs Center that is inspiring. On its way to being designated as a historic site by the City of Detroit and the State of Michigan, the Boggs Center is a community resource for creative and effective grassroots organizing. To learn more, please visit their site:

We want to thank Grace Lee Boggs, Shea Howell, Zac Rosen, and Angie Allen for their generosity in hosting us in Detroit.

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