Best of Detroit 2013
Public Square - Reader's Choice
Reader's choice for Metro Detroit
Published: March 20, 2013
Best Local Social Activist
Grace Lee Boggs
At 97, Boggs has earned the title “living legend.” The daughter of Chinese immigrants, she earned a Ph.D. from Bryn Mawr and then went on to make her mark as a lefty intellectual, a feminist, and a social activist. She’s co-written three books — including collaborations with husband Jimmy Boggs, who died almost 20 years ago — and authored two books on her own, including a remarkable autobiography titled Living for Change. In 1994, she co-founded Detroit Summer, “a multi-racial, inter-generational collective” that serves as a training ground for activists, attracting young people from around the country each year. And her longtime home on the city’s east side has been transformed into the nonprofit Boggs Center, which was created “to nurture the transformational leadership capacities of individuals and organizations committed to creating productive, sustainable, ecologically responsible and just communities,” as described on its website. “Through local, national and international networks of activists, artists and intellectuals, we foster new ways of living, being and thinking to face the challenges of the 21st century.” In her view, the crumbling of Detroit represents the failure of capitalism, and its rebirth will come not from the actions of elected leaders, but through action at the grassroots level, building up. She’s one of the reasons the urban agriculture movement is now a key part of the city’s regneration. In progressive circles around the world, she is reverered. And here at home, we know that she’s truly the Best.
Best Local Nonprofit Organization
The Salvation Army
The primary mission of the Salvation Army, as its name implies, is to save souls. Many of us, though, see it as a great way to save money by shopping at its thrift stores, buying up donated clothing and household items at bargain prices. The Army sprang from the poverty-stricken slums of East London in 1865 and landed in Detroit two decades later. We’ve all seen the bell-ringers shivering alongside their donation kettles at Christmastime, but a lot of people might not be aware of all the other good things these Christian soldiers do throughout the year, from disaster services to social services, feeding the hungry, providing shelter to the homeless and helping the addicted get off drugs and alcohol. There’s also the William Booth Legal Aid Clinic, which provides free legal assistance to individuals from Oakland, Macomb, Washtenaw and Wayne counties who live at or below the national poverty guidelines.
Best Recent Change in Detroit
New businesses and residents, construction and renovation, from downtown to midtown
There was a time not all that long ago when people would have been hard-pressed to identify any real positive change occurring in Detroit. Not any more. From the regional cooperation needed to pass a millage that put the Detroit Institute of Arts on a solid fincial footing (and enabled the museum to offer free admission to area residents) to the thriving Eastern Market to the expanding urban gardening movement there is much good going on that people can point to — including voter passage of an initiative legalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana in the city and voter support statewide for a publicly owned span across the Detroit River that will end the monoply enjoyed by Matty Moroun and his Ambassador Bridge. But most heartening of all, in the eyes of our readers, has been the blossoming of midtown and downtown, with once-vacant buildings being renovated and people —many of them young and full of enthusiasm — deciding to make the city their new home.
Best Recent Change in Southeast Michigan
Creation of the Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority
It took more than 40 years of trying, but thanks to a lot of grassroots pressure, political leaders from around metro Detroit and in Lansing were finally able to all get on board at the same time to create the Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority. As a result, this area will now have what every other major metropolitan region of the country has — a single entity to coordinate mass transit throughout the region. The lack of an RTA is one of the big things derailing this area’s progress. Its creation, though, is only the first step for bringing a truly regional transit system to Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties. A board has to be put in place, and a funding system established, but the biggest roadblock — a willingness to come together as a region (at least in terms of providing mass transit) is now, thankfully, at last behind us.
Best Local Journalist
Our readers obviously appreciate that, along with being a reporter who generates one big scoop after another (Wayne County Judge Wade McCree is currently in some hot water as result of a story Charlie originally broke, and his reporting on the deplorable conditions at Detroit fire stations was absolutely first-rate), Fox2’s LeDuff is also an exceptional showman. Unfortunately for Charlie, who embraces the image of being a guy unchained, he may have recently showed a little too much, having just been arrested after allegedly taking a piss in public (he’s also accused of getting into a brawl and biting a security guard) at the St. Paddy’s Day Parade in Corktown. On the other hand, the escapade will almost certainly fuel interest in his new book, Detroit: An American Autopsy.
Best Local Newspaper Columnist
Jack may be the hardest-working guy in journalism. He’s ombudsman for the Toledo Blade, a political commentator for WUOM-FM (Ann Arbor’s public radio station), and the interim head of the journalism faculty at Wayne State University, where he’s been a longtime instructor. He’s also the Lou Gehrig of newspaper columnists, gracing the pages of the MT for 20 years, without ever — ever, ever — missing a week of his wildly popular “Politics & Prejudices” column. There are more than a few out there who read P&P because it makes their right-wing blood boil (and, on many occasions, arousing the ire of those who bleed blue as well), but, the thing is, people keep reading him, and then commenting on what he writes. Love him or hate him, no one can ever doubt exactly where Jack stands on an issue. Whether he’s using blunt intellectual force or stinging sarcasm, the one thing he’s not is a fence-straddler. And that’s what makes him the best.
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