Reclaiming Our Way promoting the well-being of African American children & families


Oprah and Detroit’s Own Shaka Senghor — Full Episode on Supersoul Sunday

Oprah sits down with criminal justice activist Shaka Senghor, an author and mentor who turned his life around after spending 19 years in prison for second degree murder, to discuss the power of redemption and forgiveness. Watch the full episode now.


Loving the Transformative Power of Gospel Music Since Childhood: Richard Smallwood & ‘Same God’

I grew up actively involved in church - specifically People's Community Church on Woodward Avenue in Detroit. There's so much that I learned throughout those years - about the nature of religion, human psychology, and even more so about the ways in which our people have maintained a level of hope in the possible... throughout the devastating circumstances we've endured throughout our history in this country.

One thing that I always wanted more of, and occasionally found traces of at People's, was a more progressive and even revolutionary message about the potential role of the church in helping African (-American) people understand our place in world history (including the spiritual place of African people and culture in world history), and our potential for transforming the world into one that is healthy and whole, for African people and others. This was a part of the message that undergirded our family's sensibilities about race and religion, and certainly the messages we were exposed to in our home. I continued to search for, and eventually found, these sensibilities and this worldview in a few churches after going off to school at Howard University in Washington, DC.

Notwithstanding these reflections on my early church experience, it's certainly the case that I'll always be indebted to the individuals at People's Community Church, especially the folks there during the 1980's, and as long as my parents continued to remain involved through at least several years ago.

While it's true that the music ministry at the church was always evolving, I still got my first exposure to the transformative power and potential of gospel music within our community during those early years. I especially felt in my core the deep spiritual faith that came through the classical gospel artists like Mahalia Jackson, and also felt the power of contemporary gospel artists (at that time) like the Winans family, and eventually Fred Hammond and others. This early love of gospel music was reinforced in my conversations with a dear friend Tammi, as well as her sister, during our early undergraduate years, and again in my frequent and beautiful conversations with my cousin Elnora while I was in graduate school. Those were a series of years that brought about significant family transitions; years during which I once again saw and felt the grounding and reinforcing messages of encouragement from countless previous generations as expressed through the music.

When I listen to gospel music today, like the song by Richard Smallwood below, I'm continually reminded of the classical gospel artists, as well as the ways in which contemporary artists continue in (and even expand) the tradition.

While I'm not convinced the collective church has come anywhere closer to it's potential for transforming the larger life conditions of African people in a positive way, the musical tradition is still one that carries the great potential for carrying our people through the wilderness and pathology of racism and white supremacy in this country and beyond.

It remains that Same God presence in our lives, speaking through the lives and music of multiple generations.

If only now we could add a bit more of that African revolutionary fervor!


Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan – Happy Anniversary!

Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History
Detroit, Michigan, USA

Happy 18th Anniversary!
Museum opened the current space (pictured below) to the public on this day in 1997!
The museum was originally founded by Dr. Charles H. Wright in 1965.

charles h wright museum detroit 2015

From the museum's website:

The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History is the world's largest institution dedicated to the African American experience. Our mission is to open minds and change lives through the exploration and celebration of African American history and culture. Our vision is of a world in which the adversity and achievement of African American history inspire everyone toward greater understanding, acceptance and unity!

The Wright Museum houses over 35,000 artifacts and archival materials and is home to the Blanche Coggin Underground Railroad Collection, Harriet Tubman Museum Collection, Coleman A. Young Collection and the Sheffield Collection, a repository of documents of the labor movement in Detroit.

After outgrowing several previous locations and physical spaces, the museum's current 125,000 square foot state-of-the-art facility was opened to the public on this day in 1997.

If you ever find yourself in Detroit for a meeting, I encourage you to carve out a few hours to visit the museum - especially with your children and other relatives. Make it a family experience. And if you're responsible for organizing a meeting in Detroit, I also encourage you to reach out to the museum to coordinate a bus trip to the museum, and also to consider coordinating a reception, awards program or other group event in one of the museum's spacious meeting and auditorium spaces.

For those interested, here's a quick video window into some of the museum's spaces and exhibits...


Dick Gregory the Storyteller @ The Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers in Detroit

Mr. Dick Gregory made an historic appearance at The Secret Society Of Twisted Storytellers on Friday, November 21, 2014 at Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. He shared so generously we made a film in four parts. Released every Sunday in February 2015 for Black History Month. Uncut, uncensored with lots of freedom of speech... Ladies and gentlemen Mr. Dick Gregory!

The first clip begins with an introduction, and Dick Gregory comes out at around the 5:25 mark.


Water is a Human Right: Detroit Residents Seek U.N. Intervention as City Shuts Off Taps to Thousands

Many people have likely heard, by now, about the recent trend in Detroit of turning off water access to thousands of Detroit residents.  My understanding is that Detroit tends to turn off water service to anywhere between 10,000-12,000 homes each year, and are on pace to nearly double that number this year... estimating approximately 20,000 turn-offs by the end of 2014.

This tragic series of events has gained increased attention within the last couple of weeks, with protests by community based advocacy organizations in the city, as well as a campaign to have the United Nations get involved.

The situation has been described as follows in a report prepared by a coalition of advocacy and community groups:

In March 2014, the water and sewer department announced it would begin shutting off water service for 1,500 to 3,000 customers per week.

According to a DWSD document obtained by the Sierra Club, there are more than 179,000 residential water accounts in Detroit. By April 30, 2014, more than 83,000 of them were past due. The average amount owed per household was just over $540.

In a report by the DWSD’s Director, dated May 28, 2014, it is noted there were “44,273 notices sent to customers in April 2014, resulting in 3,025 shut-offs for non-payment.” The water department has said it will turn the water off to all residences that owe money by the end of the summer.

In a phone conversation, city spokesperson Greg Eno confirmed that the city would be ramping up cut-offs to 3,000 residents per week starting June 2. The city would not confirm exact figures over the phone of how many people in Detroit are without water, and did not respond to a follow-up email request.

The Detroit People’s Water Board is hearing directly from people impacted by the water cut-offs who say they were given no warning and had no time to fill buckets, sinks and tubs before losing access to water. In some cases, the cut-offs occurred before the deadline given in notices sent by the city. Sick people have been left without running water and working toilets. People recovering from surgery cannot wash and change bandages. Children cannot bathe and parents cannot cook.

The MWRO is working with people who have been affected by the crisis. According to the MWRO, mass water shut-offs began in April. The organization estimates that as many as 30,000 households will have had water shut off over the next few months.

Indeed, the United Nations has weighed in, stating that these recent and increasingly frequent actions in Detroit are inhumane, and violate international human rights guidelines.

“Disconnection of water services because of failure to pay due to lack of means constitutes a violation of the human right to water and other international human rights,” the U.N. officials said in a news release. “Because of a high poverty rate and a high unemployment rate, relatively expensive water bills in Detroit are unaffordable for a significant portion of the population.”

This is an absolute travesty!  What worries me more, however, than the reality of what's happening in Detroit, is that most people appear to be unaffected by it.  What does it say about our collective humanity when we take these kinds of actions in stride, and process these stories like any other news story?  It says that we are collectively so numb to human suffering that anything goes, as long as it doesn't affect us directly.

This is what scares me about the world we live in today... the fact that so little of the tragic and inhumane things we see and hear about on a regular basis actually bothers us enough to speak out.

People, this is not OK!

Democracy Now - Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Activists in Detroit have appealed to the United Nations over the city’s move to shut off the water of thousands of residents. The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department says half of its 323,000 accounts are delinquent and has begun turning off the taps of those who do not pay bills that total above $150 or that are 60 days late. Since March, up to 3,000 account holders have had their water cut off every week. The Detroit water authority carries an estimated $5 billion in debt and has been the subject of privatization talks. In a submission to the United Nations special rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, activists say Detroit is trying to push through a private takeover of its water system at the expense of basic rights. We speak to Maureen Taylor of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization and Meera Karunananthan, international water campaigner for the Blue Planet Project.


A Celebration of African American Fathers

African American fathers continue to get a bad rap in our society. But I'm proud to say that my brother and I grew up with a very strong and powerful father, fully present and actively involved. And we weren't alone. My brother and I grew up with many powerful examples of responsible fathers all around us.

That having been said, today is a special day in my world. The greatest male influence in my life, Dr. Ellword Miller, was born on this day in 1943.

In celebration of my father's birthday, I'm posting an essay I wrote back in 2007. I wrote this personal letter to my father as a tribute to the power and integrity of African American fathers all over this country, and throughout our history.

This essay was one of fourteen I wrote between 2006 and 2010, and published in my 2010 book Facing the Rising Sun: Perspectives on African American Family and Child Well-Being. My father passed, and made his transition into the community of Ancestors, just a few months after we celebrated the book's September 2010 publication. Since his transition, I've continued to learn from his example every single day.

I dedicate this again, in its original form, to all of the fathers out there. We stand on solid ground, and your examples are recognized and very much appreciated!

A Celebration of African American Fathers
Perspectives on Our Work, No.7

June 22, 2007

Greetings, and thank you for reading this issue of our ongoing analysis and commentary publication.

In this issue I would like to celebrate the significance of African American fathers and their immeasurable contribution to the history and continued development of African American families.  I will do so in a very personal way by reflecting, in the form of a letter, on my relationship with my father.

As was the case with my celebration of mothers, this essay is also a difficult one to write, as these reflections are very personal.  After experiencing the last six years of fatherhood, I am clear that African American fathers are likely among the most misrepresented and misunderstood groups of people.  But still we rise!

Dear Dad, there are few public representations of African American fathers that shed light on the strength and integrity of our experience.  Most of the depictions that claim to capture the personal side of fathers only talk about our pains, missteps and tribulations, and how we struggle just to stay alive and find meaning in life.  Well there is another story that needs to be told.  I would like to reflect on the tremendous passion, courage and sacrifice that so many African American fathers make every day to ensure that our children, families and communities are well.  This is a reflection on men like you.

This essay can’t undo all of the craziness people say about African American fathers, but it is a way for me to say thank you and celebrate all that you have meant to me.  As with my recent reflections about mom, there are likewise many reasons for me to thank you for being a great father.

I am deeply appreciative of the discipline you helped to instill in Khari and me.  You always insisted that we listen to and show respect for mom, other adults and our elders.  These values and rules were non-negotiable.  You made it clear that our behavior didn't only reflect on us as individuals, but also our family and community, including the rich, proud legacy of our ancestors.

I have to tell you that of all our friends you were always viewed as one of the strictest fathers.  Physically you have always had a commanding presence and you had minimal tolerance for nonsense when it came to us and our friends as we were growing up.  I realize now that one big reason for that was that the stakes were (and continue to be) too high for African American youth getting caught up in otherwise typical adolescent nonsense.

While you were strict and quick to discipline us for getting into trouble, you have always been a very fun and affectionate father as well.  I remember those many nights you came home after we were in bed,  came into the bedroom, closed the door quietly behind you, and scared the mess out of us by making strange noises.  Then you’d start tickling us and wrestling with us until we were either too tired or started crying from laughter.  You would then tuck us back in and kiss us goodnight.  Those were great days.

You also made sure we did recreational and other fun activities together as a family, including tennis, swimming, badminton, pizza nights and other family outings and vacations.

On the serious side, I remain thankful for the effort you made to expose me as an adolescent to some of the service activities of the Detroit Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.  It was my involvement with the Detroit Kappa League that showed me the real potential of African American social and civic organizations, when they are committed to ideals higher themselves.  The African American men I was exposed to through this experience demonstrated the values of sacrifice, discipline, hard work, education, service and achievement.  More importantly, however, these men were not committed to a selfish kind of individual and personal achievement, but made it clear that even our personal goals must be in support of our families, the larger community and unequivocally in support of the continued healing and development of the African American community.

I am equally thankful for the examples of fatherhood found in my other cousins, uncles and extended family growing up.  You all have been devoted fathers, protecting us as best you could from the madness in the streets, and ensuring that we followed a path to success and self-sufficiency for ourselves and now our families.

Dad, I frequently find myself thinking about the crisis state of affairs facing African American youth.  I find myself reflecting on the climate growing up in 1970’s and 1980’s Detroit.  This was the period that teenage gun violence started to skyrocket to unprecedented and senseless levels.

It is with this in mind that I appreciate all of the lectures and other steps you and mom took to keep Khari and me from getting too caught up in that pathology.  I appreciate and respect the way you intervened to de-escalate that petty neighborhood beef when we were in high school.  You got us and another family to sit down and talk through the senseless drama that could very easily have resulted in more Black teenage gun violence.  I can appreciate that in all of your years as a middle and high school guidance counselor and principal in the Detroit Public Schools, you have seen your share of what that pathology has produced, and the pain and heartbreak it has inflicted on families.

I remember when you sat me down in the family room and shared with me some of your observations of the American political and criminal justice systems, especially as they relate to African American families.  Your message was neither one exclusively about “personal responsibility” nor one exclusively about “blaming the system.”  Instead your message was about critical observation, critical study, and critical reflection, as well as our responsibility to be socially and politically aware and engaged.  Through your words and your example, you demonstrated what it means to be actively engaged, and to work with integrity in the interests of African American families and communities.

There’s another big lesson you taught me.  I can’t remember what I was struggling with, but you shared with me that the most difficult aspect of any decision is actually making it.  You went on to share the importance of weighing your options, and then moving forward with the option that feels most comfortable.  You told me to put fear aside and don’t get stuck thinking about all of the “what ifs.”  You said that even when the decision is wrong, you can at least try to correct it and move on.  But you have to actually get through the decision to have that opportunity.

I have come to appreciate that even when we exercise poor judgment and/or make unwise decisions, the great thing is that we frequently have time and are given opportunities to work through the consequences.  It might take some time, but that’s the beauty of life... our experiences produce opportunities for learning and growth.  I appreciate your lessons and your example.

Dad, you and mom have blessed Khari and me in immeasurable ways.  Your example of how to live life through the easy times and the difficult times has been priceless.  If I can build on the example the two of you have provided, I am confident that I will also be a great father like you!

Thank you again, and I Love You!


Bishop Nkenge Abi: Remembering a Great Advocate for African People

Celebrating the Life of

bishop nkenge abi

Manager of Detroit's Shrine of the Black Madonna Cultural Center & Bookstore
Associate Pastor, Shrine of the Black Madonna Church in Detroit
Member National Story Tellers Association,
Kwanzaa Coordinator, Renown Resource for African Culture

The Detroit community, and many others from across the country, will gather later this evening for a service in celebration of the life of Bishop Nkenge Abi. Sister Nkenge was a passionate advocate for African people, grounded in a fundamental commitment to teaching children and adults about African history and culture. If you've ever visited the Shrine of the Black Madonna Cultural Center and Bookstore in Detroit, you likely saw and spoke with Sister Nkenge. She was extremely knowledgeable about books by and/or about African and African American history and culture, and was a longtime resource for many organizations, schools and individuals throughout the Detroit metropolitan area and across the country.

Since moving away from Detroit many years ago, I'd always make it a point to visit the Shrine during my visits back home. I'll always remember the many hours standing next to the check-out register, talking with Sister Nkenge about many different things, from my family's early years at the Shrine, to the evolving trends in African American reading interests and broader cultural consciousness. She was always very generous with her knowledge of the publishing industry, as well as her broader experience of operating a business and transmitting African culture through education and the arts.

While always extremely warm and generous, Sister Nkenge's analysis and perspective was always very sharp and clear, consistently unwavering on anything related to the health and well-being of the African American and broader African community. She always reminded us that everything is political, not in the electoral sense, but in terms of everything about our lives having a direct relationship to our cultural worldview and consciousness, and thus our individual and collective well-being.

While Bishop Nkenge Abi's presence will be missed, her spirit and influence will continue to be with us.

Just below are a few resources that shed at least a little light on Bishop Nkenege Abi's life and example.

1. An article from the Detroit Free Press, acknowledging the passing and influence of Bishop Nkenge Abi.

2. A brief excerpt from an essay on the importance of understanding history, posted by Sister Nkenge on the Shrine of the Black Madonna Cultural Center's website. Click on the title to read the entire essay.


An oppressed people with little or no knowledge of their history are more likely to fall victim to the ills of the society in which they live than a people with a strong sense of history and identity. I share Dr. Woodson’s belief that history should be a road map, one we may follow on our way to some place. This map shows us where we have been, where we should go, and hopefully what roads we should avoid. History cannot simply be a feel good exercise or a celebration for those who struggled on our behalf. We must look at the lessons history teaches us and understand its use to confront the social ills in our community and for the restoration of African people to our historical greatness.

3. This brief clip is from just a few weeks ago, and features Sister Nkenge setting the context for the annual Kwanzaa celebration at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit. This was the first day of the 2013 Kwanzaa celebration, December 26, 2013.

4. This is a clip of brief yet powerful remarks Sister Nkenge shared in Detroit on the politics of hair. This was also relatively recent, from September 2013.

 Nkenge Abi tells her hair story at The Secret Society Of Twisted Storytellers.
Friday, September 20, 2013 at The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.


Book Cadillac Music & Detroit Village – Real Music

Book Cadillac Music

For all the real music lovers out there, I hope you'll check out Book Cadillac, a music project just released by Detroiters Khary Kimani Turner and Mark Swami Harper, who together make up Book Cadillac Music. Drawing on their rich roots in the hip-hop, soul, jazz and spoken word tradition, there's a little bit in here for all real music lovers. Both have deep roots in music and the creative arts, and have helped to anchor the creative arts and music scene in Detroit for the better part of the last couple of decades.

For the record... I'm absolutely biased. I like good music. And more importantly, I really appreciate folks who use the creative arts to advance a life-affirming message about our humanity, and push us to become our better selves.

My favorites on this are Detroit Village (listen below), First Drummer & No Time to Waste.

Preview, share, and download. You can also keep up with Book Cadillac Music on Facebook.

Real people. Real music. = Positive Inspiration = Real possibilities. Real futures.

Formed by members of the Black Bottom Collective, Book Cadillac Music explores life in Detroit through pop, soul and hip-hop culture.


Toni Griffin: A new vision for rebuilding Detroit (Another TED Talk)

I love my home city of Detroit, although I'll admit that I am biased towards the Detroit that I came of age in during the 1970's and 1980's, and not so much the city now being imagined and crafted by enterprising and opportunistic developers and entrepreneurs.

While I appreciate Toni Griffin's ability to tell a compelling story about a city on the rebound, I am struck more so by the parts of the Detroit story either omitted, or that receive a passing light touch, within the larger narrative of opportunism and optimism.  Some more direct and honest treatment of the following would have been helpful: a) how the unraveling of the city happened, including the complexities and intricacies of structural racism; and b) any tradeoffs the legacy Detroiters are having to make in order to benefit from the new vision for the city.

Ultimately, I am also clear that I don't actually live in Detroit anymore, and that the Detroit of tomorrow has to be developed by those who are actually there.  Detroit will always be home, but indeed when I go back nowadays, I feel more and more like someone in permanent exile, as the place I loved and still love is becoming more and more of a distant memory.

What I have also become more clear about over the years, is that there are many people and business interests that always wanted it that way, and have thoughtfully engineered the makings of what we're experiencing today.

No worries, though, as that Detroit spirit of old still lives on within us!

This TED Talks Description:

Once the powerhouse of America's industrial might, Detroit is more recently known in the popular imagination as a fabulous ruin, crumbling and bankrupt. But city planner Toni Griffin asks us to look again -- and to imagine an entrepreneurial future for the city's 700,000 residents.

About Toni Griffin:

Toni Griffin is the Founding Director of the J. Max Bond Center on Design for the Just City at the City College of New York. In addition to her academic involvement, Griffin maintains an active private practice based in New York. Prior to returning to private practice, Griffin created a centralized division of planning and urban design for the City of Newark, New Jersey, and before that, worked on waterfront and neighborhood revitalization in Washington, D.C.

Griffin recently served as director of the Detroit Works Project, and in 2012 completed and released Detroit Future City, a comprehensive citywide framework plan for urban transformation.