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Letters Lived Contributor: Shea Howell

March 18th, 2014     by Julia Horel     Comments

Cross-posted from the Three O’Clock Press blog. The Letters Lived contributor series is posted weekly. The series begins here.


Shea Howell is a Detroit activist, organizer, author, and professor of Communication at Oakland University who has been committed to grassroots, community-driven development for more than four decades. Howell grew up in a small coal mining town, but through the guidance of one of her teachers and frequent visits to the public library, she began to gain a better sense of the larger world awaiting her beyond the mountain valley. Howell first met her good friends, inspiring activists Grace Lee Boggs and James Boggs, in her mid-twenties, two friendships that would change her life forever. In 1976, Howell joined the Boggs in a political group called the National Organization for the American Revolution (NOAR), aimed at reigniting the fire of the 1960s revolution in the African American community. In her Letters Lived contribution Howell writes of the experience:

“The tone, culture and ideas were set in an African American context by people whose experiences were very different from our own. Yet with them, and because of their generosity, you will learn things about yourself and your country that few white folks ever confront. It is a great gift and carries with it a tremendous sense of responsibility to help other white folks uproot racism.”

Community peace projects and conflict resolution are also areas of organization that speak strongly to Howell, who was part of We the People Reclaim our Streets (WEPROS) and Save Our Sons and Daughters (SOSAD). By rallying together the community, Detroit locals reduced crime by 80 percent by regularly marching through the streets at night and developing ties within the community.

Through a network of artists, activists and intellectuals, Howell helped kickstart an environmental, multi-racial youth movement in 1992 called Detroit Summer, which sought to rebuild and respirit the city’s culture after the Industrial Age. Later, with Detroit Works, Howell and like-minded activists joined together to use civic engagement as a means of finding imaginative new ideas in health, education, and public safety in an urban setting faced with a declining population. Howell is also a co-founder and board member of the James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership (BCNCL), which helps to foster productive, sustainable and ecologically conscious communities.

As a Professor, Howell lectures on social difference and peace, and she has an extensive history of written work. She is the author of Reflections of Ourselves on women, politics, and media, and co-author of The Subjective Side of Politics and Patterns of Power. Howell is also a contributing writer for Between the Lines.

In Howell’s Letters Lived contribution, it’s clear that she has an active and fulfulling life to reflect upon, but she doesn’t want to draw concrete lessons for her young, rebellious self. Instead she passes on reassurance about the importance of friendship, love, and reaching beyond oneself — great words to live by at any age:

“While I have grown old, I have never been far from young people. I know enough to understand they really don’t like to be ‘told.’ What they do want is someone who listens, someone who shares and someone who loves them as they are, so that when things get tough — as they are bound to — there is a place to go. I have tried to provide that place for the young folks in my life, just as others did for me, as others will do for you.”

Tags: bibliothèque

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