The Artist, The Philosopher and The Black Panther: The Rediscovery of China through the Black Freedom Movement

The Artist, The Philosopher and The Black Panther: The Rediscovery of China through the Black Freedom Movement

Friday, July 23, 6:00pm – 9:00pm
Church of the Advocate Sanctuary
1801 W Diamond St, Philadelphia, PA 19121

Symposium featuring Lily Yeh, Grace Lee Boggs and Elaine Brown
Art Exhibition featuring China’s Long March, India’s Salt March, the Cuban Literacy Campaign and the Civil Rights Movement

Image: The Village of Arts and Humanities, North Philadelphia


Introduction (6:15pm)

Welcoming by Dr. Partridge
Singing of the Chinese National Anthem and Black National Anthem by Jacob Harris & Serafina Harris
Introduction by Dr. Anthony Monteiro
Reading of Declaration by Michelle Lyu

Presentations (7:00pm)

The Artist | Lily Yeh
Introduction by Nana Korantema, video clips from the Legend of Lily Yeh,
Remarks by Lily Yeh

The Philosopher | Grace Lee Boggs
Introduction by Emily Dong, video clips from American Revolutionary

The Black Panther | Elaine Brown
Introduction by Brandon Do, video message from Elaine Brown

Discussion & Closing (8:30pm)

Lily Yeh

Artist | Founder of the Village of Arts
and Humanities in North Philadelphia

Originally from China, artist Lily Yeh developed an illustrious career studying Fine Arts at the University of Pennsylvania and teaching as a professor at University of the Arts in the 1980s. A remarkable synthesis began when in 1986 Lily, trained in the Chinese folk arts, was invited to create murals in an abandoned lot by Arthur Hall, dancer and choreographer of Ile Ife, well-renowned African dance ensemble of the North Philadelphia black community.

Over the following 18 years, Lily returned summer after summer to create and nurture The Village of Arts and Humanities, the project by which over 250 empty lots were transformed into vibrant parks covered with murals, mosaics and sculptures – created together with the hands of the youth and adults of the local North Philadelphia community. Lily’s work developing the Village was a synthesis of the humanistic traditions of Chinese and Afro-American civilization, and an expression of the possibilities brought forth through unity of the world’s people.

“Folk art in its own way expresses China’s soul. Looking back on my own journey, I realize that my intense interest in Chinese folk art had to do with my desire to understand myself as a Han person, to find my cultural and ethnic roots. I have learned a great deal from my travels to the heartland of China, where China’s ancient civilization developed and evolved. But strangely, my deep rooting into life did not happen until I began working in inner-city North Philadelphia. In my effort to return ‘home’ to that ‘dustless’ world, I traveled far and studied religion, world culture, and art. It was in the dilapidation of North Philadelphia that I found my path of return.”
Source: Awakening Creativity by Lily Yeh

Documentary of Lily’s work at the Village of Arts and Humanities

Although I am influenced by world culture, my artistic sensitivity roots deeply in the Chinese landscape painting tradition. The Village of Arts and Humanities is an example, where I have designed twelve public art spaces during the 18 years I worked there. Those spaces included parks, gardens, alleyways, a play space, and a tree farm.  Even though the gardens I designed looked nothing Chinese, but walking through the Village reminded me of walking through a Chinese garden. There is no formal entrance.

Different passageways lead one into the garden complex of the Village. As the paths meandering through the few square block area, vistas open up often when one thought that one faces a dead end. I remember the words, meaning exploring mystery, carved sometimes over the moon gates in some of the Chinese gardens. In a way, walking through the Village gave me the same impression. Wonder and surprises reveal themselves as one walks through the space.
Source: WEAD Interview

“I immigrated to America from China. It is really hard to adapt to a lot of things – so many different values. I felt that the project of the Village enabled me to be a Chinese woman in America, a woman who can contribute to the modern world, and at the same time, keeping my concepts and values.”
Source: The Legend of Lily Yeh documentary

Grace Lee Boggs

The Philosopher | Detroit activist and revolutionary philosopher

Revolutionary philosopher Grace Lee Boggs lived as witness to 100 years of world history, synthesized into her visionary ideas for what would be needed to bring forth society’s “revolution of values” in order to move the world forward. One of her greatest contributions to the human struggle for peace and justice was her unwavering commitment to developing the Truth, ideas which reflect the realities, aspirations and possibilities of humanity and hold the possibility to profoundly transform the world.

Grace grew up in New York City’s Jackson Heights at the turn of the 20th century, and became a serious philosophy scholar, with a special appreciation of Hegelian dialectics before moving to Detroit in 1953, where she became deeply rooted in the lifeworld and progressive struggles of the city’s black community. As a Chinese woman grounded in the Black Freedom Movement, her thinking matured and broadened to capture the interlinked nature of the destiny of freedom of the world’s peoples.

Grace was brave, optimistic and unwavering in her struggle to bring about a profound transformation of American society toward the uplift of humanity, with an anchoring in the struggle for clear, imaginative ideas.

“I consider myself blessed to have been born a Chinese American female with two first names: Grace and Jade Peace, which is 王 平 in Chinese. Had I not been born female and Chinese American, I would not have realized from early on that fundamental changes were necessary in our society. Had I not been born female and Chinese American, I might have ended up teaching philosophy at a university, an observer rather than an active participant in the humanity-stretching movements that have defined the last half of the twentieth century.”
– Grace Lee Boggs’s autobiography, Living for Change

“Thinking back over these years, I can’t help wondering: Might events have taken a different path if we had found a way to infuse our struggle for Black Power with King’s philosophy of nonviolence? Is it possible that our relationships with one another today, not only inter- but intra-racially, would be more harmonious if we had discovered how to blend Malcolm’s militancy with King’s vision of the beloved community? Could such a synthesis have a revolutionary power beyond our wildest dreams? Is such a revolutionary power available to us today?

These are the times that try our souls. I cannot recall any previous period when the challenges have been so basic, so interconnected, and so demanding, not just to specific groups but to everyone living in this country, regardless of race, ethnicity, class, gender, age, or national origin.

As I have read and re-read King’s speeches and writings from the last two years of his life, it has become increasingly clear to me that King’s prophetic vision is now the indispensable starting point for 21st-century revolutionaries.
Source: The Beloved Community of Martin Luther King Jr., 2004

“We are at the point of a cultural revolution in ourselves and in our institutions that is as far reaching as the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture 11000 years ago and from agriculture to industry a few hundred years ago.  How do we re-imagine education? How do we reimagine community? How do we re-imagine family? How do we re-imagine sexual identity?  How do we re-imagine everything, in the light of a change that is so far reaching and that is our responsibility to make?  We can’t expect them to make it. We have to do the re-imagining ourselves.  We have to think beyond capitalist categories. We have to reimagine.

And how do we do that?  We do that, I have found, by combining activism with philosophy.  And that’s why it’s so important that Angela and I are here on this platform.  We are both philosophic activists we are both activist philosophers.  We can’t think any more that all we have to do is act- we have to do a lot of thinking, we have to do a lot of imagination

We have to do what I call visionary organizing.  We have to see every crisis as both a danger and an opportunity.  It’s a danger because it does so much damage to our lives, to our institutions to all that we have expected.  But it’s also an opportunity for us to become creative for us to become the new kind of people that are needed at such a huge period of transition..  That’s why it’s so wonderful to be here today- that we dare to talk about revolution in such fundamental terms.
I came to Detroit nearly 60 years ago and since that time I’ve lived in the same house most of the time.  When I came to Detroit there were 2 million people there.  The Chrysler plant where my husband worked, employed 17000 workers within another year.. I mean outside my house if you threw a stone up in the air you’d hit a Chrysler worker on the way down… Within the next year the 17 000 workers dwindled to 2000.  And within a very short time, automation high tech- was eliminating the jobs that had made Detroit the arsenal of democracy during World War II,

How do we grapple with a change as remarkable as that? How do we take advantage of high tech to create a new mode of production.  How do we use it to make ourselves more self- reliant and more productive?

We have to reimagine work- we can’t talk about jobs any more.  We can’t beg for jobs or hope for jobs.  And we have to recognize that jobs in the industrial period were actually a way to fragmentation of our humanity.  And we began to depend on higher wages and consumer goods to compensate for our dehumanization.  We have to create forms of work that create community and expand our humanity.  I mean that’s where we are!

And that’s why we have to talk about revolution these days.  We have to get rid of the old ideas of leadership and followership and use our imaginations to create the new.  We have been lucky in Detroit- that out of the devastation of de-industrialization, we have recognized the need to create a post-modern, a post industrial society.  We are doing that, and I urge you to come to Detroit this July and get the idea and share the experience of the American revolution we are creating.  And to begin your own visionary organizing back in your own community.  We have the opportunity, we have the challenge in this period of the clock of the world, to create a new humanity, to create a new society to create a whole new paradigm of education.  We have to think of education and young people not as a problem but as a solution. We have to enlist them in the solutions to the problems of our communities.  That’s a whole new way of reimagining of youth and the relationships between generations.  And that’s an enormous challenge, that’s an enormous task.  And it’s up to you.  I’m very old, I’m  very hard of hearing-  I’m very shaky on my feet.  Thank goodness <INAUDIBLE> is here captioning everything that is said so I can read it because my eyesight is better than my hearing. And, alright, that’s all I have to say.

Now, where do we go from here?”
Source: On Revolution: A Conversation Between Grace Lee Boggs and Angela Davis, 2012

Elaine Brown

The Black Panther | Freedom fighter & former
chairman of the Black Panther Party

Revolutionaries Elaine Brown and Huey P. Newton served as close comrades in the building of the Black Panther Party during the 1960s and 70s. The party, which was founded in Oakland by Huey and Bobby Seale, captured the consciousness, imagination and possibilities of black youth – quickly developing into a national, and international movement. Under Huey’s visionary leadership and profound dialectic with the people the party served, the BPP made ideological developments which remain important blueprints for today’s continuation of the struggle for liberation and self-determination of the people.

When he visited China in 1970 and 1971, Huey P. Newton said that he experienced a psychological liberation in China that he had never experienced before, the sensation of freedom, “as if a great weight had been lifted from my soul.” The struggle for freedom, peace, and democracy against war, poverty, and imperialism is what inextricably links the people of America and China.

Elaine Brown, whose legacy is the tradition of struggle of clear ideas and principled unity of the Black Panther Party, said that if the party had had more time to develop, it would have become a Marxist-Leninist party. Moreover, the party made three significant visits to China, in 1970, 1971 and finally 1972 as a delegation, which profoundly influenced the political education and ideology of the Black Panther Party and growing the party to one committed to not just the destiny of the African-American people, but ultimately the unity of humanity on intercivilizational values and principles.

“It meant committing your life. I mean, that’s how we saw it. It meant that we had to surrender up something of ourselves, our own lives, because we believed that the struggle that we were involved in, which we thought of as socialist revolution, would take our lives. And so we had to surrender that. We had to make a kind of commitment. Now, whether we realistically thought we would die, most of us, I think, did, after a time. So it meant surrendering our lives to something greater, which was the notion of getting rid of oppression, and all the things that oppression meant and means in this country for black people and other people in the country.

It meant not involving yourself in your self and whatever you did as a human being, whatever you were about. It meant really seeing yourself as part of a whole, and part of an entire process, and that you were a soldier in the army. That’s how we saw ourselves — as soldiers in the army, and an army that was about bringing a revolution, a vanguard army, as we considered ourselves, to introduce socialist revolution into the United States of America.”
Source: PBS Eyes on the Prize Interview