Activism in Black: From the Pew to Municipal Spaces, These Local Change Agents March on for the Cause

His bold, witty, and kind nature draws you in first.


Then his astute, on-the-money observations regarding Black matters locally and nationally keep you there, enveloped in warm but sharp-tongued conversation on his work and Godly calling in a movement he’s helping sustain in his corner of the world. It’s a movement of bettering Black lives around the time people knew with certainty that “Black is beautiful” and well before the conversation took place on whether our lives mattered or not. Pro tip: They’ve always mattered.

Inkster resident Father Ellis Clifton Jr. believes activism starts with self-acceptance and from the heart.

Photo provided by Ellis Clifton


Black was always beautiful to Inkster resident Father Ellis Clifton Jr., 68. There was no other thinking for the retired priest from St. Clement’s Episcopal Church.  Clifton grew up against the backdrop of the Black Panthers, beatniks, hippies, the NAACP, and social activism from the 1960s to now.


“That kind of stuck and it shaped me,” he said.


Clifton has been extremely active in promoting Black rights and attended Black Lives Matter protests. He was also vocal regarding the 2015 Inkster police brutality incident against Floyd Dent.


Some described him as having “seen it all” when it comes to fighting the good fight against social injustice and inequality.


The retired Episcopal priest who spent the last 13 years of his service to the Inkster church would tell you that it’s the Lord’s calling and him being raised around, and shaped by, priests.


“I was blessed to grow up and be shaped by priests who were outspoken about civil rights and Black liberation,” he said.


Clifton added that ever since he was a child, he knew that he wanted to be a priest when other boys wanted to be cowboys and the like. He added that the Black Lives Matter movement has a faith component to him and is almost “kind of sacramental in its nature.”


He explained that the Orthodox Christian churches define a sacrament as an outward and spiritual sign of God’s inward grace.


“To us, as Black folk, we are created by Him and He loves us,” he said of God’s love being an inward sign and the BLM activities being outward and visible signs. “(Of) letting everybody know that God loves us and we are deserving of fair treatment, equal treatment, just treatment.”


Clifton added that internalized oppression by Blacks is just as big an enemy as racist people and external oppression. He added that it is important for non-Black people to say that Black lives matter, too.


“If a Black person is able to say with any type of pride and dignity and conviction that Black Lives Matter, that is one step of overcoming some of the internalized oppression that we suffered under,” he said, adding the movement is a system that promotes inclusivity, which he can get behind. “I want justice right now; I want justice today.”


Julia Kapilango, CEO of Authority, Downtown Development Authority – East Dearborn, is using her platform to bring artistic Black voices to Dearborn, a city that has been well-known for not being the most welcome to Black people.

Julia Kapilango, CEO of Authority, Downtown Development Authority – East Dearborn, wants to encourage Black arts and Black voices to occupy spaces in Dearborn.

Photo provided by D. Julia Kapilango


The Downtown Development Authority – East Dearborn recently announced its newest initiative, “Art of Courage: Black Lives Matter 360 Exhibition,” February 8, 2021 – February 8, 2022, in the Connector at City Hall Artspace, 13615 Michigan Avenue, Dearborn.


This exhibition is inviting Michigan artists to give their visual voices to the matters of police violence and racial injustice and unrest in African American communities across the nation that was sparked by the Black Lives Matter Movement, according to its website. This was created as part of the organization’s events to discuss the broad impact of systemic racism in cities like Dearborn, where Black people are not the majority population.


Kapilango said that she is a Black person taking action in spaces of the arts and culture.

“From a professional standpoint, educational standpoint and municipal standpoint, you can be an activist to change policy [by] programming events,” she said adding that the goal is to “creatively transform” how she and other Black residents (and Black people) experience Dearborn.


This exhibition will be presented both virtually and inside the Connector at City Hall Artspace including its public outdoor grounds in Dearborn, according to the city website. It will comprise more than 30 works from a variety of visual art mediums along with a series of artists talks and lectures.


“Art of Courage: Black Lives Matter 360 Exhibition” is just one in a series of events on issues of racial justice and equality that will be presented by the Downtown Development Authority – East Dearborn,” Kapilango said online. “I enjoy seeing artists of all mediums teaming up to produce such innovative and transformational experiences that match what our nation is feeling and thinking. I am grateful for our board’s support and leadership.”


She told The Michigan Chronicle that eventually, what is sown will be reaped.


“I have come to learn over my experience and professional experience that if you plant a seed and it’s watered it will grow,” she said. “This has been planted since 2016 and emerged to this point where we are now.”


For more information contact Rozenia Johnson, Curator of Art and Exhibitions, MDUBA Associates




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