Detroit residents take up intentional space on the streets of Paris in late November.
Photo courtesy of Tafari Stevenson-Howard
“There are decades where nothing happens. There are weeks where decades happen.”
For scores of Black people in Detroit, change is happening for them today because the change was within us all along, says Detroit native Lauren Hood, visionary and urban planning strategist extraordinaire who leading impactful community efforts as the founder/director for a non-profit organization, Institute for AfroUrbanism.
As an AfroUrbanist, Hood creates opportunities for Black folk to positively hold space for their own narratives in Detroit and abroad.
During a recent trip to Paris, Hood and a handful of other Black Detroiters went beyond sightseeing – but planting seeds of purpose and intentionality.
Through the Institute for AfroUrbanism’s “Black Thriving Global Expedition: Paris,” Hood led the trip for Black creatives, photographers, and community stewards who invest in Detroit in more ways than one. The group went to posthumously honor the late legendary entertainer Josephine Baker, who received France’s highest burial honor on November 30 and was officially reinterred at the Panthéon in Paris, Black Information Network reported.
Baker, an entertainer, activist, and war hero is only the sixth woman to be buried at the national monument and the first Black woman and first US-born person and performing artist to be buried there. Born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1906, Baker rose to fame during the 1930s as a singer, dancer, and entertainer. She traveled to France and performed there before becoming a French citizen in 1937.
During World War II, Baker joined the French Resistance and led clandestine operations to support the country’s efforts. She even used her star power to carry coded messages across country lines and refused to perform for Nazis who occupied France at the time.
“The impetus for the journey around Josephine Baker being inducted into the Panthéon (was a) very big deal,” Hood said of the distinction.
Hood added that putting a Black woman in this “high-privileged place” brought out more thoughts surrounding how France honored her while simultaneously still struggling with a “decolonization mentality.”
She said that many people simply think of Baker as a “scantily-clad” singer but the activist was more than the stereotypes, similar to Black Detroiters who are at times undervalued.
Hood said that the group had conversations with people across the Black diaspora in France on what it takes to thrive and what those needs look like in France.
Redford resident Tafari K. Stevenson-Howard posted on his Instagram page numerous pictures of his experiences in Paris. From breaking bread with other melanated-brothers and sisters to dripping in African-styled ‘fits — Stevenson made his mark on the City of Life.
“It’s a good day to be Black in Paris,” he noted in his post.
Hood, who holds an undergraduate business degree and a Master’s Degree in Community Development, both from the University of Detroit Mercy, said that the 11 Detroit participants are thriving influencers who intersect the arts, culture, and community development. They shared their own backgrounds (through an interview process) of hardships and how they’re shaping their narratives for a better present and future outcome.
The trip and interviews are part of a launch for the Institute for AfroUrbanism’s citywide research study “Black Thriving Index,” which will include a total of 50 interviews on what is the source behind why Black people are thriving and how to replicate that for other Detroiters. Those particular findings from the 50 interviews will be released next spring (once the remaining 39 interviews are complete).
After the initial Index’s release, a citywide interview will kick off with (thousands of residents being interviewed) and the results of a yearlong study will be released in spring of 2023 on what the Institute found out from these conversations, Hood said, adding that the ideology around Black folks is typically negative and that “we don’t have anything to work with.”
“What I’m trying to do is change hearts and minds and get people to a place (where) we all have within us a capacity to thrive,” Hood said. “We have something to work with. … I work with community development//urban planning … we have a lot to work with build it and grow it.”
Hood added that where people feed their energy grows.
“Let’s grow the conditions of thriving for Black folks,” Hood said adding that she’s been having the same stuck conversations and she’s ready for something new. “Having conversations about Black people thriving raises the energy.”