By Aaron Facundo, AsAmNews Intern
Scott Kurashige recalls the first time he became aware of Grace Lee Boggs, a prominent Asian American civil rights activist who together with her husband James fought for the rights of African Americans and others.
Kurashige recalls being a frustrated activist and student at UCLA when a teacher suggested he read the autobiography of Grace Lee Boggs.
“I read it and it was just really life-changing because I had been trying to do activist work for 10 years. I had some success, but a lot of failures,” Kurashige said to AsAmNews. “The 90s were very much a time of really a kind of conservative assault on some of the legacy of the civil rights movements, even in California.”
After being impacted by her autobiography, Kurashige invited her to speak on a panel in Los Angeles alongside fellow civil rights activist Yuri Kochiyama and other prominent Chicano and African American movement veterans.
Today, Kurashige is president of the James and Grace Lee Boggs Foundation and is organizing a campaign to turn the couple’s home in Detroit into a museum. Grace Lee appointed Kurashige along with three other people to lead her foundation and carry on her legacy prior to her death.
Boggs (1915-2015), was an American-born Chinese woman. In the early 20th century, American-born Chinese people were rare to see. Even rarer to see at the time is that she went to college and even received a Ph.D. in philosophy in 1940. According to Kurashige, it is possible that at age 25, she became the first-ever American-born Chinese woman to receive a Ph.D. in philosophy.
Later in her life, she participated in Martin Luther King’s March on Washington to end discrimination and segregation. The march inspired her to become an activist in the African American community.
In 1953, she married James Boggs (1919-1993) and together they wrote books, took part in practically every 20th century African American movement together and as a whole, fought for African American rights.
The James and Grace Lee Boggs Foundation has now created a crowdfunding page on givebutter.com to transform the historic home into a museum. The page has currently received more then $20,000 toward its $100,000 goal.
If the funding goes well, the Foundation will open the museum’s doors to the public by 2023 or 2024. Before its opening, the Foundation plans to host multiple programs to teach the community about the lives of the Boggs.
All of the proceeds raised from the campaign will go towards the restoration of the home.
Once a supporter donates to the Givebutter page, the funds will be used for the first phase of the multi-stage planning and implementation process. The foundation plans to use other funds for advising on architectural design, site planning, staffing and technological needs. Additionally, the Foundation intends to allocate funds for community development with its website and fellow partners. Most importantly, money will go towards preserving the historical objects in case of damage.
“You may have just seen that there was this huge flood in Detroit just a couple of days ago,” Kurashige told AsAmNews. “Thank goodness the house was spared this time.”
Many activists and colleagues of the Boggs themselves support the transformation of their home.
“How wonderful that the home on Detroit’s Eastside, where so many of us young activists of the 1960s were welcomed and mentored by Jimmy and Grace Lee Boggs, is going to serve as a museum,” Gloria House, a longtime friend of the Boggses, said in a statement. “As a powerful repository of revolutionary culture and legacies, this museum will inspire others towards the politics of community development and self-determination to which Jimmy and Grace devoted their lives.”
The James and Grace Lee Boggs Foundation is entirely comprised of volunteers and is reflective of the home itself. According to Kurashige, the home still looks “very 1960s” because the couple did not have a lot of money and whatever money they did have, they invested into their movements.
“[The James and Grace Lee Boggs Foundation] was created based on the directives that Grace gave us before she ‘joined the ancestors,'” Foundation Kurashige said. “The movement that she and James helped to inspire was bigger than the two of them as individuals. They wanted their vision to continue to reach people and grow.”
Aside from crowdfunding the transformation of the Boggs home, the foundation also manages their intellectual properties and their estate. For example, the Foundation knows that the Boggs would not want their image to be commercialized and exploited just for profit. Therefore, the group manages how their likeness and image are circulated.
Additionally, the Foundation works together with the James and Grace Lee Boggs School and the James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership for social purposes. The school and center are located on the same street as the home.
Although Grace Lee Boggs passed away in 2015, Kurashige had known her for 17 years.
“I grew up really not knowing anything about Asian American or African American history like most other Gen X people,” Kurashige said. “I grew up with a very Eurocentric education, even though I grew up in a relatively ‘blue urban part’ of Southern California.”
For the most part, Kurashige did not know much about Asian American studies or Black studies aside such well known icons as Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks or Abraham Lincoln.
It was not until college that he became more politicized and began to learn more about other important, but often overlooked figures, such as the Boggs themselves.
“So a lot of us who who were still relatively young, but had been doing organizing work for quite a while felt that we really had to try new things, think about new ideas and some new breakthroughs,” Kurashige said.
As a student activist, Kurashige continued into grad school at UCLA pursuing ethnic studies.
The Foundation requests that the public donate to their crowdfunding page to preserve the legacy of these two prominent figures in Asian American and African American history.
AsAmNews has Asian America in its heart. We’re an all-volunteer effort of dedicated staff and interns. Check out our new Instagram account. Go to our Twitter feed and Facebook page for more content. Please consider interning, joining our staff, or submitting a story or making a contribution.