Herb Boyd surveys the rich history of the city in new book “Black Detroit”

Rachel Moulden for Digital First Media

Herb Boyd
Herb Boyd will sign copies of his book “Black Detroit” in Southfield and Oak Park on June 10 and 11. Photo Courtesy of Christopher Griffith

Herb Boyd lives a busy life as an activist, author and academic. He keeps one foot in the classroom by teaching history and culture at City College of New York, and spends the rest of his time writing, researching and demonstrating — which he’s done for the past 32 years.

Boyd has lived in Detroit for more than 40 years. He moved there from Alabama as a small child, months before the race riot of 1943. Reflecting on his childhood, he says Detroit was very different from living in Alabama.

“There was a lot of activity happening,” he says. “We had no television at that time, but once you got out on the street you saw how chaotic the situation was.”

“Black Detroit: A People’s History of Self-Determination” is a comprehensive history of the city starting from the year 1701 all the way up to Detroit’s 2013 bankruptcy. It covers a number of historical events and mixes in elements of the people’s culture. “Detroit is an epicenter of politics, unions, music, sports, urban affairs, and so much more,” Boyd says.

He says his mother, Catherine Brown, is responsible for teaching him all he knows about Detroit and she is embedded in the book. The book also shares experiences he has had living in various places throughout Michigan.

“The gestation period for ‘Black Detroit’ was almost like that of an infant; it took me about nine months to get all of it down and several months of editorial help from my team of women to get it ready for the publisher,” the author says.

Boyd says the way his mother moved them from place to place gave him an opportunity to grow up all over Detroit, meeting tons of friends who provided the essential groundwork for the book.

When looking at Detroit from the past and the present Boyd thinks Detroit continues to be a tale of two cities — one gradually rebounding from a dismal economic period, the other spiraling deeper into the darkness of unemployment and homelessness. But looking toward the future of the city, “Since I’m an optimist I believe Detroit’s future is much brighter than the outlook proposed by many social and political pundits,” he says.

“The people of Detroit have faced much tougher times than the present, and through grit and determination we’ve managed to rebound and make a way out of no way.”

He reflects on his long history of activist work.

“One’s activism emerges from some very strange and unpredictable places. It’s hard to say when a feeling will possess you in such a way that you are moved to action,” he says. He didn’t initially plan on becoming an activist, but became a student leader in college and the next thing he knew he was out marching.

In times where people are becoming more active and vocal about demonstrating beliefs, he offers advice to those who want to get involved with a certain cause: Look toward your family, teachers and friends who get involved in something they believe, and it will make a believer out of you.

Boyd is working on a new book for Third World Press, focusing on the Harlem Renaissance. He’s also in the process of editing several books and submitting essays to a couple of anthologies.

• If you go: Herb Boyd will speak about his book “Black Detroit” at two events next weekend. The first will be at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, June 10, at the Southfield Public Library, 26300 Evergreen Road. The second will be 2-4 p.m. Sunday, June 11, at the Oak Park Public Library, 14300 Oak Park Blvd.

Local Author Releases Newest Book in Bestselling Mystery Series

By Rachel Moulden for Digital First Media

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Ferndale Author Donald Levin will hold a book launch event Saturday, June 10, at the Lawrence Street Gallery in Ferndale to celebrate the publication of his newest novel “The Forgotten Child.” Photo courtesy of Jeff Pearson

Ferndale author Donald Levin has always had a strong passion for the written word. Originally born in Massachusetts, the writer moved to Detroit as a small child and spent his days weaving together exciting fiction stories. In his thirties, he left Michigan to move to New York where he lived in various cities throughout the state.

There he worked as an adjunct college professor after obtaining his Ph.D. from the State University of New York at Buffalo and also worked as a speech writer for the New York State Public Health Commissioner. When he retired from Marygrove College in Detroit, he was Professor of English and Dean of the Faculty. He currently stands as Emeritus Professor of English at the college. After retiring from teaching and writing professionally, he decided that he wanted to focus more on writing for himself and not others.

Writing professionally and academically over the years, Levin didn’t start to write novels until the 1970s. On top of novel writing, he’s also delved into poetry over the years. Some of his poetry works include: In Praise of Old Photographs (2005) and New Year’s Tangerine (2007).

When it comes to poetry and novel writing he says there are striking differences between the two art forms. Poetry has a more intense narrative and can be written in a short amount of time as compared to fiction novels which are more of a long-term project. When it comes down to choosing between the two ultimately, he enjoys writing novels the best. “I like novels (the most) because I can immerse myself in an imaginative world”, says Levin.

Levin has been encouraged by many authors that have inspired him over the years. As a former professor, he is well versed in the classics, but he loves the mystery genre. Some of the writers he enjoys include Henning Mankell, Ian Rankin, and Walter Mosley. “I learned a lot from them (authors) and reading their books have inspired me to write my own books”, says Levin.

Levin says that he is a very diligent writer due to his previous years of professional writing. “As a speech writer, I sometimes had to write eight twenty-minute speeches in a week. I just learned that I had to stay focused and get it done”, he said. Levin does the majority of his writing in the Royal Oak Public Library from 10am to usually 4 or 5pm only stopping to take occasional breaks. At the end of the day he writes a note to himself as a reminder of where to start the new day.

Levin is currently promoting his newest novel “The Forgotten Child”, which is the fourth book in the Martin Preuss mystery series. This series follows a man named Martin who works for a police department and has a disabled son who lives in a group home due to Martin having a full time job and being a widower. The son, Toby, is based on Levin’s grandson Jamie, who also had disabilities and passed away three years ago. Levin wanted to set his series apart from other books in the same genre, by showing the fierce love between a father and son.

“The Forgotten Child”, picks up from the previous novel, “Guilt in Hiding”, in which Martin, newly retired from the Ferndale Police Department, passes his days quietly with his beloved son Toby. When a friend asks him to look for a boy who disappeared forty years ago, the former investigator gradually becomes consumed with finding the forgotten child.

The Martin Preuss series came about from Levin’s interest in the mystery genre. “As a boy, I loved to watch Dragnet and was a consumer of detective/crime fiction”, says Levin. He wanted to tackle the issues of people in society being affected by the extremities of crime and what crime says about the culture/society.

Levin is having a book launch event to celebrate the publication “The Forgotten Child”. The event will be held June 10th at the Lawrence Street Gallery at 22620 Woodward, Suite A in Downtown Ferndale, MI 48220. For more information about upcoming events visit http://www.donaldlevin.com to learn more about his books and upcoming appearances at local events.

Huntington Woods author to discuss her book about disability and inclusion

Rachel Moulden for Digital First Media

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Huntington Woods resident Janice Fialka is speaker and activist who fights for inclusion for people who live with disabilities. Courtesy Janice Fialka

Huntington Woods resident Janice Fialka is a speaker and activist who fights for inclusion for those who live with disabilities.

Fialka is the mother of two adult children, daughter Emma and a son, Micah, who lives with an intellectual disability. As a social worker, she spent 40 years working with adolescents and their families. But while caring for Micah, she refocused on disabilities.

She learned about the relationships parents with disabled children have to industry professionals and established herself as a major contributor to the national conversation about the topic. Her workshops, “The Dance of Partnership” train parents and the professionals who work with them to better understand their challenges and form creative partnerships.

Fialka now is a nationally recognized lecturer, author and advocate on issues related to disability and children.

In her latest book, “What Matters: Reflections on Disability, Community and Love,” Fialka discusses what it takes for families and communities to rise above labels that could signal a lifetime of low expectations and segregation. The book focuses on Micah’s experiences as one of the first students with an intellectual disability to be fully included in Michigan’s public schools.

After high school, Micah joined the new wave of young adults with intellectual disabilities attending college, and won a federal lawsuit that upheld his right to live in a dorm at Oakland University.

“For Micah, his situation wasn’t about having a deficiency, but was more of a civil/human rights issue,” Fialka says. “He’s not ashamed of his disability, he sees it as who he is.”

Today, Micah gives speeches across the country, serves on the U.S. Presidential Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities, is a teaching assistant in the School of Education at Syracuse University in New York, uses technology to read and write and directs his funding and support needs.

Fialka’s goal for the book is to share what she and her son have learned, offering practical guidance about how to support those with disabilities. She says there are many ways people can learn about those with disabilities.

“There are so many books available about people living with disabilities, it helps to break the silence and open a discussion for questions. You can also research disability history and advocate for inclusion,” she says.

Fialka is working on multiple lectures and promoting the book through the rest of the year. Micah is writing his own book, and he will be featured in an upcoming documentary in 2018. A preview is at the University of New Hampshire website, iod.unh.edu/projects/intelligent-lives.

• Janice Fialka will talk about her book from 2-4 p.m. Sunday, March 26, at Book Beat Book Store, 26010 Greenfield Road, Oak Park. For more about Fialka, visit danceofpartnership.com.

Farmington native’s first novel “Letting Go” of the past

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“The Art of Holding On and Letting Go,” by Kristin Lenz, a Farmington native, was released in September 2016. Courtesy Elephant Rock Productions, Inc.

Rachel Moulden for Digital First Media

Oakland County author Kristin Lenz has always been a writer at heart.

As she grew up in Farmington and attended University of Michigan, she says she lacked confidence to pursue a career in writing. Instead, she chose psychology as her major and went on to earn a master’s in social work at Wayne State University.

Then, her husband’s job took them cross-country to Georgia and California, giving Lenz opportunities to work in various areas of social work.

“Social work greatly expanded my world view,” Lenz says. “It gave me the confidence I needed to pursue writing again, and I’ve been so inspired by the resilience of the children and families that I’ve worked with.”

Inspiration for her first novel, “The Art of Holding and Letting Go,” came as Lenz and her husband fell in love with the outdoors near the mountains of Georgia and California. She followed the careers of well-known mountaineers who died attempting epic summits, and studied the effects their deaths had on their families. Lenz says she wondered what it would be like to be the child of a professional mountaineer, and asked herself just how that child’s upbringing would be different.

Her story further developed after she moved back to Michigan.

“I was struggling with this transition and the losses that came with it,” Lenz says “I had left my job, close friendships and a beautiful climate with daily access to nature. I was a new mom, feeling isolated and uncertain in a new environment while simultaneously trying to raise my baby daughter. My grandmother died suddenly.”

She believed everyone can relate to this feeling of loss during times of transition, at any age.

Her coming-of-age novel follows the story of a 15-year-old competitive rock climber. Cara, the main character, has enjoyed a roaming life with her mountaineering parents and makes the natural world her jungle gym. When tragedy strikes on an Ecuadorian mountaintop, her nomadic lifestyle comes to an abrupt halt, and she’s forced to move to her grandparents’ home in suburban Detroit.

Through the novel, Cara embarks on a year of discovery, uncovering unknown strengths, developing friendships and finding first love. It’s a journey that illustrates the transformative power of nature, love and loss, and discovering that home can be far from where you started.

An avid reader and writer, Lenz says reading builds empathy by inviting you to walk in someone else’s shoes and experience other time periods, environments and cultures.

“Our world needs thoughtful writers with diverse voices who open doors, especially as a contrast to the vitriol that’s often spewed on social media in response to current events and our toxic political climate,” Lenz says.

She will have two book launch parties to celebrate “The Art of Holding and Letting Go.” The first is Sept. 18 at the Office Coffee Shop at 402 S Lafayette Ave, Royal Oak. Oak Park indie bookstore The Book Beat will sell copies , along with fellow author Laura Romito’s new line of specialty cooking salts, High 5 Salts with Benefits. (foodgeekfoods.com)

Then on Sept. 25, Lenz will be at Nicola’s Books, in the Westgate Shopping Center at 2513 Jackson Ave, Ann Arbor, with author Shutta Crum, who has written many books for children, including her new middle-grade novel, “William and the Witch’s Riddle.” (shutta.com)

When she’s not working on books, Lenz does freelance writing for nonprofit organizations, keeping her involved in social work. She also manages a blog for the Michigan Chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

For more information about Lenz, visit kristinbartleylenz.com.

Teacher brings the art of hula to Southeast Michigan

By Rachel Moulden for Digital First Media

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Frances Price has been performing Polynesian dance since her 30s. Now in her 70s, she teaches.  Courtesy of Frances Price

Oakland County resident Frances Price has brought the art of hula to the mainland through her Polynesian dance classes.

The Polynesian Dancers of Michigan halau (school) mission is to spread the spirit of aloha and share the passion for hula and Polynesian dance with all who are interested.

While born in New Orleans, La., Fran — known to all her students and in the local dance community as “Auntie Fran” — moved to Ferndale in the late 1960s. Price developed an interest in Polynesian dancing back in 1970.

“They were teaching a hula class across the street from my house and I fell in love with it,” Price says. “Ten years later the teacher quit and the students wanted me to teach the class so I agreed to do it for one year and then I decided to keep teaching.”

She started Polynesian Dancers of Michigan with only eight students; now she has about 75 students. September marks her 46th year of teaching hula classes.

Price teaches a variety of classes, six days a week, for people of all ages. The classes range from family, children, and adult beginner and advanced classes.

“I teach everything but Samoan (dance) in my classes and I mainly focus on Hawaiian dances,” Price says. She has three dance groups. Her Pi’ilani Wahines group performs in senior homes and daytime shows, while the Pi’ilani Wahines Ohana group performs night and weekend shows.

Her third group, the Polynesian Fantasy Dancers, is a professional troop specializing in the art of Hawaiian, New Zealand, Tahitian and Samoan dances. They perform at weddings, anniversary parties and corporate gatherings.

One of Price’s students, Farmington Hills resident Andrea Tobel, enjoys the classes thoroughly.

“I love the exercise and the ‘aloha spirit’ of my sisters (in class). Doing hula has helped me to not only to keep limber, but it also sharpens my mind.”

Hula dancing also can be challenging in many ways. Price says, Kahiko chants can be difficult, and usually Samoan dance is the hardest to learn because of its constant foot movement which is why it’s nicknamed, “running aerobics.”

“Hula hands are the hardest for beginners to learn, as well as timing the movements with the song,” Price says.

“It can take one year (at minimum) to become a good Hawaiian dancer because of all the work that goes into the feet and hand coordination. “It’s hard because the head has to know the lyrics, the body has to know the motion, and the hands have to tell the story. You have to memorize everything since you don’t know the Hawaiian language.”

The thing Price enjoys most about Polynesian dancing is how good it makes her feel.

“I may not feel good when I wake up in the morning, but when I go to class I feel fantastic,” she says. “Dancing brings joy in life and I love teaching.” She typically enjoys performing non-Hawaiian novelty numbers such as ragtime music.

Price hosts an annual extravaganza show every June, including professional dancers, students from all classes, and Price’s family group. Next year, show attendees can look forward to a “Hawaii comes to the Mainland”-themed show, featuring Hapa Haole songs, which have a mixture of Western and Hawaiian influence.

Price has classes in Ferndale, Redford and Livonia.

• Fall classes in Ferndale begin Sept. 19 (Monday evenings) and Sept. 20 (Tuesday evenings) at the Gerry Kulick Community Center on 1201 Livernois.

• Friday evening classes in Redford begin Sept. 25 at the Redford Senior Center on 12121 Hemingway.

• Wednesday morning classes begin Sept. 28 at Livonia Civic Park Senior Center, 15218 Farmington Road.

For more information about classes, booking events and more, visit polynesiandancers.us/.