A 100th birthday in itself is a remarkable achievement, but to have used the vast majority of those years serving and advocating for the rights of others is a legacy to be remembered and honored. Today, we celebrate the achievements in the extraordinary life of iconic civil rights activist, Grace Lee Boggs, who turned 100 this week.
The child of Chinese immigrants, Grace Lee Boggs was born in Rhode Island, spending most of her childhood in Queens, New York. She says that the varying levels of discrimination she experienced both as a woman and as the daughter of Chinese immigrants allowed her to see that “the world needed changing.” Despite the barriers that a woman of color faced, especially in the 1930’s, Grace Lee Boggs has done everything in her power to do just that, change the world.
As an activist for the South Side Tenants Organization in Chicago, she organized protests and meetings, solidifying her decision to pursue a career as a community organizer. In 1953, Grace Lee Boggs moved to Detroit with her husband, James Boggs, a black autoworker and union activist. Through the 1960’s, she organized tirelessly for the civil rights movement. More than 60 years later, she still remains in Detroit, where she is best known for her work in the African American community. Through her work, Grace Lee Boggs challenged the world around her to be better. Grace Lee Boggs’ commitment to community activism and social action has been honored with lifetime achievement awards from numerous organizations and institutions. She has also been inducted into both the National Women’s Hall of Fame and Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame.
At 100, Grace Lee Boggs continues to be an active thinker and organizer. In her life, Grace Lee Boggs has participated in all of the major civil rights movements of her time. In the last 100 years, she has seen colleges and universities open their doors to women and minorities; the passage of landmark civil rights laws; and the increased participation of women and minorities in public office, including the election of President Obama. Now retired and eager to pass on the torch to a new generation, Grace Lee Boggs has not completely hung up her hat. From hospice care she continues to post on social media reminding us all that, “we are the leaders we’ve been waiting for.”
At the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs), we build on the great work of community leaders like Grace Lee Boggs as we strive to improve the quality of life for AAPIs. With Grace Lee Boggs’ milestone birthday, it is an honor to reflect on the accomplishments of an extraordinary woman who has inspired many to create a better world for all.
Kiran Ahuja is Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.