The University of Detroit Mercy hosted the 18th Annual Great Lakes Bioneers Conference on Oct. 12 and Oct. 13, at the McNichols campus. The conference served as a space for community members to develop innovative approaches aimed at advancing environmental and societal changes, while upholding the University’s core principle of radical hospitality rooted in Jesuit and Mercy values.
“Today, you are here in a vibrant community, together in conversation to start writing a new chapter about the story of our Earth and our home,” announced the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Education, Jocelyn Boryczka on the second day of the conference. “I invite you to practice radical hospitality, to take its three steps: remembering, welcoming, and belonging.”
This year, the theme of the conference was “Revolution from the Heart of Nature: Take Action in Detroit.”
The event featured off-campus environmental tours, guest speakers, adult and youth learnshops, poetry recitals, soulful singing, along with a multitude of other engaging activities. Each program focused on the importance of cultural diversity, indigenous acknowledgment, sustainability, community development, and environmental justice, aligning with the Great Lakes Bioneers Detroit mission.
Dr. Gail Presbey, philosophy professor, affiliated faculty in history and women’s and gender studies, and director of the Carney Latin American Solidarity Archive, has been chair of the Great Lakes Bioneers Conference since 2020.
“I find the Bioneers mission and vision to be very inspiring, and very much needed in our world where there are so many climate emergencies developing all of the time,” Presbey said. “Many of the worst emergencies hit the poor harder than others – what we call environmental racism.”
Environmental injustice is not just a global issue; it’s also a local concern right here in Detroit. Bioneers celebrates the strength of community by connecting individuals in a setting that highlights the partnership between one another and the Earth.
“It’s clear to me that we have to change our model of ‘development’ and care about the whole person, and the integrity of our communities. These values should not be sacrificed for short term gains,” Presbey continued. “I like Bioneers’ dual emphasis on the values of cherishing our environment and each other, and the science needed to be able to do that effectively.”
Collaborative and integrated efforts among students, staff, faculty, ministry, and the community, is integral to the conference.
“I learned that people really care, and are inspired to improve their communities,” said Dorothy Stewart, student engagement specialist and assistant to the chair. “One of the challenges is getting the word out effectively about the conference. But once people are aware of it, they try to fit it into their schedules.”
In previous years, the conference was only held for one day. Last year, 230 youth from neighboring Detroit middle schools and high schools attended. This year, there were nearly 300. To accommodate the increase in community participation, the conference was held for two days. Youth learnshops included “The Great Recycling Race,” “The Healing Power of Nature, Poetry, and Writing,” “The Balloon Project – Whatever Goes Up Must Come Down,” and other interactive learning opportunities.
Chelsea Manning, the program manager of Titan Equity Nourish Network (TENN), a student-led nonprofit that engages students in food justice and sustainability projects, volunteered on the planning committee for Bioneers.
“My experience with Bioneers has made me more aware of organizations throughout Detroit who are working towards a better future,” Manning said. “I am excited to learn more about their work, and how I can get involved.”
There was a spirit of community embodied by everyone participating. From cheering high schoolers to older Detroit residents who have been battling environmental injustices for years, mixed with professors, peacemakers, indigenous singers, poets, dancers, children, families and more. Everyone was united in their commitment to preserving the health, happiness, and safety of shared spaces.