Holding Ground

In our last blog post, we described our four-part Learning for Action series, where we hoped to more deeply understand our relationship to neighborhoods in Boston that once were home to 90,000 Jews, but by the 1970s had nearly no Jewish population. Our goal was to reckon with what we, as Jews, might “owe” in the way of repair. In the series, we learned about the history of complex and sometimes sinister machinations, including redlining and blockbusting, that led to the exodus of almost all of the Jewish population from Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan. We also learned about the corporate, governmental, and organizational abandonment that happened in tandem and continued with the remaining populations. Our follow up event on March 26th introduced us to a much more inspiring story about grassroots organizing in the ‘80s and ‘90s in the neighborhood of Roxbury. 

We gathered first to watch the film, Holding Ground, which tells the story of the Dudley Square Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI), a group of Roxbury activists who organized to reclaim their neighborhood, using innovative strategies such as claiming eminent domain to convert vacant lots into new housing and parks. After the film, we heard from a panel of three long-time Boston activists: Byron Rushing, a MA state representative from 1983-2019 and member of the Reparations Community of Practice of the Episcopal Diocese of MA — a group that we have recently begun to work with on reparations (along with members of the Jewish Community of Amherst and of the Episcopal City Mission). Byron shared with us his vast knowledge about the history of Jewish-Black relations in Boston and echoed how this complex story needs to continue to be told. Jose Barros, whose family was featured in the film, spoke about his history organizing with DSNI and the ways in which the work has shifted since the time of the film. And Eliza Parad, who we discovered was a founding member of AFREJ and who also worked with DSNI, spoke about her work with the Center for Economic Democracy, fiscal sponsor of Ujima and supporter of many solidarity economy initiatives, including current efforts on participatory budgeting. 

A lively conversation followed, and we closed with a focus on Ways to Take Action, highlighting the many activist efforts currently going on in Dorchester, Roxbury, Mattapan, and JP. These include support for the Payment in Lieu of Taxes Action project; mentoring students at Hyde Square Task Force; supporting Ujima businesses; joining the BWC team for the Mother’s Day Walk 4 Peace on May 14; and joining with T’ruah in acanvassing action on Sunday April 16 in support of Families for Justice as Healing’s No New Women’s Prison campaign.

If you decide to take part in any of these actions or want to learn more, please feel free to reach out to our committee email, afrej@circleboston.org

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