End youth fight to break stereotypes, improve neighborhood relations
façade of the South End's historic row houses
has changed little since they were built over a century
ago. Courtesy of www.southend.org
There is another
Many of the
neighborhood's youth live in a section of three-family homes, and
aren't welcome even as window shoppers at the stores within view
of their bedrooms.
you that the pizza place on lower Tremont Street used to charge
99 cents a slice, but since it moved a few doors down and added
a fancy new brass railing, it upped the price to $1.63.
That's now too
steep for most people they know.
you they're tired of new restaurants they cannot afford and tired
of neighborhood fixtures like hardware stores that are being replaced
with such things as real estate offices that have nothing to do
with their lives.
or savior, is gentrification.
process of transforming an unprosperous neighborhood
of buildings needing repair into a more prosperous
one, for example, through investment in remodeling
buildings or houses.
are smart enough to know that in many respects it's what helped
the South End bounce back in the '70s from decades of urban renewal
that destroyed one quarter of the original Victorian neighborhood.
The seeds of gentrification are what helped the city create a "Landmark
District" in 1983 in hopes of prodding property owners to rehab
South End buildings. And what revitalized the area in the 1990s
when young professionals started buying in.
South End youth
say they understand the benefits of gentrification. But they also
see the down side every day. What really eats at them is not being
addressed by passersby in their own neighborhood, and not feeling
comfortable enough to extend a hello themselves.
of striking back, a group of South End teens has chosen instead
to engage. In a unique and highly organized attempt to open the
lines of communication with fellow South Enders, Teen
Empowerment, a local youth outreach group has helped
neighborhood youth share their concerns about being disenfranchised
in the hope that their neighbors will listen.
So far, the
youth are happy. More than 20 people attended the first of three
youth/resident forums, and even after the first meeting they started
feeling more at home, at home.
wanted people to know where they were coming from," said Shataura
Driver, 16, who was one of the youth organizers in charge of the
She said that
after the first meeting,"as soon as residents started saying
hi to us [when they saw us in public] it was like a polish."
Seeds of change root through teen empowerment
South End youth
have not always been civic minded.
In 1992, many
youth were involved with gangs that filled the neighborhood. That
summer, a youth counselor named Jorge "Domestik" Ramos
was murdered in a playground at Tremont and Aguadilla streets near
Villa Victoria, which at the time was a low-income, predominantly
Puerto Rican community.
and dogs now jam-pack the playground on sunny days, but plaques
and a life-sized mural of his face are year-long reminders of Domestik's
month, a local activist named Stanley Pollack, with the help of
several South End and Boston organizations, founded Teen Empowerment.The
organization would be supervised by adult coordinators but run by
youth organizers who could help affect positive change among teens
on the streets of the South End.
In 11 years,
the TE Model has not changed, nor has its focus.
ourselves a social youth organization," said Jennifer Banister,
one of three South End TE program coordinators that oversee the
youth. "We are constantly working on ourselves."
Each year a
fresh batch of youth organizers ages 14-20 is hired to identify
issues critical to neighborhood youth. Those who are hired exhibit
intrinsic leadership qualities, and perhaps have a little influence,
too. After all, the hope is that they will take what they learn
back to the streets - to their friends, as well as their enemies.
the most important pieces [in terms of hiring] is diversity: social,
academic, athletic ... if they're really influential on the street,
on 'the scene,'" Banister said in an interview at TE's Rutland
learned our concerns and how we feel, and that we're
Lopes, youth organizer
this year's group concluded it had issues with the South End and
how young people were being treated in their own neighborhood.
it started with ... well, a lot of the streets around here are really
rich streets, and we're not really living on those streets,"
said 16-year-old Shataura Driver, one of TE's youth organizers.
"We're living in Villa Victoria and Lenox," two low-income
sections within the South End.
18, said that part of their frustration stemmed from having neighborhood-friendly
businesses replaced with stores that cannot help young people like
Street and West Newton there used to be a hardware store,"
he said. "Everyone from Union Park to Worcester Street used
to go there. And it was doing good business. But now it's a real
estate agency - and it's not even for our neighborhood."
why the agency wasn't located someplace closer to the high-end property
it was listing. No one in his neighborhood, he said, could buy those
kinds of homes.
session concluded with a decision that gentrification in the South
End would be the group's focus for the year. The youth were tired
of being prisoners in their own town, tired of being watched with
suspicious eyes while standing on the sidewalk. They just wanted
people to see that they weren't so bad.
The group decided
to host several forums - the first of their kind -- in hopes of
uniting all South End residents and starting to break down the barriers
lots of legwork to get residents to the forums. She attended most
of the South End's neighborhood association meetings to stir interest,
and in the end about 20 people attended the first forum on Wednesday,
But in spite
of the good turnout, her message was not always met warmly.
some fliering on Tremont Street and we were met with some real arrogance,"
Banister said. As she sat on the floor of TE's conference room with
legs outstretched, she recalled an incident between one of her many
likeable volunteers and a slightly less-likeable man on the street.
who is this amazing woman, said to one guy: 'Oh, we're having a
meeting to discuss the community and gentrification in the South
End,'" said Bannister, "and he looked at her and said,
'Not with me you're not!'
Elsa, who is strong by nature, was stunned and angry, saying that
"this is my street, and people are not going to make me feel
and the feeling that the lower-income South End youth are invisible
to many outside the confines of their housing development, reaffirmed
the need for forums. Fast.
want a kid to grow up in a diverse community we can't just have
one upper class," said Feliciano.
12 was the first forum. Turnout was good. After introductions and
icebreakers, all run by TE youth organizers, the group split into
smaller, conversation-inducing packs. And that's when participants
say the honesty began.
The youth said
no one acknowledges them on the street; the residents said they
are sometimes intimidated by large groups of kids gathering on sidewalks.
The youth said they are sometimes hounded by the police for fear
of what they might do, not what they have done; the residents want
the youth to vote.
dons neatly plaited French braids in his brown hair, pointed out
that he always tells his friends to vote.
'em straight up, every vote counts!" he said.
lot of good work got started that evening. A lot of
Sripan, one of the worshippers of the temple.
there to oversee the forum and said that at times there was an obvious
juxtaposition between youth and resident concerns.
is a generalization," she said, "but some of the youth
were talking about housing and being pushed out of their neighborhood,
and the residents would talk about trash on the ground and the lack
what we expected, and it was definitely there," she said, "but
[the discussion] broke down some things, and showed that people
did care, and had a lot of concern for the community."
president of the Rutland Street Neighborhood Association, agreed.
"I do think the meeting was helpful as a jumping off point
to ... bringing the many groups of people who live together in the
city," she said in a statement about the forum.
attending the meeting, I felt more lighthearted, hopeful and so
very pleased that I live in the south End where this type of dialogue
End residents echoed the positive vibes at the forum. Victor Puglisi
commutes daily from Medford to his job as branch manager at the
Fleet Community Bank on Tremont Street.
in a telephone interview that he wanted to participate in the forum
because he does business in the South End.
it was important to go to see the adults of tomorrow, and to hopefully
instill in them something that would make them better citizens,
people, customers" Puglisi said.
a few people from the meeting on the street and they've said 'hello,'"
Puglisi added. "I think it's nice that people are truly trying
It's those newly
found hellos that are most pleasing to the youth, making them feel
more at home around their home.
the forum we saw some people [from the meeting] on the street, and
if you're recognized, they say hi," said 18-year-old Rey Lopes,
one of the participating youth organizers.
our concerns and how we feel, and that we're people, too,"
Youth and residents
agree that although communication has begun among a small population
of the South End, it's going to have to grow before a true change
in mindset can take place.
in young people who are reaching out and trying to make their world
better," said Fern Beschler, who was a participant at the forum.
make it to TE's follow up meeting but was so impressed by the forum
she did attend that she sent a donation to help cover the cost of
food for those who can.
our common humanity helps us all ... [and] a lot of good work got
started that evening. A lot of stereotypes evaporated."
"I feel like it opened up the community," he said, but
a community has to be one, the whole South End, and not just a part
will continue the dialogue begun at the first forum on May 30. The
plan is to address a list of action points culled from the break-out
sessions at the forum, and to build on the foundation they've created.
meeting was so we could squash [the misconceptions]," Feliciano
said. "Just because I'm young doesn't mean I'm not aware."