After individual introductions, Jeanette from United for a Fair Economy invited everyone to share, “what is the temperature that you can measure around race?” This simple question launched into a moving a deep conversation of individuals sharing their stories, some talking about where they were from and where they find themselves now, to talking about the communities they are part of and how race is or is not addressed.
This is one person’s story which they shared I moved to Jamaica Plain 19 years ago, quickly moving into an apartment which the landlord wanted tenants as soon as possible. The neighborhood was a very white, safe place. In this neighborhood people wouldn’t talk to me, they would talk to my dog. My landlord wanted us to move out because we had a big family and some of my kids moved back in after college, and we knew we either had to fight or move, we moved. My family had to move while I was away at a training, and they moved to Dorchester. I loved my place there, I never had such a beautiful place, but outside people told me it was dangerous. We were the only Latinos on the block, the block was all black families, and as soon as we moved we became a part of the neighborhood. My neighbors talked to me. Yet, I realized that with all that was happening in Ferguson, police cars started appearing on my block, and I was petrified, why are they here? These are nice people, but they are here because everyone is black.
This is another person’s story: Boston is my 4th city in 3 years, I am not planning on moving anytime soon. I moved up from Atlanta, I lived in a former redlined community, and everyone creates their own part of this neighborhood. It has its own bank, its own grocery, when someone lives there, they are that neighborhood and that neighborhood is them. I tried to find a community like that in Boston, I started to notice a lack of space where people come together and live among each other. I moved to Savin Hill, Mayor Walsh is just a couple minutes away. On my block there are these beautiful multi-family houses, each one with its own story, its own family. One house has a Vietnamese family, another has a black family, another has a family from Cape Verde, and everyone all on the same block. There are a lot of Vietnamese stores and many of them are closing. One new one just opened and it’s a Vietnamese craft beer store, they are trying to tailor themselves to the changes in the neighborhood. When I first moved there, people I would go out with would tell me, the sun is going down, shouldn’t you go? This is what other people think of my neighborhood. But if you could just freeze it and build community it in, it would be something that could thrive. But its changing so fast. You can see the whole history on one block.
Each person continued, telling their story, telling where they were living, how their family, their neighborhood, their work or school all was dealing with conversations on race. People spoke of the pain they feel when talking about race, what is happening in their communities, what has happened over history. People talked about the beauty of neighborhoods and the hate that has filled neighbors and communities. People reflected on the conversations emerging because of Ferguson and Staten Island and shared that the temperature is suspicious, one person shared if people really understand “black lives matter,” do people know what this about, is it widely shared. Is it shared and understood, they questioned whether it was.
We closed the session by sharing our gratitude with each other. Through each story, through talking about our neighborhoods were able to see the humanity in the conversation, to recognize that movements are made of people. We were all struck by the level of trust that we had with each other to tell our stories, to build upon each other’s stories and go deeper. We were vulnerable with each other, and we moved into a collective story in our own way. It was powerful to share these stories.