I have not been to every neighborhood in Boston. At one point or another I have traveled through most of them, but I haven’t really done any legitimate exploring. Working for an organization like Future Boston Alliance means I need to have a more complete idea of what Boston is, so to that extent I’m going to be embarking on more neighborhood excursions.
Just walking blind into a neighborhood isn’t the best way to learn about it. You need to find the people and places that exemplify what it means to be a part of that neighborhood. On Wednesday I found a place and a group in Roxbury that did just that for me.
The Haley House opened in Boston’s South End in 1966 as a simple shelter for Boston’s homeless population. It soon grew into a full-service soup kitchen and shelter, and began providing myriad services for Boston’s homeless and impoverished population. One program that has been remarkably successful is the catering service. The catering program, which gave patrons of the Haley House a chance to earn an income and learn new job skills, became so successful that 6 and a half years ago, the catering operation was moved to a new location in Roxbury.
The Haley House Bakery Café has since become an important institution in and of itself within Roxbury. It has continued to offer job training for individuals, with a focus on re-entry programs for prisoners and after school programs for students. It has coupled this with a focus on locally sourced ingredients that are often organic and fair trade. The end result is a neighborhood jewel which is unique in its approach to solving multiple problems at once.
It is a natural fit, then, that a group like Discover Roxbury would choose the Haley House Bakery Café as a venue for its speaker series. Discover Roxbury began in 2003 due to what was perceived to be a negative bias held by many in the Boston area towards Roxbury and other neighborhoods in Boston. The goal was to show the real history and culture of these areas. Discover Roxbury now leads tours on foot, bicycle, and trolley through the neighborhood, the popularity of which has continued to grow since 2003 with residents and visitors.
The event being put on by Discover Roxbury at the Haley House this past Wednesday was a presentation by Discover Roxbury staff-member Luke Walker about the possible connections between the jazz scene in Boston in the 1940s and 1950s and the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement. It was the second in a four part series related to an oral history project Discover Roxbury is undertaking. I thought the presentation was very interesting, and it explored parts of Boston’s history I was not familiar with, but what stayed with me most weren’t the specifics of the event, but rather the feel of it.
What I saw happen was a room full of people who love Boston and have been in Boston for anywhere from a few years to a few decades talking about the city they love. Since most of my family is from either Western Massachusetts or the South Shore, I don’t have many personal stories form them about what Boston used to be like and I have to rely on historical account. This was a chance for me to get a very personal idea about what Boston once was, both the good and the bad.
And what made it possible were two organizations created with different goals in mind, but that understand the importance of bringing people together to showcase Boston, especially the parts of the city that do still carry that negative bias.
So I have a new goal: I’m no longer going to let myself be ignorant about any part of Boston. I live here, and I plan to continue living here, so I can’t let my view about any neighborhood be created by anyone but me. I know a lot about Roxbury that I didn’t know before, and I know there is more to learn. Both the Haley House Bakery and Café and Discover Roxbury will, I’m sure, play a role in that continuing education.
In the coming weeks, I want to find places like these across Boston, so if you have suggestions, let me know by commenting here, e-mailing me (FutureBostonAlliance@gmail.com) or Tweeting @FutureBostonAll. If you’re someone else who needs to up their Boston IQ, then you need to check out all the places I find, too. If you live in the area, you can’t rely on someone else to tell you if a place is worth visiting or not. Get out and see it for yourself.
What’s the next spot for me? I’ve got my eye on East Boston (you know, the part that isn’t the airport).
– Nick Downing, Future Boston Program Manager