OUR URBAN HISTORY
We know that the greater public narrative of urban areas is often one-sided and negative. They are stories of Black communities that for years were plagued with violence, drugs and decay.
This narrative has led to a skewed perception from those outside of these communities, and some within it.
What too often is overlooked is the rich multi-ethnic history of these places. The vitality of American urban centers defined this country for more than a century. Though ethnic and racial tensions were real; class was a defining characteristic as well. The suburban boom of the 50’s and 60’s opened pathways into a new kind of American prosperity that Black people, regardless of class, were not allowed to follow. This separation allowed the racial poison to sink deeper into America. What were once distinct national ethnicities slowly melded into “Whiteness”. The tumult of the 60’s and urban neglect of the 70’s only made the plight of those left behind in cities more alien and, sadly, a critical piece of the American character became warped beyond recognition. Many would couch these issues in urban communities on the inability of people to do for themselves, however, this could not be further from the truth.
Few places define this tragedy more than the neighborhood of Roxbury, Massachusetts. It was one of the most diverse and vibrant areas in all of America. Though it has been an African American enclave for at least the last 70 years, it has been the historic home of the Irish, Germans, Jews, Italians and so many other groups at the start of their American dream.
The truth, is that Roxbury is one of the most vibrant and thriving areas in all of Boston. It is, and has been, experiencing more growth and development over the last 25 years than many realize. It is reflective of the race driven cycle defined by white flight in the 50’s through gentrification in the new century. Sadly, this trend is no longer exclusive to people of color. Gentrification is now being felt in areas that continue to compromise the American experiment.
Gentrification is a business model designed to take advantage of those least able to fight it. The uplift of underserved neighborhoods should never come at the cost of those who made it. If we do not help people on both sides of this financial equation understand this, we will continue to shuffle people with the fewest resources to places with even less resources. Neighborhoods become little more
than an investment opportunity for those who can buy in.
“Roxbury Strong: A Story of Emergence” was created as a kind of theatrical social
studies lesson. It is designed to inspire those in and out of the community to
understand the nature of not just Roxbury, but neighborhoods like it all over the
Writer/Director Ron Jones
Youth Theater Project
We have designed the program to be used as a youth engagement model. We will be interviewing a broad cross-section of residents from life-long inhabitants to the newcomers. We will also add the voices of political leaders, law enforcement and community leaders to give a picture of a vibrant place that, though it faces challenges, lives every day with amazing grace under outrageous pressure. These interviews will act as the basis of the character narratives our young cast will perform.
It will allow them to:
Do Community Research
Interview Community Members
Learn Neighborhood History and Socially Significant Markers
Create Original script and Music
Additionally, we hope that the young people that take part in creating this piece will gain a greater sense of the diversity and resiliency found in their own homes. We hope to make them the next generation of community leaders and ambassadors who will share this vision.
The process is supported by readings, community tours and group discussions on the principles and politics behind the idea of gentrification.
Esther Leonard Coordinator of Cooperative Education, Roxbury Community College, Lynn MA
“As a recent Chicago transplant to Boston, I found your play "Roxbury Strong: A Story of Emergence" very insightful. In addition, I thoroughly enjoyed watching the youth perform as well as speaking with you briefly about the intersectionality of culture, history and economic forces."
Rachel Heller & Karen Wiener CEO & COO of Citizens' Housing and Planning Association, Boston, MA
“Thank you so much for bringing Roxbury Strong to the Our Homes Our Voices Rally for affordable housing this week. The words and lyrics you all shared were incredibly powerful...The performance was both inspiring and moving, and we are so glad you shared such an important message with the hundreds of affordable housing advocates who gathered together to advocate for more resources and investment in our homes and communities!”
Jessie Zimmerer Legislative Director, Office of Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, Boston, MA
“Thanks again for the beautiful Roxbury Strong performance on Saturday night, and please tell the young performers, once again, how wonderful they all were! This was a powerful story—compelling, well done in every respect—and I think it is a beneficial conversation starter.”