Fourth Annual Vigil to Honor Victims of Gun Violence

 

B-PEACE teen organizer Victoria speaking at the vigil, and Emily and Jaylean lighting candles in memory of those killed.

B-PEACE teen organizer Victoria speaking at the vigil.

In September 2014, beloved St. Stephen’s Youth Programs community member Jorge Fuentes was shot and killed while walking his dog in front of his house in Dorchester. Just a dozen weeks later, an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut was attacked by a domestic terrorist toting an assault weapon. These senseless deaths left their communities reeling in shock and sadness- and with a new resolve to address the problem of gun violence in all of its forms across the country.

Every year, on the anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence honors the victims of that massacre, of gun deaths across the country since that day, and those shot and killed in Massachusetts in the past year. Every year, members of the B-PEACE for Jorge campaign attend to light candles to honor, in particular, the memory of Jorge, and also the new names added in the past year which inevitably include people who have touched the lives of people in our community.

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B-PEACE for Jorge teen organizers lighting candles in honor of lives lost to gun violence.

This year, St. Stephen’s Youth Programs teen organizer Victoria Omoregie spoke at the vigil, kicking off a powerful lineup of anti gun violence advocates that included Imam , Boston’s Director of Public Safety Dan Mulhern and Attorney General Maura Healey. She talked about growing up in Dorchester, and told a story of a shooting that happened in a park in her neighborhood that caught a toddler in the crossfire of a shootout. After that day, her family started driving to a far away park in a wealthier and whiter neighborhood where that kind of violence was unthinkable,and then eventually stopped going to the parks altogether and began playing video games inside their home instead.

The speakers following Victoria echoed her message that all people should be safe in our city, “safe, regardless of their race or gender or immigration status or religion or sexual orientation. I want people to be safe from gun violence, and from all kinds of violence, in their schools, parks and neighborhoods.” With a new presidential administration poised to take office, the well-being of our most vulnerable family members, friends and neighbors is uncertain. We know and feel it is more important than ever to join together with our whole community and and Commonwealth and country to heed the words of Mother Jones who said, “Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living.”

Sharing the Story of Our School Partnership

Maureen Burns presents the story of St. Stephen's Youth Programs Partnership with the Blackstone Innovation School

St. Stephen’s Youth Programs was honored to share the story of our partnership with the Blackstone Innovation School at the New England Providence All Our Children Conference.  All Our Children is a national network of school- church partnerships, of which St. Stephen’s is a founding member.

Our story began in 2010, when Blackstone’s test scores were in the lowest 5% of the state’s and the school started the Turnaround process.  At our after-school program, we saw that our Blackstone students were struggling in reading.  When we learned the Blackstone lacked a functional library, we could not overlook the opportunity for partnership.  Today, the Blackstone Library, which is entirely staffed by volunteers, welcomes 19 classes on a weekly basis.  Other school partners, such as City Year and Big Sisters, Big Brothers use the space as well.

In addition to sharing our story, our conference session focused on building relationships with the leaders in the room.  Fifteen church and school leaders come from New Bedford, Salem, Lynn, and the Cape as well as New Hampshire and Connecticut to learn from our partnership and share their own successes and struggles.  Across geographic areas, participants stated that their motivation for entering into a partnership with a public school was to provide the resources the school can’t prioritize.  With increasing emphasis on standardized test scores, schools do not have the in-house resources to provide programming in reading, physical activity, and the arts. This is where community partners, both faith- based and secular, can step in.

South End Neighborhood Peace Walk

“I believe that more cops [are] going to harass more minority teens because of the way we dress and because of certain areas we’re around,” said Alex Maizonett, 17. “I do understand that there’s a safety reason, though.”

There should be more community events in the neighborhood, he said.

“Basketball leagues, community cookouts,” he said. “Just to bring everyone together.”

From The Boston Globe’s “Peace March Held in the South End After Recent Shootings”

B-PEACE for Jorge teen organizers led a neighborhood peace walk in the South End on the rainy evening of December 17th following the lethal shooting of Wellington Ruiz on nearby Aguadilla Street the week before. Nearly 100 people joined in- including members of St. Stephen’s Church, clergy, police officers, elected officials and South End community members.

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Rev. Tim Crellin, Vicar of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church of the South End, holds the megaphone while B-PEACE for Jorge teen organizer Dominick Jackson reads from “A Prayer for the World” by Rabbi Harold Kushner.

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South Enders brave the pouring rain to stand Blackstone Square at the beginning of the walk.

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St. Stephen’s Church in the South End.

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Left to right: Boston Police Commissioner William Evans, St. Stephen’s Vicar Tim Crellin, Massachusetts State representative and South End resident Byron Rushing.

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St. Stephen’s teens and South End residents Marquis Cruz and Alex Maizonett. Before the walk, Alex and Marquis said they believe investing in youth development and community programs, not increasing surveillance and police presence, will bring peace to their neighborhood. 

The story was also reported on NECN, WCVB, Fox News and Telemundo.

 

Building Relationships Across Boundaries

On Sunday afternoon, five B-PEACE Teen Community Organizers joined the youth groups of St. Paul’s Natick for an evening of relationship building, crafts,and pizza.  The connection between the two teen groups was initiated in October when youth from St. Paul came to the South End for a workshop on building youth leadership.  The workshop left the youth curious to know more about each other!

At St. Paul’s, the youth worked in groups to make collages.  The groups discussed values they shared and selected a theme for their collage.  Then, the groups came together to combine their pieces into two larger collages, one for the B-PEACE Organizers to take home and display and one for St. Paul’s to display.

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During dinner, the organizers from B-PEACE invited the youth from Natick to join them in January for the 6th Annual Martin Luther King Day of Action.  In addition to working on service projects, the Teen Community Organizers will be hosting a workshop focused on the importance of youth jobs and the upcoming Youth Jobs Rally in February!

Teens Fight for a Fair Economy

Photo credit: Jon Feinberg, Neighbor to Neighbor

Photo credit: Jon Feinberg, Neighbor to Neighbor (Lynn)

The teen organizing team recently collected a total of 149 signatures for the Fair Share amendment petition!

In the past couple of weeks, the teen organizers covered Dudley Square; the South End from Lenox Street to Blackstone Square (including the sidewalks and Silver Line routes in between); Mass Ave, Back Bay and Forest Hills T stops; Downtown Crossing and the Boston Common; and the Southwest Corridor from Camden Street to Copley Square.
They had hundreds of conversations with people about the need for increasing state revenue to improve our K-12 schools, rebuild crumbling roads and bridges, make college affordable, and invest in fast and reliable public transportation. 149 people were happy to sign on to the petition to amend the Massachusetts state constitution in order to create an additional tax of 4% on income that exceeds one million dollars per year. The B-PEACE for Jorge campaign supports this effort to bring resources to our public schools because we believe everyone in the Commonwealth has a right to an excellent and affordable public education.
In order to win, Raise Up MA (the organization that brought you the increased minimum wage in 2014) plans to collect certified signatures from at least 64,750 registered voters (three percent of total votes cast for all candidates for governor in 2014). If enough certified signatures are collected, then the petition must go to a Joint Session of the Legislature and be approved by 25 percent of legislators (50 votes) before the end of formal sessions on July 31, 2016. The petition will then need a second approval by 25 percent of legislators in a Joint Session before the end of formal sessions on July 31, 2018 to appear on the ballot on November 6, 2018.

B-PEACE Joins National Leaders in Chicago

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B-PEACE, along with other representatives from Boston and Connecticut, joined other leaders in Chicago last week for a press conference at the International Association of Police Chiefs Conference.  Together with interfaith clergy members, community leaders, and police chiefs, the group delivered a clear message: gun manufacturers need to be held accountable.  The press conference was convened to tell the thousands of police chiefs in Chicago to use their buying power to demand that gun manufacturers like Smith & Wesson, Sig Sauer, Beretta, and Glock do their part to make the industry safer.   

This action was part of a larger campaign, Do Not Stand Idly By (DNSIB), which takes its name from Leviticus 19:16.  80 Chiefs, Mayors, Governors, and Federal Officials have already signed on to the DNSIB agreement, which asks gun manufacturers to be transparent with their distribution practices and invest in smart gun technologies to improve gun safety.  Nine of these 80 officials are from Massachusetts.  To learn more about DNSIB and see if your representative has signed on, visit http://donotstandidlyby.org/.  

The action in Chicago was energizing and exciting for the fight against gun violence, a movement that has faced setbacks in the past year.  It was one of the first actions in which police commissioners were leading actors instead of passive supporters.  The crowd of supporters, which was over 150, was truly interfaith and had a strong representation by clergy members.  The CEOs of the four biggest gun companies were identified by name and their pictures were held up as they were called out for refusing to reply to the request for information signed by so many elected and public officials.  

The action was also given great attention in the press from WGNNBC, and ABC

Be sure to follow B-PEACE on Facebook for updates on DNSIB and other gun reform action!

Books and Bulbs in the Blackstone

 

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Following the AmeriCorp Swearing In Ceremony, 40 Mass Promise Fellows visited the Blackstone School for an afternoon of service.  This Service Day was the first B-PEACE sponsored service event of the school year!  School partnerships and related service is the primary way B-PEACE upholds its pillar of Academic Excellence In Public Schools.

The event began with an address to the volunteers in the school’s library.  Lisa Lineweaver represented the school’s Executive Leadership Team and spoke about the school’s turnaround story and the students the Blackstone serves.  The school is one of the only BPS schools to serve students with multiple disabilities, and therefore draws students from all around Boston.  Lisa also spoke about the school’s motto, Ubuntu, meaning we are because of each other, and the school’s core values, respect, unity, and excellence.  The presence of the volunteers that afternoon, said Lisa, was a way of showing, and not just telling, the students that the school community strives to live its motto.  

Following Lisa’s introduction to the school, Tim Crellin, the founder and Executive Director of St. Stephen’s Youth Programs, spoke about the South End community outside the doors of the Blackstone.  He also discussed the flourishing relationship between the Blackstone and St. Stephen’s.  In addition to facilitating service days like this one, St. Stephen’s also runs the Blackstone Library, coordinates Support A Classroom, and oversees classroom aids from Wellesley College.

After the orientation in the library, volunteers joined students in their classrooms for an afternoon of reading!  A teacher hosting volunteers was delighted by his students’ enthusiasm to read with the volunteers.  The volunteers not only read to the students, but the students were excited to read with their visiting reading buddies.  Teachers expressed interest in hosting similar events that empowered students and focused on fostering a love for reading.  

After school was dismissed, the Mass Promise volunteers and St. Stephen’s after- school spent the sunny afternoon at the Blackstone Park and Ramsay Park weeding the garden, planting tulip bulbs, and playing kickball.      

Fall Cleanup in Ramsay Park

On Saturday, October 24 the Friends of Ramsay Park (a project of St. Stephen’s Youth Programs and the B-PEACE for Jorge Campaign) spent the morning giving the park a thorough fall cleaning. Neighbors from around the South End/Lower Roxbury were joined by Northeastern students (as part of the Northeastern Center for Community Service’s NU Service Day), Washington Gateway Main Streets, teens from Vibrant Boston, and members of the South End Neighborhood Church and Emmanuel Gospel Center (as part of the Unite Boston BostonServes day). They raked up dozens of bags of leaves, picked up trash, and planted hundreds of daffodil bulbs around the tennis courts and the airplane statue commemorating Captain David Ramsay. The day concluded with a performance by the Praise and Worship team from People’s Baptist Church , lead by the rockstar Reverend David Wright of the Black Ministerial Alliance.

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Northeastern NU Serves Volunteers               The Littlest Friend of Ramsay Park
POSTED BY Sarah O’Connor, Lower Roxbury Community Organizer and B-PEACE Youth Organizer

Teen Organizers Reflect on Neighborhood Walk for Peace

Pictured: Teen Organizers Tahnaree Evans, Dominick Jackson and Jhanel Potts.


On Thursday afternoon, the B-PEACE for Jorge teen organizers joined with  about 30 people from local churches (including many clergy), police officers and community members met in front of Grant A.M.E. Church for a neighborhood walk for peace and an end to street violence. The route crossed Washington Street and wound through Ramsay Park, where B-PEACE teen organizers have been involved in a campaign to increase neighborhood safety.  “I 11539175_1453498551639830_8949369691651059074_owas proud to walk through Ramsay Park, because people were noticing the art we had created over the summer. The point of the mural and the tiles was to make people feel safer in Ramsay Park.” said B-PEACE teen organizer Tahnaree Evans.
Law enforcement officers and members of the clergy introduced themselves to residents in the Lenox-Camden housing development and lead prayers for peace and an end to violence in the neighborhood.  “These walks bring everyone together,” said neighborhood resident and B-PEACE organizer Jhanel Potts.  “A lot of people feel some type of way about the cops. Cops were there and nothing bad happened, no one got arrested, so people felt more like they could trust cops.  And get the sense that not all cops are bad and we can trust some of them.” 1022151640B-PEACE organizer Dominick Jackson agreed, “It was awesome to see people I haven’t seen in a long time and to see that lots of people I know care about my neighborhood. And that we were talking about  the problem of violence in the community and people had to listen.”
Clergy and law enforcement are teaming up to organize a series of walks in neighborhoods throughout the city in response to the uptick in violence this summer, with the goal of strengthening community-police relationships to reduce neighborhood violence.
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The New Jim Crow in Action: Ferguson, Missouri

In the past few weeks, the Department of Justice released its report on the Ferguson Police Department and found countless gross examples of injustice taking place at varying levels of government, from the local police to municipal courts and beyond.

If you haven’t had a chance to read the findings, you can see the entire report here. You can also find a New York Times summary of the report here.

In The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander argues, “Few legal rules meaningfully constrain the police in the War on Drugs. This may sound like an overstatement, but upon examination it proves accurate. The absence of significant constraints on the exercise of police discretion is a key feature of the drug war’s design. It has made the roundup of millions of Americans for nonviolent drug offenses relatively easy,” (pg 61).

  • How have we seen the effects of a lack of police constraints in cases such as Michael Brown and Ferguson, or in Eric Garner in Staten Island?
  • If police departments from across the country were subject to investigation similar to the one done in Ferguson, what do you think they would find?