Five students and staff of Northeastern University gave their narrative stories about coming to Northeastern to either study and or work. They come from similar or difference backgrounds, some from even different states. Those Boston born spoke of Northeastern as employees and graduates. Each narrative was different but every one saw differences in this university community where they studied and/or worked. While stories were being presented, Ron Jones founder of Dialogues and Diversity pained a verbal picture of the Roxbury community on which this university sits. He spoke of the Jazz scene that was during the 40’s and 50’s and where it still is today. Ron spoke of the migration to this city of Boston and this place, Roxbury by African Americans and immigrant blacks “which I must say my grandparents and mother were among them”. Jones gave credence to the music of such greats as Duke Ellington who graced this place with his presences along with Roxbury resident Harry Coney who played with him and the jazz that come from it. The Jazz that’s all around this place Lower Roxbury and the multitude of personalities within itself and issues people wrestle with. All along side by side with the Roxbury community growing and being a destination for new arrivals to Boston and home to the African American and black immigrant population. Roxbury is where black roots took hold, building on a future of a legacy for those who only wanted to show what they could do. For them Roxbury was that place, thriving and growing. One day and upheaval was visited upon this community which changed not only the people but the landscape. It diminished and the forces of this city weighed heavy on it, but is till marched on.
Nicolette Aduama a Mattapan resident’s narrative talked of going to Boston Latin, riding the #28 bus to Ruggles Sta. She reminisced about her and her friends stopping at A Nubian Notions to get the latest cd and some thing sweet.
Nathan Simms Roxbury resident from birth spoke of his first memory of Northeastern at 8 years going to see his sister present at an oratory competition which she won first place and she was his inspiration.
Chu Huang resident of Boston’s Chinatown community and graduate of Northeastern spoke of her commute each day to Northeastern Crossing going through South End, Back Bay and finally coming to Roxbury. She travelled this route daily, and her mode of travel was walking. Chu expounds on her value system in her travels down Tremont St to work daily which one day she encountered a mother and daughter waiting for a school bus at Douglas Park. After seeing for awhile she became brave and introduced herself to mother Tami and daughter Natalie, this was her first interaction. During her walks daily saw Natalie playing hula hoop and commented to her how good she was and to keep it up. For Chu building organic relationships on her travels to and from work, learning each other names and building a rapport was important.
Ron Jones continues his memories of Lower Roxbury of people coming hear with goals, fears and hopes with little knowledge of this place.
Craig Parker is from New London, Connecticut and the Ujima Global Leaders Early Arrival Program who arrived two weeks early to Northeastern University. Though not one to make friends easily unless on a basketball court, he and I did become friends and he broke bread with four other students he met with on tour. Craig talked of his introduction to a group of guys at a basketball court in the Fenway. Though he was new to the court he knew he had to prove himself. He did and was picked up and make new friends and it too felt like home.
Jasmine Ana Ramon talked of her first few minutes and days on the Northeastern campus and her new city. Following Hemingway to Huntington, she says, you can’t really tell where the city ends and the campus begins. She talked reaching the Latin Student Cultural Center, where she was amazed they had their own building. Jasmine didn’t go into the center right away, but sat on the pavement in the shade. When she found the Social Justice Resource Center again amazed they too had their own building, whereas back home it was a suite, but the space felt like home, and works at the center as a graduate assistant. She talked of starving from the heat and eventually found a number of restaurants right in her own back yard. Her thought; Welcome to the neighborhood.
Breannah Conward-Lewis talks about those she has met, learned from and the affluent ones that don’t understand the neighborhood in which this university sits. Breannah being a black woman born and raised in Dorchester and graduate of this university where she also works and surrounded by people who never and don’t want to venture there. The intersection is involves working with people don’t and don’t wish to understand who she is or her story. Northeastern University claims to be diverse but only have a 5% student body that ‘s Black, 7% Hispanic and 13% Asian, but do have a large International student body which we know gives large funding to this university.
Due to the imbalance due to proximity, how do we seek solutions around this proximity, cultural divides and expansion? Though Northeastern has put some programs in place, how does it change the cultural divides and its expansion across the community in which it stands? Questions to be answered. Ron Jones stated, “is there something deeper?” I say yes there is. Breannah Conward-Lewis expounded on, she sees change, expansion and global for this university. Also she sees poverty, conflict, 28 bus, Dudley Sta., police and the list increases Though Northeastern has grown its growth has taken lots and made them into dorms and research facilities and the library no longer open access to students as it was back in the day. Landmarks such as A Nubian Notion now gone from not only Ruggles Sta. but Dudley Sta. after almost 50 years that’s change. All we can see of the place Roxbury is change, gentrification such as Whittier Street Project and Dudley Square being taken over by affluent people to make space for other affluent people because they feel safe and not afraid of Roxbury. I believe that’s because this place sits between two police stations, one in Dudley Square District and Boston Police Headquarters directly across from Northeastern. This place also Northeastern University has little diversity and no inclusion and many overpriced franchises such as juice bars and yoga studios, not for those who reside in this community. This community as the surrounding one have their own organizations, programs and history that shouldn’t be forgotten. Public schools surrounding this university should be supported by it not drowning them. Though as I listened to Nicolette Aduama of City Communities who sincerely believe that Northeastern University does quite a lot for students in the schools surround them. She also believes the university have the burden and should be met half way. Every institution can’t separate itself from the place in which it sits. The Northeastern has a vast list of programs and initiatives. It’s not how much but how many know.
A community with so much hardship, trauma, culture and so much more is what Breannah sees when looking out across from Northeastern Crossing. Also for a premise of a community that’s not valued or understood. One side it’s a land of opportunity and the other side the opposite. Northeastern has been built on the land of a community that’s so misunderstood. On every corner across from this university are families whose lives are totally different. What does a student know about those in the community in which this university sits and what does the community know about the student? Connections can be made but never solidified as well as misunderstood. Boston maybe different today but the challenges are similar to the past.
Nathan Simms a graduate of Northeastern, worked at Belfour Academy a few summers and now works in Office of City and Community Affairs. He says Northeastern has been his greatest foo and ally, double edge sword. Simms sees Northeastern across the color spectrum, sometimes black, sometimes white and mostly gray. His internal struggle has been around who he is and what he needs to do and the needs of hi community. Through all of this he knows he would not be who he is or where he is without the Northeastern University.
Finally, Ron Jones says, trials and changes of this place is made up of regular people. However, one has landed in this place either by birth, admittance or hire. The opportunity to tests your level to affect world around you. Jones quote “Don’t move through like a ghost. Be a spirit, that raises other spirits.”