Boston is a city with no shortage of historically and culturally significant sites, but perspectives on which places have earned those designations rarely bubble up from the community at large, especially the young.
Matthew Dickey, the director of communications and operations for the nonprofit Boston Preservation Alliance, is a Dorchester resident who has spent hours painting and photographing the neighborhood.
Beyound that, he wanted to illustrate trading cards featuring Boston buildings and their histories, and he turned to “young urban curators” from the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School to choose the places and tell their stories.
The group he chose, all 6th graders in English as a Second Language (ESL) and inclusion classes, learn best in nontraditional classroom settings. Some of them have lived in Dorchester all their lives, while others are new to Boston.
Over several days, the students toured Grove Hall, Uphams Corner, and Fields Corner, interviewing restaurant and business owners. The result: Student-crafted stories about which people and places make Dorchester the vibrant neighborhood it is that appeared in a documentary that tied “Tour Your Boston” together.
“I believe it’s the people that make Boston really amazing,” said Cashlie Valburn, one of the featured students.
“It was as a way to practice their English language skills and English writing arts,” said Dickey. “So, it became like a teaching tool, but also a way for them to reflect on what was important to them in their community.”
The Boston Preservation Alliance compiled all of the stories the students wrote, along with a photo of each establishment taken by a student, into a deck of trading cards that offers a new guide to the city—all told through the eyes of Dorchester’s young people.
Dickey was fascinated to learn that the kids, when asked where they felt most comfortable besides home and school, overwhelmingly answered: “our local corner store.” He recounted their reasons: “Because they speak my language. They have snacks and candy. They know who I am.”
In a letter to the creators of “Tour Your Boston,” Mayor Michelle Wu noted that many of the students involved are immigrants or the children of immigrants, like herself. A Chicago native, Wu often served as a guide and translator for her Taiwanese parents. “I am so proud of them for using their voices to uplift others in our community and so grateful for the time, care, and heart they’ve invested in bringing us these stories of inspiration and ingenuity,” she wrote.
The Boston Preservation Alliance focuses on the city’s future while conserving its cultural and architectural history. “We know that the city can’t be preserved in amber,” said Dickey. “It has to be able to develop and change to keep up with the times and people who live here.”
To learn more about Tour Your Boston, view the documentary, and purchase, for $35, a deck of cards, visit bostonpreservation.org/tour-your-boston.