Eight men and women from Dorchester and Mattapan were honored for their quiet, but effective leadership at the Nov. 18 “Hidden Heroes and Sheroes” event held at a packed Black Box Theatre at Codman Academy. The annual event combines the efforts of the Codman Square Neighborhood Council with the Greater Four Corners Action Coalition to raise money for youth scholarships and to recognize residents who are activdely involved in neighborhood life but don’t often get accolades.
The event was started in 1987 by the late Rev. Dr. Bill Loesch, and has been continued by his daughter, Cynthia Loesch-Johnson. This year’s gathering, which was full of residents, elected officials, and friends of the organizations, marked the first time it was held in person since 2019.
One of the honorees was Juwan Skeens, who has championed a new Life Skills Training Center in his neighborhood and was a founding member of the Redefining Our Community (ROC) neighborhood group. In accepting the award, Skeens recalled how he struggled after the murder in 2007 of his best friend, 13-year-old Steven Odom.
“I know I look nice and polished today, but I don’t feel like that after what I’ve been through,” said Skeens. “Martin Luther King had a dream and Malcolm X taught us to be relentless and fearless. I share that dream and I, too, am fearless today. I want to thank ROC. It’s an organization that helped me feel like growing up.”
Standing next to Pastors Ron and Kim Odom, the late Steven’s parents, Skeens broke down in tears and talked about the years of confusion and struggle he faced after the violent loss of his friend.
“When we lost Steven at age 13, I didn’t quite understand that,” he said. “We got off the bus and he asked if I was going to play basketball that day. I had some things to take care of at home and said I was going to try to catch him later because we had dress-down day at school the next day – and that was a big deal because we wore uniforms every day. I just never thought it would be the last time I would see my best friend alive.”
He added that grief turned into more serious depression in high school “because I didn’t have any way to recover from that pain.” It was the community that pulled together and pulled him out of his funk, he said. Along with former City Councillor (and attorney general-elect) Andrea Campbell, ROC gave him an avenue to focus his energy on healing and helping his community. “You can turn your pain into purpose and it’s not the end,” he concluded.
Councillor Julia Mejia, who grew up in Four Corners and Codman Square, encouraged the heroes and sheroes to keep doing what they have been doing quietly.
“Those who do the most often have the least,” she said. “When you do what you can with what little you have and with so much love, that’s what being a hidden hero is all about.”
Stafford Lewis, of Greater Four Corners, an awardee as well as a sponsor of the event, said now that the awardees are known, they must step up their efforts.
“When you’re hidden and you’re outed, you have to step your game up,” he said. “Before, no one was watching…but now we really have to go to work and form coalitions with people who didn’t know about us before.”
The key presentation, the Millennium Award, went to Boston Police Supt. Nora Baston, a community engagement specialist who leads a team of officers who are present at most every event in the area.
Baston said it was the sheroes in her life, such as her mother and siblings, who allowed her to pick up the pieces at difficult times in her life and move ahead.
“I wouldn’t have made it here without the sheroes in my life,” she said. “It’s an honor to receive this award because it means my constant sacrifice and love has impacted the youth here in a positive way.”
The full list of awardees follows:
•Millennium Award – Supt. Nora Baston; Civic Leadership Award – Stafford Lewis and Juwan Skeens; Neighborhood Leadership Award – Justin & Jamie Chase and Desrianna Mae Clary; Youth Leadership Award – Saraphina Jean, Zaheera Fernandez, and James Massey.