A Tale of Two Neighborhoods: A response to the Boston Globe’s “68 Blocks” series

The following is one person’s response to a five-part Boston Globe series on the Bowdoin/Geneva neighborhood and to a subsequent editorial that appeared in the Reporter last week under the headline, “Globe’s ‘68 Blocks’ series was well worth the effort.” The author is a resident of the neighborhood.

It was disappointing to see Bill Forry’s editorial response to the Boston Globe’s five- part series “68 Blocks: Life, death and hope” about my neighborhood, Bowdoin-Geneva. I would have thought the Dorchester Reporter might have been a bit more understanding, supportive and willing to present a more balanced approach to what life is like and how 98 percent of our residents live from day to day rather than being so complimentary of such a major media outlet’s gratuitous description of Bowdoin/Geneva.

It is not unusual for Bowdoin-Geneva residents to feel abused, misrepresented and used by others for a whole host of reasons but to have the same happen by a Dorchester institution such as the Reporter is demoralizing. The local newspaper could have been true to its geographical and historical roots in standing up for Bowdoin-Geneva residents.

When Globe reporters approached a number of us months ago with their idea of focusing on our community with what I thought would be a more balanced approach vs. how the media usually portrays us as a hotbed for violence and numerous other challenges, I thought maybe this would be different. Shame on me for being so gullible at this stage of my life and shame on others, most of whom do not live in Bowdoin/Geneva, for sharing their accolades about the series with the rest of the world. You all have succeeded in reinforcing the mostly negative perceptions everyone else already has of Bowdoin-Geneva.

Instead of aggrandizing the two percent of the population who represent most of the problems in our community over the ninety-eight percent who live day to day working multiple jobs, caring for themselves and their families, ensuring their children go to school and trying to find ways to actually enjoy life, the media could have focused their energy on a few individuals described below. Forgive the brevity of these stories compared to the original amount of time and space given to the series. Of course, what amount of interest would have been generated by a more positive series? (In respect, names have been changed.)

Barbara, an African-American woman, has been a single mom until recently, raising a son who is now pre-adolescent. She devotes a huge amount of time to ensure he succeeds in school and is kept busy during out of school time. It hasn’t been easy since the schools her child has attended have not provided an adequate learning environment. Finally, she decided to address the problems with her son’s teacher, principal and the BPS and ultimately succeeded this school year in placing him in a charter school. After school, a significant amount of time is spent outside the neighborhood engaged in positive activities such as swimming while time involved in the neighborhood is monitored – especially when kids from around the corner whose family lives are dysfunctional come on the scene. Barbara is truly an amazing person for all she does for her child and the neighborhood.

Maria, a Cape Verdean woman, was in an abusive relationship for years until her husband died from alcoholism and other medical complications. She has always worked multiple jobs but has ensured her son received an excellent education. He has grown into quite the young man. He graduated from a local college with a bachelor’s degree in business and now is in business with a family member and getting experience in real estate. While other young adult members of his community are involved in a wide variety of anti-social behavior, Maria’s son should be recognized as a model for what other young males could become in the Bowdoin/Geneva neighborhood.

Alicia and Thomas are a couple with two girls and are a part of an extended Jamaican family. They both work, with Thomas actually working two jobs. Both daughters have gone to METCO schools with the oldest graduating from college last year. In the household there are two other adults, sisters of Thomas, and the family matriarch, who is well into her 90s. The family is involved in their church, and they socialize with and support other family members. Unfortunately, as a direct result of one of the incidences described in the Globe series, Alicia and Thomas have moved out of the family house to another area of the city. It is really difficult to watch folks leave the neighborhood because of the destructive actions of others.

Patricia works at a local social service agency. She is a member of the Caribbean community and lives with her husband and two daughters on one of the streets highlighted in the Globe. Don’t ask anyone how she does it as she carries an enormous amount of responsibility at work. She has just completed her master’s degree and recently had her second child. What this woman is capable of doing day in and day out is incredible. Don’t you think this person could have been highlighted in a description of how residents live, persevere and deal with day to day life on the “68 Blocks?”

Finally, the one storyline from the series I will use – the one attempt at something positive – told the story of a woman on Coleman Street. However, even this storyline had a negative undertone. Jhana is known for her work on the Dorchester Community Food Coop and for her efforts to assist young people in the development of their work skills. She has been successful in organizing Coleman Street residents and restoring neighborhood pride. She has been a catalyst for neighborhood change, empowering residents and developing new leaders. The media did not do justice to what Jhana is all about.

So, is there a theme here? I honestly believe the “68 Blocks” series could have been written from a different perspective telling the stories of people who are forced to struggle most days of their lives. Do I need to ponder the question, what was the Globe’s hidden agenda in expending so many resources on the Bowdoin/Geneva community? I sincerely hope the Globe and its reporters expect neither accolades nor receive prizes for their efforts. It has been said by many of us who live in Bowdoin/Geneva that what is needed is more community organizing and leadership development. Not media notoriety giving the rest of the world a skewed picture of our neighborhood.

It has taken me quite a while to be able to respond to all this negative media attention but I will end on a somewhat more positive note. Sunday was the first Winter Farmers’ Market in Dorchester for the 2013 season. Well over 550 people attended. One of the farmers from outside the city who was selling his produce turned to us at the end of the day and asked, “How come I only hear about all the violence in Dorchester?”

This question needs to be answered by someone from a media outlet. What do you think?

Davida Andelman lives on Clarkson Street.