Grove Hall youth shut out – again; the city needs to do the right thing

News item: There is no evening or weekend programming for Grove Hall young people in city facilities or school buildings that they can safely walk to in their own neighborhood. They have been shut out again – no access to the gym at the Burke/ Grove Hall Community Center, and no access to the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School gym.

Commentary: There is a disproportionate lack of multipurpose community center facilities in Grove Hall compared to other Boston neighborhoods.  The Boston School Department does not allow headmasters/principals priority to develop community partnerships that target their students, along with their friends, to have access to their gyms for evening or weekend prevention programming!

Remember when the Jeremiah E. Burke High School lost its accreditation in the 1990s?  The school department allocated just about $4 million for renovations at a minimal accreditation level.  At the same time, Boston Latin, Boston Latin Academy, Hyde Park, and East Boston each received more than $22 million to renovate their schools to complete state standards.  These high schools either had large white student populations or were in predominantly white neighborhoods.

Instead of being satisfied with these crumbs, Project RIGHT, the Burke School Parent Council, and the Grove Hall community organized for 14 years against this racial inequality, and their protests finally led to the $49.5 million renovation of the Burke High School facility that included the Grove Hall Community Center and the relocation of the Grove Hall Library Branch in 2008.

During this same time, Project RIGHT and the Grove Hall community worked with Mayor Thomas Menino for more than ten years to plan and develop the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School on Columbia Road that included a regulation-sized gym, a multi-purpose field, a library, science labs, technology, and several art, dance, and music rooms.  These two facilities began to narrow (but not eliminate) the gap between them and other neighborhoods when it came to young people having access to large multi-purpose prevention facilities where they felt safe.

Now, the city and the school department have blocked access to the gyms of the Burke/Grove Hall Community Center and the Frederick School for after school and evening programming for Grove Hall teenagers.  The school department has ignored the pilot status of Frederick, its role as a safe haven for neighborhood young people by exercising arbitrary control of evening use of its gym. 

In the past, the school department has continually underestimated the Frederick’s enrollment numbers, lowballed its budget, and changed the Frederick’s feeder pattern, all of which has made it much more difficult for Grove Hall youth to be prioritized for placement at the Frederick while at the same time spreading the myth that the Trotter’s elementary school gym (with eight-foot-high rims, a small library, limited technology and science labs, and a lack of creative art offerings provided comparable opportunities and resources for teenagers.

Originally, the Burke gym was shared with the Grove Hall Community Center to provide prevention programming for neighborhood young people during afters-chool hours.  With limited staff, Boston Centers for Youth and Families now focuses on providing services during the day to seniors. It stopped providing youth programming at the Grove Hall Community Center over a year ago. The Burke stepped into that void and worked with community partners like Project RIGHT to provide evening programming in its gymnasium that did not conflict with school sports.

Now, the Burke no longer has access to its gym during the evening and external school department personnel (who have limited knowledge of the turf issues and challenges that our neighborhood young people face) control facilities that used to be safe havens for Grove Hall students and youth who are now excluded from using them.

With the city and school department limiting community involvement and access to neighborhood resources, it is no wonder that reports show that there is a significant racial disparity of resources. “Boston ranks low in opportunity for Hispanic, African-American children…’We’re not a resource poor city,’ Renée Boynton-Jarrett, a pediatrician at Boston Medical Center who uses the data in her medical practice, told the Globe several years ago. ‘We are a city with a lot of enrichment resources and after-school programs, but we also have very stark inequities in how they are distributed.
The decision to take the control of the Burke gym away from the oversight of its headmaster, and before that, Grove Hall Community Centers/Boston Centers for Youth & Families, must be reversed. The control of the Frederick gym must be given back to its principal and board of directors. Facilities that we helped build and had access to for many years, facilities that young people are familiar with and feel safe at, must be prioritized for these young people! 

This article was sent to the Reporter by Michael Kozu, Project RIGHT, Inc. interim co-director; Emmanuel Tikili, Project RIGHT, Inc. interim co-director and Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School board chair; and Richard Salmon, retired assistant principal in the Boston Public Schools, and Project RIGHT, Inc. board chair.
For further information, contact Michael Kozu at 617-541-5454, Ext. 102.