Reflections on the BBDP

Posted: December 14, 2011 by meghandoran in Uncategorized

We asked some of our committee members to reflect about their relationship to the project. Becky Shuster and Paula Elliott replied.

It surfaces again and again: our city’s still open wound from the history of busing and school desegregation.  I moved to Boston as a young adult in 1983, years after the crisis.  But as anyone who is active in anti-racism work in Boston will tell you, the pain around that history is always apparent when we try to tackle these issues.  Whether I am facilitating a dialogue session on race through YWCA Boston or simply inviting an out-of-state African-American friend to visit, the history of busing in Boston comes right to the fore.

So, when Horace Small first mentioned his idea to me – a profound and innovative idea to endeavor to address that history – I was immediately on board.  I am honored to be a member of the project’s Steering Committee, and co-chair of the Program Committee charged with guiding the design and facilitation of various discussions and training sessions associated with the effort.

The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination hosted one of the fall film screenings to get the word out about the project and open the conversation.  Over seventy people turned out to be a part of it.  You could feel participants’ eagerness to learn about and/or remember the details of what happened; to face the impact of those events on individuals, education, and the city; and to begin to figure out how to move forward together.

As the mother of a Boston Public School first grader, I can only imagine what the implications of this process may look like.  Can we create the quality and quantity of opportunities that are needed to truly recover from the history of busing, and to deeply listen to the effects on so many lives?  Will more parents of color, particularly African-American parents, feel able to fully engage in efforts to transform our schools?  Will we gain a more accurate assessment of where we are around racism in Boston today, rooted in the realities of the present rather than either the pain or the denial from the past?  I look forward to finding out.

Becky Shuster is on the Steering Committee for the Boston Busing Desegregation Project, and is  the Director of Training for the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. She lives  with her family in Hyde Park.


As a BBDP Learning Network Planning Committee member for over a year, the public gatherings, impromptu phone calls, readings, and discussions have routinely provoked reflection about my motives and expectations for involvement.   The time and energy as a committee member is not inconsequential, so why do I continue to be invested? An easy answer to how I got on board was my long-time regard and respect for Donna Bivens, the project coordinator.   Her leadership gave me confidence that the perspectives of participants would be listened to and respected.   You can’t always assume that to be the case when people try to do their part as a responsible citizen and community member in this town.  That confidence continues to stoke my energy as other reasons sustaining my intellectual engagement and emotional investment emerge.

For many years in my professional and personal life, I have been driven by a deep concern for the quality educational experiences available to children and families in urban schools.   I am a third generation African American educator and proud of my family legacy. I come from women and men who worked tirelessly in support of assuring an education so  children could have real choices through out their life,  know how to make responsible decisions, and  share their unique gifts in ways that affirm life affirming possibilities with others.  I come from folks that were active in the struggle for civil rights, so I make a point to continually revisit that history and look for ways to make use my skills and talents for similar purposes each day.  I particularly love to seek out and hear the stories of teachers, the history and wisdom they bring to and from their work in urban settings.  So the work with BBDP and the folks that come to the project lines up quite nicely with familial legacy and personal passions.

As I continue to seek out more of my family history I always assume that everyone around me has a legacy that can be a source of strength and purpose in their lives.  Whether they have taken the time to learn about it or not, I assume, if they choose to, they can use the lessons from their life and legacy in ways that contribute to the larger good.   So again, the Learning Network, the space from which people can explore, share and reflect on their life experiences with Boston’s schools, fits comfortably with the insights others can bring to the table.

The assumption of this project  that  other’s voices should be solicited and counted in the master narrative also increases the likelihood that I will confront folks that will contradict and challenge my long held beliefs. So sustained involvement in BBDP means I will get practice in hearing and responding to, ideas and attitudes that I want to push back or dismiss. I am good at pushing back when I think it is needed. At the same time to do so, without really trying to listen and understand what someone else has to say, is problematic, can be irresponsible, and can diminish some else’s ways of being, make them lose face; that ain’t right.

The folks I have seen in this project appear willing to listen and learn as best they can, no matter what comes up.  They also want to make sure any one who wants to participate feel listened to, respected, and be feel they can take away meaningful learning from their experience.  That’s a really good thing, especially talking about the history of Boston’s schools in the context of tumultuous dynamics of race, class, and longstanding beliefs about the sanctity of their neighborhood turf.

I hope sharing some of the beliefs and values sustaining my connection with BBDP will encourage others to find their own good reasons to do so and join us for this long, meaningful and important journey.

Paula R. Elliott, Ed.D., is currently active in community-based social justice initiatives. She is a creative resource and consultant with schools, teacher development initiatives and non-profits on issues of equity and inclusion in urban education, community services, arts education and the production and presentation of artists and cultural workers.

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