Can We Talk?: Learning Communities’ Contexts

Posted: February 7, 2012 by Donna Bivens in Uncategorized

What was happening in Boston’s neighborhoods at the time of the Busing/Desegregation crisis? What shaped each cultural community’s response to it? In what history were those responses grounded? How does that history continue to impact us now?

In the coming months, in addition to screenings of Can We Talk? the BBDP will be holding cultural/neighborhood gatherings to learn what their historical and social contexts were for the busing/desegregation crisis. We know we cannot address what happened in Boston in the period of 1974 – 1978 until we have some  understanding of the political, economic and social context that led up to the crisis. Rather than only looking to the books, we are inviting the city to co-create this history with us by asking people to tell us what was happening in their communities before the crisis and what the crisis actually was from their perspectives. We will culminate with a city-wide gathering in June to look at, share and build on what we’ve learned.

In a two-part event on January 24 and 31, we piloted this process at the historic Freedom House in Roxbury. About 30 people came out on each night to see clips from the film, hear a panel and explore context and present day impact in small groups. The panel was moderated by Barbara Lewis, Director of the Trotter Institute and included Sherry Brooks-Roberts, retired BPS teacher and administrator, Margaret Burnham of the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project at Northeastern School of Law, Matthew Goode, a native Bostonian and educator, and Deborah Washington, RN, of Massachusetts General Hospital.

The panel was followed by lively discussion in small groups and very insightful feedback. For example, we were struck by how people talked about their communities then, as being energetic and change-oriented,  where they talked about today with more concern and apprehension. We were equally struck by the emotion people still feel when discussing the era. We also noticed how people put the crisis of the schools in a much larger context of community, housing and history. Finally, we found that people were both anxious to learn about other communities and to have other communities understand their own experiences. You can see notes from the event and view the panel below.

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