Posted: August 21, 2014 by meghandoran in Uncategorized

In news that is bittersweet to me, I am announcing that August 22nd will be my last day working for the Union of Minority Neighborhoods. After 3 years as a full time and then part time employee, I am transitioning into a resident fellowship in the Humanities Center at Northeastern University in order to (finally!) complete my dissertation. When I came onto the project in August of 2011 I made a one year commitment, but couldn’t bring myself to part with this exciting and innovative project. Donna and Horace have been like family to me and I have met so many wonderful people committed to the core values of our project – equity, access and excellence for all – along the way.  Many of you have told your story to me, an act of courage for which I have always been grateful.

Of course, I’m not going anywhere, and will continue to volunteer alongside the amazing leadership that has made this project what it is – a dynamic and powerful act of listening and truth-telling.Please stay in touch and if you are interested in my dissertation, on memory and politics (surprise, surprise), which will include a discussion of the BBDP, let me know. As I focus in on it, I’ll be happy to talk to anyone and everyone about it. I can’t wait to see what the next year holds for the BBDP and am excited to work with you all as it comes to fruition!


An Interview about Anniversary Event

Posted: June 23, 2014 by Donna Bivens in Uncategorized

Tell YOUR Story

Posted: June 11, 2014 by Donna Bivens in Uncategorized
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In a wonderful recently posted TEDx Roxbury Women talk, City Councilor Ayanna Pressley speaks to the power of story. As she says, “behind every statistic there is a person, a story, a testimony begging to be told”. This could be a motto of BBDP!

She lays out beautifully the power of our K-12 education stories and how our lessons there can deeply influence our life trajectory–our values and passions, our commitments and life purpose.

This so aligns with what BBDP has encountered in story circles and interviews. The more we listen the more we begin to make out the tapestry of experiences and understandings that have led us from Morgan v Hennigan to today.

We hope you enjoy the talk as much as we did.

When the BBDP listened to stories from and read about the era of Boston’s school desegregation crisis, transportation —“busing” –became the flashpoint but the struggle and any resulting gains or trauma was about so much more. As we learned early in our process:

  • Quality public education for all U.S. people was the larger historical vision and goal it was part of which included people of color and impoverished white people (not to mention women and other marginalized groups) demanding inclusion and access.
  • Brown v Board of Education & Morgan vs Hennigan were part of a specific  legal/judicial strategy for tackling legal racial segregation as a barrier to the vision, and
  • “Busing” was one of many tactics for carrying out that strategy

Today, Boston is in conflict around an issue deeply symbolic in this year’s anniversary of court ordered desegregation: ending yellow school bus service for 7th and 8th graders and putting them instead on public transportation. How ironic in many ways to have a heated meeting about the transportation of students during this anniversary year. But at the June 2nd meeting at Madison Park High School, parents, students, bus drivers and monitors, education activists, and community members came out to challenge the decision. Though the focus was busing, the feelings vented and points raised were also about so much more. And they were totally aligned with the three areas BBDP’s work pointed to as issues lifted up but unresolved then and now: race and class equity, democratic access and demanding excellence.

Race and Class Equity: Members of the Black community, other communities of color and people from less wealthy neighborhoods raised concerns those more privileged do not have to worry about –or a least have more resources to address–for their children. Participants asked about physical safety beyond cross walks, the implicit racism marginalized children face on public transportation and moving through life, having even less contact and interaction throughout the school day with adults from their own community and culture like those who serve as drivers and monitors.

Democratic Access: What marginalized communities face is so often invisible to those with privilege.  Those present at the meeting pointed out multiple issues impacting equitable access to schools, including the fact that BPS has closed many schools in communities of color, that the exam schools, which serve the most privileged students in the system, are among the easiest schools to access by MBTA, and that less privileged parents struggling with this change do not have the luxury of flexible work schedules.  Increasingly in our restructuring economy and culture, access is a function of privilege instead of a function of justice as imagined by those who pushed for Brown and Morgan.

Demanding Excellence: Those with tremendous financial resources have an increasingly disproportionate voice in the future of public education and everything else. Too often they do not seek out a wider range of racial and class perspectives, believing, consciously of not, they do not add value, i.e. that they have nothing to learn from those most negatively and directly affected by their decisions. People were infuriated that effective outreach to their communities was not done earlier and with more intention and cultural proficiency. They were frustrated by the limited places for their input in finance-driven decisions being made by bodies with no direct accountability to them, their communities, their People.

This is not an indictment of anyone. It is an indictment of a system that is still failing too many. It is clear that those committed to race and class equity, democratic access and demanding excellence are everywhere— in all communities across race and class barriers, in community organizations, and in public and private institutions. It is also clear that these issues are more pressing for some than for others. In many ways having such conflicts arise during this anniversary year provides a tremendous opportunity for all committed to race equity, democratic access and demanding excellence to be more transparent about facing the increasingly complex barriers to the goal and vision of quality public education for all. It is a chance to deepen dialogue and action.

There’s been a bit of an uproar as of late surrounding some reorganization in the BPS, and a perception that history would be taking a back seat/ folded into English Language/Arts. Superintendent McDonough has responded strongly, even signing a petition that has been circulating. Forty years after school desegregation in Boston we believe every child in Boston should learn this history of all the communities in Boston, but for this to be possible, the Boston Public Schools needs a strong History department focused on providing content relevant to the young people in the city today.

The most common refrain we hear from young people around the city is “Why didn’t I know this? Why didn’t we learn about this in school?” It is our understanding that Facing History does have a curriculum around school desegregation, and some teachers do make an effort to include this history, but the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks require Little Rock’s school desegregation be taught, rather than Boston’s. If nothing else this perpetuates the belief that school desegregation and racism was/is a southern problem, rather than a northern one.

Why is it so important that young people have a strong sense of history, and learn Boston’s school desegregation story? For us, history is a critical sixth sense – a way of understanding and knowing the world around us. In a public hearing about the BPS budget where the consolidation of the English and History departments came up, Councilor’s Tito Jackson and Charles Yancey both brought up the importance of teaching history that is culturally relevant to young people in our city. This means we need both a global history and a local one – one that helps students understand how we are where we are today, how the past has shaped our current experiences.

What we’ve heard is that learning about Boston’s school desegregation crisis (including the events leading to and stemming from that crisis) helps young people to better understand the system and city they are in today. This came up most recently at an event organized by the Massachusetts Asian American Educators Association, in a talk by Lorrayne Shen, a community organizer who wrote a senior thesis on the Asian experience during desegregation in Boston:

I think if I heard this story when I was young it really would have changed my life. It’s really important to know about our history as Asian Americans, and know about our involvement in the Civil Rights Movement.

We’ve heard this perspective again and again – from young people, from educators in training, from adults working in BPS – we need to know our history, and we don’t know it very well. We’re glad for the advocacy efforts around strengthening history education in the BPS, and we hope that some day soon we hear that BPS students are graduating with a strong sense of history and their place in it.

Rest in Power Maya Angelou

Is anyone surprised this is our favorite quote? We’d love to hear how YOU think Boston can face its painful history with courage.

Image  —  Posted: May 29, 2014 by meghandoran in Uncategorized

Across the country, the recent 60th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education created an opportunity for cities across the country to affirm their commitment to equal public education for all. In Boston an effort to do that last week went awry when 3 city councilors – Bill Linehan of South Boston, Sal LaMattina of East Boston, and Stephen Murphy of Hyde Park–declined to support a city council resolution honoring the Supreme Court order. It got a lot of media attention. Some like the Globe sought to shame them, others like the Bay State Banner and the Dorchester Reporter sought to educate. At BBDP, we’ve heard history and outrage but just as importantly we’ve heard story, including this email from Charlotte Spinkston:

I am avid advocate of inclusion, including desegregation and it grieves me to know and hear of the creeping return of desegregation of our schools and am dismayed to witness the edges of its return even here in my place of birth. As a High School freshman, I was bused to Charleston High School in 1975. I must admit to feeling conflicted still, as are many others about busing because of that experience. As my mother told me when I left for school that morning “I didn’t think we’d have to do this again, but remember, you’re not just doing it for you.

That being said, it is SHOCKING that City Councilors Linehan, LaMattina and Murphy chose to remain silent rather than stand in support of the commemoration of Brown V Board of Education. Regardless of Boston’s convicted past, it speak volumes that our elected representatives remain silent rather than commemorate the liberation of an entire race of people. #wherestheoutrage

Those at BBDP who’ve been listening to stories, histories and legacies of the busing/desegregation era were not entirely surprised by the anxiety this Brown anniversary raised given that it comes just weeks before the 40th anniversary of Boston’s court-ordered desegregation. We  agree that the two cannot be conflated.  At the same time, most of us know that Brown is in a process of being dismantled in what one writer described a couple years ago as Brown devouring Brown (and the feast continues).  The truth is we –as a nation – are in struggle about that decision, our commitment to race and class equity and the way forward as we were forty years ago and sixty years ago.

BBDP has learned that there’s a lot of listening and learning we collectively must do to get beyond the repeating cycles of justice and inequity in education and in life for Boston residents and our nation. To paraphrase local writer and activist Kathy Dwyer, “We cannot move froma history we deny we share”.

We encourage residents in these councilor’s districts (and that’s everyone for Councilor Murphy – he’s citywide) to let them know your story and what you feel and think about their votes. We look forward to continuing to engage together the dialogue surrounding these potent anniversaries and take this time to renew our commitment  to fulfill Brown’s and Morgan’s (and Robert’s and Plessy’s et al’s!) quest for justice.

Donna and Meghan

Can We Listen? May 2-3 Gathering

Posted: April 25, 2014 by Donna Bivens in Uncategorized

We hope you will attend this upcoming BBDP event May 2-3. Details are below. Please register by clicking here. We need your presence!

may 2 flyer2conversion1

Beyond Common Ground

Posted: February 3, 2014 by meghandoran in Uncategorized

At a recent Christmas party I described our project to someone I’d just met as “trying to tell a more full story of school desegregation and busing in Boston.”

Common Ground already did a pretty damn good job at that, didn’t it?” he asked.

So I didn’t know this guy very well and I was at a very loud and crowded party. I did not really feel like debating the finer points of J. Anthony Lukas’ opus. But here’s the truth – one of the first things I learned when coming onto this project is that not everyone does think Common Ground should be the definitive history. After nearly two years of talking to people about this history I am inclined to agree, if for not other reason then it’s too easy to say ‘this history’s been told – Tony Lukas did the hard work for us, now we can move on.’

“Well, I think lot’s of people feel their experiences aren’t represented in that book” I responded, and, much to my relief, he let it drop. Did I mention it was really loud there? Anyways, we moved on to talk about his feelings about desegregation in South Boston, rather than getting into it about Common Ground.

I didn’t think much more of it, but now here we are in 2014 and, as the BBDP has been expecting, the 40th anniversary remembrances have begun. Commonwealth Magazine recently featured an article from the Columbia Journalism Review looking back at Lukas’ work with reverence, concluding that:

Anthony Lukas was a perfectionist in a world that is far from perfect. Common Ground is probably as close to that ideal as journalism can get.”

Ok, now I’m ready to get into it. Common Ground is a sprawling epic – there is no doubt that it covers ambitious history, but it is one man’s perspective. There are multiple perspectives and stories not included in it. One of the most powerful critiques I’ve heard came from Ruth Batson, who was a leader in Boston’s Black Educational Movement:

One of the most devastated and distorted views of the Boston public school history was t2014-02-03 15.19.47he publication in the 1985 of the book Common Ground by J. Anthony Lukas…JOHN ANTHONY LUKAS STOLE OUR MOVEMENT… In spite of all his accolades and skills as a writer, Lukas does a shoddy job of portraying the true desegregation era in Boston. It seems to matter little that the contributions of black activists were minimized, omitted, or reported negatively in Mr. Lukas’ book. The book completely leaves out the struggle that was carried out for so many years by black activists in Boston. When the book was first published, many of us who had labored long and hard in the battle for educational equity felt as if we had been cut off at our knees.” (Ruth Batson, The Black Educational Movement in Boston, 2001)

Ms. Batson is not the only one who feels Common Ground got some things wrong, though she perhaps said it the most strongly. In our report from our first year we listed several examples of stories we believe can enrich both our understanding of our history and where we are today:

  • The story of what was happening in Boston’s Latino/a and Asian communities
  • The story of those who went through school desegregation (especially young men during that era – we have heard more from women)
  • The story of communities as viewed by the people who lived in those communities, including the story of South Boston from a South Boston perspective (many originally from this neighborhood feel it has been misrepresented)
  • The story of those who were committed to making school desegregation work, before, during AND after the crisis
  • The story of schools that didn’t experience violence

This list is by no means exclusive and we’d love to hear your thoughts on other stories that don’t fit into the Common Grpund narrative. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from this work is that there can, of course, be no single story. As we enter the 40th anniversary year of school desegregation I think the city will do a disservice to this history if we say, ‘this story’s been told – Tony Lukas did the hard work for us, now we can move on.’ There’s so much more to learn and to understand from each other that can not be gleaned from one book.

Emancipated Century

Posted: January 13, 2014 by umnunity in Uncategorized

One fact that the Boston Busing/Desegregation Project didn’t fully appreciate or anticipate about the 40th anniversary of Boston’s busing/desegregation project was that it would fall in the midst of many anniversaries of the history of the struggle for race and class equity. The marking of these anniversaries around Boston have been transformative for the project and taught much about the terrain that must be covered to deepen the conversation on race and class equity.

Most profound for me personally in the many amazing events this past year was the Emancipated Century readings and forums put on by the Trotter Institute in honor of the 150th Anniversary of Emancipation.  The series included readings of all of August Wilson’s 10-play cycle chronicling the 20th century African American struggle and six forums on key themes and issues addressed in the plays. They offered a profound window into the complexity of race and class and the particularity and universality of the African American struggle for emancipation, for human liberation. It made it clear that the struggle for emancipation –as for quality education for all, for that matter—is not done once and for all. The plays likely left others, as it did me, with more questions than answers. But it left us with a powerful legacy of upholding human dignity and faith in the midst of often unimaginable oppression.

What an joy and honor to be participate in the last forum which is on education. BBDP’s Barbara Lewis has brought her amazing vision to fruition and the city is richer for it. Its gifts to Boston include providing a glimpse of how deep we must go to really understand our history and how committed we must be to—in August Wilson’s words— finding and singing our song. We hope you will attend!

Education, Empowerment, and Excellence: Emancipating Tomorrow

A Public Forum:

January 13, 2014, 6-8pm

Boston Center for the Arts, Plaza Theater

Sponsored by the Trotter Institute, UMass Boston, with funding from

The Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities


Rallying for Educational Change, Long Over-Due

The theme: “Education, Empowerment, and Excellence: Emancipating Tomorrow” is drawn from the work and example of August Wilson, who wrote a ten-play saga celebrating the resilience of African American culture and community.  His 20th century decade-by-decade focus chronicles the move that emancipated men and women made, starting well over a hundred years ago, to make the promise of citizenship and equality real. Full of ambition, many of them left the fields of degradation and moved to northern cities, where they and their children could start fresh and improve their economic and educational prospects.   Those that remained in the South understood what they faced and they rallied to emancipate themselves and used the schools to create a ladder to success that allowed generation after generation to counteract the status quo.  Then the rules changed, and the century ended much as it began, with the stigma of inferiority still strong.

In the 1960s, Wilson’s genius was almost stymied by entrenched thinking at the hands of a northern educator.  The Brown legal decision officially ended segregation but did not, for the most part, reverse the misguided attitudes and assumptions undergirding it.  Many teachers, especially those in schools where the student body differed in complexion from the teachers, continued to believe in the inherent inferiority of students of color.  In the segregated schools, which Brown dismantled, teachers were often committed to the success of their students. But when Wilson turned in an excellent paper in Pittsburgh, he was labeled a cheater.  It wasn’t in his genes, his teacher said, to be anything other than second-rate.  No one of his heritage could write anything worthwhile, without assistance.  Their brains were just too deficient.  Wilson, who had put his all into his work, was outraged and never returned to the classroom.  In the library, he began emancipating and educating himself and honed his talent as a writer.  In the end, he showed the world that the words he put on paper were indeed worthy and undeniably his own.

The negative perceptions that confronted Wilson in the 1960s are still strong in the 2010s.  After Brown, school districts were ordered to integrate, and the mandate to bus children from one school or school district to another as a redistribution measure unleashed armed resistance.  In Boston, the fight against equalizing education was especially violent, and the city became known as the place where the American flag was made into a weapon of hate.  It has been a hundred fifty years since the Emancipation Proclamation, sixty years since Brown, and forty years since the legal ruling that began Boston’s busing era.  The educational advances that the last century sought to put in place have rarely happened, and children of color are often still seen as dishonest, underperforming, and leaning to criminality, like Wilson.  Thus, too many are plucked of promise and herded into public classrooms that are disguised holding pens.

Can we insure, once and for all, that education is the democratic road to parity and excellence, as it was meant to be?  That is what we ask in our Re-visioning Tomorrow: Emancipation for a New Century forum on January 13, 2014.  Inspired by Wilson and remembering the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, the 1954 Brown decision as well as the 1974 order to desegregate the Boston Public Schools, we examine how education can be reclaimed and turned into an emancipation engine for real change that steers the future away from past failures.  We also endorse the belief that being smart is the province of all.  Our ultimate goal is counteracting the notion that communities of color have more than their share of backward, underperforming children on whom education is wasted.

This is an old story and an old charge, and nowhere is it older than in Boston.  As far back as the Revolutionary Era, tax-paying black Bostonians understood that public education was indispensable for full political participation, and they rallied to give their children every tool for inclusion.   In 1787, Prince Hall and a consolidated core of community leaders wrote the Massachusetts Legislature asking for equal education for the next generation; but their petition was denied.  Hall and his son would not be defeated; they began a school for community children, and it became an institution, supported by church and philanthropy.  In the late 1840s, that school returned to the center of political controversy.  A parent, whose last name was Roberts, wanted his daughter, Sarah, to attend a school near his home, rather than be segregated in the school that had grown from the seed that Hall and his son planted.  Roberts v. Boston (1850) became the legal platform on which Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) rested and was still being argued in Brown v. Board of Education (1954).  Remembering the 20th century history of Brown in 2014 and the divisiveness of Boston busing does not tell the whole story of the long fight for educational parity in this city and in this country, and there is no more appropriate setting for this discussion than Boston.  So please join us at Boston Center for the Arts, Plaza Theater, on January 13, 2014 as we revisit beginnings and milestones and follow the trailblazing lead that Prince Hall and his son and a latter-day cultural activist named August Wilson set, which is acting strong for tomorrow, recalling past efforts, and answering the needs of today in order to build a new, revitalized educational future.

The education forum, organized by the Trotter Institute, asks:  How do we empower and emancipate ourselves, widen the route to excellence, connect arts and research to counteract entrenched and negative labeling, and tell a bigger, bolder story about yesterday and tomorrow that elevates us all?

Barbara Lewis, Director, Trotter Institute