Talking About Black Lives Matter: Peace Park Serves as a Place for Racial Healing

One of the missions of the controversial Peace Park abutting the Mystic/Tobin Bridge is to promote healing.

At its founding, that was meant in terms of healing from the pain of seeing loved ones murdered, family that have died of drug overdoses, and other tragedies related to community violence.

College student Fatima Fontes recites a poem about Black Lives Matter, and racial discrimination she has faced, during a healing conversation last Friday between Boston Police, Charlestown youth of color and several community members who came to listen and talk about how racism and privilege have affected their lives. Recording her in the foreground is Councilor Lydia Edwards, and listening in the background is BPD Supt. Nora Baston.

Never did anyone in 2018 know that – in a time of national unrest involving race and policing – one day the little space on Lowney Way would host one of the most healing conversations the Town has ever had between young people of color, Boston Police, community members and elected officials.

That is what happened last Friday afternoon in the Peace Park when about 100 people of all ages, races and stations in life came together to talk about racism, police brutality and discrimination nationally and within the Town.

“Wow, look at this; this Peace Park is doing its job,” said Councilor Lydia Edwards at one point while four honest conversations were unfolding within circles of diverse peoples. “This is healing. This is what it was meant for.”

The Charlestown Coalition, State Rep. Dan Ryan, State Sen. Sal DiDomenico and Councilor Edwards helped to coordinate the event, but it was a conversation promoted and organized by young people – primarily of color – who live in Charlestown. The group had originally wanted to have a march for Black Lives Matter, but opted instead to use the Peace Park they created to hold an honest conversation between all parties.

“You love black and Spanish food and black and Spanish dance, but when we ask to be equal, you don’t give us a passing glance,” read 14-year-old Samuel Quintin of the Charlestown Coalition’s Turn It Around program.

The conversation began with poetry, and writing, something that Turn It Around Coordinator Mswati Hanks said often promotes healing and progress – something that has happened in his own life.

He added that while his white friends get a parental talk about the birds and the bees, young men of color have to get a talk about police brutality.

Read Boston University student – and life-long Charlestown resident – Fatima Fontes, “We just want our wonderful black men to stop being killed; when will that simple request be fulfilled.”

Councilor Edwards said the City is in a time of reflection and soul searching – and that goes for all types of people.

“We’ve had a lot of soul searching to do as a city and country and people are dedicated to keep this up until all men and women are created equal,” she said.

State Rep. Dan Ryan said within the month of June, some 245 years ago, men stood on Bunker Hill and Breed’s Hill to fight for the cause of freedom. Now, all these years later, so many are still fighting for that freedom.

He said everything has to start with Black Lives Matter.

“We will get to that promised land, but it’s going to take courage,” he said. “We must say ‘Black Lives Matter.’ That has to be a stand-alone sentence to start everything.”

Boston Police Supt. Nora Baston – who grew up in Hyde Park and became one of the first female superior officers – said Charlestown and Boston needed to lead in having these kinds of conversations. If not, others will dictate what happens in our own communities.

“Myself, and others, we use the power of the badge to try to change things from within,” she said. “This conversation can’t be once. It has to continue. If we don’t have these conversations in our community now, we’ll let those from outside our community dictate how we go forward.”

Hanks and Sarah Coughlin of the Coalition both said the Peace Park is a great example of systemic racism in the Town, as there was such resistance to establishing it on Lowney Way. Coughlin detailed that some neighbors watched the young people build the park like they were criminals, and would film them with their phones as they pulled weeds and painted the fence.

“The kids told us they wouldn’t be welcome here – they knew,” said Coughlin. “This was just a few years ago. You had kids here picking up leaves and people driving by in BMWs filming them with their phones like these kids were criminals.”

Hanks said he was inspired by the coming together of the community – and coming here from New York – he said his perceptions of Charlestown have totally changed.

“I came in with some pre-conceived notions that there was strife and unrest here,” he said, noting that he has learned the community is very strong and understands the meaning of real community.

“I’ve been amazed with the talent of the young people I work with every day,” he said.

The conversations in the Peace Park then proceeded, with about four circles of people forming – equal numbers of police, youth and community in each. Each person in the group was asked to talk about their experiences with racism in their lives.

No one could talk over another.

No one could debate anyone’s experiences.

No one could explain or “correct” their troubles away.

It was about listening and accepting.

More conversations in the Peace Park are expected throughout the summer, but none have yet been scheduled.

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