Thirty years ago, a Boston neighborhood ravaged by arson and disinvestment came together to create an innovative organization that has become a national model for community-led planning and revitalization.
The Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative is marking three decades of community transformation with events that reflect on history and chart the future, including a screening of Gaining Ground: Building Community on Dudley Street on November 7th at the historic Strand Theater, where Holding Ground: The Rebirth of Dudley Street premiered in 1996. The screening will be followed by a discussion with neighborhood residents, advocates and partners moderated by Gus Newport, former director of DSNI and former mayor of Berkeley, California.
When we were making Holding Ground in the 1990s, we were privileged to witness the ripple effect that began when residents took the lead in the revitalization of their neighborhood. One moment that embodied the idea of home-grown leadership was when youth volunteers demanded the right to vote and be elected to the DSNI board. When we returned fifteen years later to make another film (directed by Llewellyn Smith), the 16-year-old who led that charge, John Barros, was the executive director of DSNI. Today, John is Boston’s chief of economic development and cites Dudley Street as “the symbol” for the city.
A website celebrating Dudley Street’s “Generations of Change” highlights a community summit held in the spring and the June release of a the Boston Promise Initiative Community Survey that “reflects the most persistent challenges and powerful strengths of our neighborhood.” The homepage of the site features an audio clip from the conclusion to Holding Ground. It’s a statement from Che Madyun about community change:
“How do you develop confidence in a community and individuals to speak, to stand up for, to strive, to fight and to have hope. I think those are the key challenges. It’s not so much what building are you gonna build or what social program are you gonna change, but it’s the people part of it, the part that has people investing themselves to make a difference, to make a change and to see that hope. That’s the challenge.”