We are excited to share a major organizing victory that Jewish Organizing Fellowship Alum Sarah O‘Connor (’14-15) won with her teen organizers at St. Stephen’s Youth Programs in Boston’s South End.
Last spring, St. Stephen’s teen organizers decided that their priority for the coming months was to clean up Ramsay Park, the only park in the neighborhood surrounding St. Stephen’s. The park was filled with needles and trash, the city had removed the benches from the park, and most parents in the neighborhood forbid their children from playing there. A lot of teens and families in the neighborhood saw this as a visible manifestation of a lot of challenges in the neighborhood and they were determined to do something to change it.
Fast forward a few months, and the teens had transformed the park. They’d cleaned up the trash, painted murals, and were leading tennis lessons and art activities for neighborhood kids. But the teen organizers also wanted to the city to step in and provide the resources necessary for their park to be as inviting as those with well-endowed “Friends of” groups a few blocks away. While Mayor Marty Walsh visited Ramsay Park during a routine visit doing “Coffee Hours” in the park, the teens shared their frustration with the lack of investment in their park. They asked for a meeting with the Mayor, their State Rep, the Parks Commissioner, and their City Councillor to share their visions for the park and ask for their investment and support.
After a series of meetings with elected officials, the teens were successful in securing one million dollars in funding from the City to improve Ramsay Park.
In Mayor Marty Walsh’s State of City Speech on January 19, he said: “I grew up in our parks. I know how much kids and families depend on them. So I was moved when a group of young people came to see me at Ramsay Park in the South End last summer. They told me what it was like to grow up right next door to a park that was too unsafe to use, and how they’ve been working to fix that. They are here tonight. I’m happy to tell them: because of your advocacy, and with your input, we are going to completely renovate Ramsay Park.”
When asked how the teens she is working with responded to the victory, JOIN Fellowship alum Sarah O‘Connor said: “They are really excited and so proud of this victory which, they totally should be. This is such a great example of working on a hyper local issue that materially impacts their lives and they can see this concrete victory happening in a couple of months. We are very grateful that the city is investing resources in this neighborhood, we are going to continue working with the city to make sure that people who live here now will still be able to continue living here to enjoy the renovated park. We want this to be a victory for the community that worked to make their neighborhood better. They should be the ones to influence how the park is developed, and they should be able to stay here as the project is carried out.”
Sarah also said: “Everyone we have talked to is happy about this news. People who never brought their kids to the park before are excited to see this investment in their community, as a place that people want to live and are reclaiming as an asset to their community. I would also say that we struggle because we don’t always control the way the story is told, and we see this as a project for everyone who is part of the neighborhood, and some people are telling it as if improving Ramsay Park pits children against ‘dangerous druggies and homeless people’ which is absolutely not the message we want to send–because decrepit parks and addition problems are both products of the systemic disinvestment in the health of this community. We have been asking for solutions for them, too, and we hope that as the city is committing to physical improvements in this park, that there is also a commitment to providing the kinds of support that people need so that they have a more dignified place to go to the bathroom than a Boston public park.”
Congratulations to Sarah and her team at St. Stephen’s on a well-earned victory that’s going to make a real impact in the neighborhood!