Community centres are a haven for the less privileged in society and people attach rich sentimental values to those with rich cultural history.
In Boston a momentous community center named after Harriet Tubman is in the wake of reconstruction following a multi-million-dollar deal looking to put up sleek condos and the locals are not having it.
The predominantly Black residents are manic over the sale and view the deal as a ploy in a larger scheme to gentrify Boston’s black neighborhoods. A move they feel is to “whiten” the community that has seen a reasonable increase in housing prices.
The Harriet Tubman House, a monumental pillar of their community, is located in the city’s South End neighborhood, operated under the ownership of the nonprofit United South End Settlements is home to a number of community organizations whose main goal is to cater to the needs of the deprived residents in Boston.
According to HuffPost, the community center has provided years of unmatched help, resources and served as an avenue to access to affordable housing, childcare, job training and GED classes for locals. USES has given its ownership rights to housing developers New Boston Ventures last year.
There have been various protests on the sale of the building, but its current landlords say the sale is beneficial to the development of the group running the building.
“This gives us the resources to rebuild the Harriet Tubman House on the Rutland Street property and to establish an endowment for the organization to ensure stability for years to come,” USES Executive Director Maicharia Weir Lytle told the Bay Street Banner earlier this year. “That was a big piece for us. We want to make sure the organization is still here.”
The Tubman Community Center will be relocated to a new facility a half-mile away after USES agreed to sell the building. A complete ultramodern six-storey expansion with 66 houses, a cafe, art gallery, 5,000 square feet of commercial space and street-level office for USES.
The contentious sale will be the fourth relocation USES has had since its founding in 1892. The mother organization was originally set up to help Blacks from the South and immigrants get settled in Boston, but it has expanded to performing other duties that also serve the community over the years.
The new facility owners have said they would leave about 11 condos in the new building for “affordable home ownership,” and an underground parking facility will also be available.
A local who has benefited immensely from the building years ago, Arnesse Brown, founded IAmHarriet in a bid to save the building from being “repurposed”. She defines the Tubman House as “one of the last symbols of the black presence in the South End.”
Speaking to the Boston Herald, Brown said, “This building was built in the 1970s, brick by brick, by the community. You don’t get to tell me, ‘Oh, we’ll build another building’. You can’t tell me what to do with my memories. Black people’s memories shouldn’t just be relegated to a plaque somewhere.”
To compensate the Boston locals campaigning against the sale because it will wipe out Harriet’s historical attachment facility, a piece of the original Harriet Tubman center will be preserved in the new building.
The new building will keep a colorful mural depicting the diversity of South End that’s currently on Harriet Tubman House, as well as the USES workspace, according to HuffPost.
However, it is still not enough compensation for the tenants and the many beneficiaries of the facility which has been vacant in months leading to the final sale date in November.
Jessica Bruno receives career coaching at the Tubman House and says she’d “be devastated to see this place close down.” Her six-year-old son also attends programs at Rutland Street.
She added, “it’s crucial for me, and it’s crucial for these children” to have such a facility that has the black and other ethnic minority’s interests at its core.
Over the years, residents have complained about Boston being made inaccessible to the black community which is mostly living a subliminal life in the community and it is gradually being made into an elitist locality with all the new infrastructures pouring in, Boston Herald reports.
“This is yet another one of the major Black institutions in Boston that is being bulled over and, in this case, torn down for condos,” former city councilor Tito Jackson told the outlet. “To lose these institutions is not only an institutional loss but it’s also a loss of services and a loss of history in particular.”
About 350 children and their families rely on the continued existence of USES for youth programming and other services.