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A Reflection on the Panel – Hear Us, See Us, Understand Us: Cultivating Community in Boston, Roxbury, and Other Neighborhoods of Color

Hello! My name is Savita Maharaj and I am a third-year English major with minors in Africana Studies and Writing Studies. I am so grateful I had the opportunity to work as a program assistant for Africana Studies this fall semester. I am sure most of you reading this have been spammed with all my emails at some point between July and now. Anyways, I am so lucky I got the privilege to help plan and facilitate the next iteration of “The Fight to be Seen, Heard, and Understood” event series, “Hear Us, See Us, Understand Us: Cultivating Community in Boston, Roxbury, and Other Neighborhoods of Color”

I have lived in Dorchester, Boston my entire life, and part of my goal coming into this co-op was to build connections between Northeastern and local nonprofits and community organizations. Oftentimes the narrative associated with Roxbury is negative and misconstrued. This panel had several goals to challenge this by (1) raising awareness for the community northeastern is situated in (meaning looking at Roxbury from a different perspective, emphasizing the power of narrative), (2) giving folks the tools/materials to have more accessibility to Boston through community orgs by engaging with Roxbury/ learning about it through various opportunities like volunteering, service-learning, and coops, and (3) building community between panelist and students by creating a space where students can ask a question and have relevant conversations. I thought the best way to create this panel was through experience and including a wide range of nonprofits that work to illuminate the Boston community. 

The first person who came to mind was my own sister, Melissa Maharaj, Senior Youth Director of Dream, a nonprofit organization dedicated to closing the opportunity gap through the use of village mentoring. Melissa had dedicated her life to working within the communities we grew up in (Roxbury and Dorchester). I thought her experience and perspective would play a critical role in speaking to the work these organizations do as well as the work that still needs to be done. Dream primarily works with youth and elderly and I wanted the organizations included to be as inclusive as possible. 

That being a reason why I asked 826 Boston’s writing room director, Nakia Hill, to participate as well. 826 Boston is a “nonprofit youth writing and publishing organization that empowers traditionally underserved students ages 6-18 to find their voices, tell their stories, and gain communication skills to succeed in school and in life.” I have worked with 826 Boston and Nakia numerous times, from interning with them in high school to working with John D. O’Bryant Writer’s Room, acting as a Service-Learning TA (whose class partnered with 826 Boston) for first-year writing. Their mission is critical and I am constantly in awe of Nakia alongside 826 Boston’s dedication to the community.

Lastly, I wanted to include another nonprofit organization that really highlighted this idea of connectivity and togetherness. Last semester I came into contact with the amazing Cara Solomon, Director of Everyday Boston, “a nonprofit that connects neighbors across a divided city through the sharing of stories. Story by story, we’re cultivating a culture of curiosity and connection across Boston.” Everyday Boston connects everyone they come into contact with regardless of age, gender, race, background, etc in an attempt to bring together a sense of community and togetherness. Cara is an incredibly thoughtful human who never fails to put the community in front of her own needs. 

I thought this panel would work to bring about the much-needed conversation about topics that tend to make us feel vulnerable or uncomfortable like race, access, privilege, and so forth. The community panel also highlighted all the work these organizations have been doing to hold themselves accountable, adjust to effects COVID-19 has disproportionately had on Black and Brown communities, as well as being about a much-needed form of conversation. We had the legendary, Ted Landsmark, partake in this discussion as the moderator as he is an expert on the Boston community as well as carries a wealth of knowledge regarding these topics.

I was in awe of the fluidity of the conversation as well as the honesty. We all are living in a time where we are constantly being overworked and under copious amounts of stress. Nonprofit organizations work with some of the most at-need populations and I think this conversation really brought to light the importance of their work as well as the growing need for access and support. I learned and saw first hand the critical need and desire for connectivity and community within these neighborhoods. The panelists also did a great job of reflecting on ways Northeastern as a whole could work towards better serving these communities.

I am so proud and happy to have been a part of such an important conversation that addressed so many issues we are facing today, one that brought about a sense of hope and community between us. I am also so grateful to Nicole Aljoe, Mika Morikawa, Ted Landsmark, Melissa Maharaj, Nakia Hill, and Cara Solomon for being a part of this and making it happen. 

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