Boston: Art, Space, Community

~ The Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry (UUUM) based at First Church in Roxbury has been offering the RYP youth development program since 1992. This year-round program is dedicated to supporting and empowering young people living in Roxbury and other sections of Boston. Recently, the Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC) collaborated with student volunteer Ellie Harrison, who is studying for her master's in museum education at Tufts University, to engage with the participants in a six-week summertime program.

The project was prompted by the designation earlier this year of First Church as a Boston Landmark. Constructed in 1804 as a meeting house, First Church is the oldest wood-frame church in Boston. The study report written for the site includes a research report by Aabid Allibhai, a doctoral candidate in African and African American Studies at Harvard University, titled "Race & Slavery at the First Church in Roxbury: The Colonial Period (1631-1775)." This report examines the history of racism at First Church and tells of at least 58 Black and Indigenous men, women, and children whom white parishioners held in bondage.

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The RYP summer session embarked on what it titled "The Names Project" which aimed to teach participants about city streets as well as some of the people enslaved in their community during the 18th century. UUUM's youth programs manager Curtis Santos said that it had been an amazing journey to see all the artwork created by participants that was influenced by this knowledge.

In addition to learning about their community's history, participants also visited the "Slavery in Boston" Exhibit which opened in June at Faneuil Hall. This exhibition was about five years in the making and led by the City Archaeology Program.

To celebrate completion of their six-week session, RYP opened an art gallery where participants performed poetry and music alongside visual artworks. Parents and community members attended this event to honor these young people for their hard work and dedication throughout this project. RYP Program Coordinator Nahisha Jackson said that she had seen these young people grow so much through this focus on raising awareness about themselves, their communities, their place in them, and how they can have an impact there.

One 15-year-old participant explained why they contributed to this exhibition saying "I explore more parts of my community within my art...I think knowing where your community is and being present in your community is important for your wellbeing."

Filed Under: Government, City

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