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Roxbury Cultural District a Reality

In 1987, members of the Roxbury community including Barry Gaither, founder of the National Center of Afro-American Artists, state Rep. Byron Rushing and others began to lay the foundation for the creation of a Roxbury Cultural District.

The effort was no doubt back-burnered while an under-resourced community battled so many discriminatory practices on many fronts, among them redlining, mortgage scams and displacement.

 

But two years ago, this community-driven initiative was picked up by Madison Park Development Corporation, The Haley House Foundation and The American City Coalition, and a petition was filed to finally establish a Roxbury Cultural District.

This Friday, Roxbury celebrates the exciting new cultural district (there’s one in Fenway and another in the Back Bay) at the Bruce Bolling Municipal Building, one of the district’s newest assets, to raise money for the Cultural District programming.

On Saturday, which coincidentally marks the birthday of human rights activist Malcolm X, whose Dale Street home is within the Cultural District, there will be a free community block party between the historic First Church and the old Blair’s Foodland lot.

The mission of the Roxbury Cultural District is to harness the vibrant resilience of a community that, despite many trials and tribulations, never lost sight of the dream to bring forth the spirit of its history, music, arts and culture and to work for greater economic vitality in its neighborhoods.

The district now has 40 partners, including Dudley Square Main Streets and the Dudley Merchants, with seed money and support from the city of Boston, the Boston Foundation and others.

From Hibernian Hall, now a hub of theatrical events, to the hope for a fitting memorial on Parcel 3 to the late great Elma Lewis, a mentor to so many, to the celebration of our Black veterans who fought in every war starting with the Revolutionary, with the installation of the Gen. Edward O. Gourdin statue in Roxbury’s Gourdin Park and even the possibility of siting the new statue of Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King, in the neighborhood they called their second home, the excitement is palpable.

Greater Grove Hall Main Streets, while not in the district, is working on creating an app for a historic walking tour of all of Roxbury, which would surely include Prince Hall Grand Lodge, Muhammad’s Mosque and Franklin Park.

It may even be time to get the book I helped create, “African Americans in Boston: More than 350 Years,” updated and into an app.

People from outside of our city are always amazed by the breadth and depth of Boston’s black history and culture. The Cultural District gives us reason to celebrate Roxbury’s richness, including a vibrant art community, with internationally known artists like Paul Goodnight, Lois Mailou Jones and our own Napoleon Henderson Jones, whose “Roxbury Rhapsody” mural is in the building that bears my husband Bruce’s name.

Working with and for the Dudley Square community to finally realize this dream and connection to economic revitalization is an organization that is one of the area’s best kept secrets, The American Cities Coalition. Low key but effective is how Christine, Charlotte, Carole and the TAMCC crew like to keep their work.

A community based initiative, TAMCC was designed by my dear friend, developer Joseph Corcoran of Corcoran Jennison Cos., who was honored last week with Freedom House’s Champions of Freedom award for his work supporting community growth and development.

At just 1 year old, the new Roxbury Cultural District is in its infancy. It will need ongoing support to nurture it and help it grow.