Codman Square hopes for strength through unity, connections

A collective concern for the well-being of Codman Square and curiosity among residents and neighborhood leaders eager to meet folks with similarly gregarious mindsets brought a crowd of about 70 people to the Dorchester YMCA last Saturday for a forum to discuss the quality of life in the Codman Square neighborhood.

The Codman Square Connection, coordinated by 21 year-old community activist Cynthia Loesch and the BOLD Teens organization that she leads, was a chance for prominent leaders and more inconspicuous residents alike to network. Representatives from city agencies, nonprofits, and small businesses had an opportunity to explain their stake in Codman Square to the crowd at an open microphone.

The gathering was also an opportunity for Loesch to roll out a new community website designed in the same spirit as the open-mic meeting. Codmansquare.org was conceived as a community-managed site for residents to learn about services and events in their neighborhood, and for community leaders to advertise those same opportunities.

Dozens of people spoke during the three-hour forum.

Community relations officials from the Suffolk County District Attorney's office urged young people to apply for internships or shadow court workers during their summer break. Reverend Dr. Bill Loesch, father of event organizer Cynthia Loesch, spoke broadly of the blight that the combination drugs and guns have caused in urban communities.

Under the current of proud optimism was a genuine concern for violence in the neighborhood, and quite a few speakers challenged their neighbors to buck what they described as a tendency by the media to magnify the reality of violent crime in Codman Square and other city neighborhoods into a portrait of their community that was almost entirely negative.

Young people, most of whom were members of the BOLD Teens group headed by Loesch, described a vicious cycle of negative media portrayal and unemployment: out of work teens, they said, are portrayed negatively by the media. That negative portrayal, in turn, makes it more difficult to find a job.

Eighteen year-old Shanaya Coke, a Codman Square resident and Bold Teen member, said that many of her friends were frustrated by their inability to find work.

"I thought it was important that people said we should not have so much negativity towards youths, because crime is not always committed by youths, and we need more jobs to keep kids off the streets," Coke told the Reporter. "Jobs can help bridge the gap between youth and adults."

BPD Captain James Claibourne, commander of the B-3 district that includes portions of Codman Square west of Washington Street, took the idea of a gap between youths and parents a step farther by suggesting that greater understanding was needed not only between those two groups, but with police officers as well. He said dialogues between officers, young people and their parents would be a valuable development.

"Our new way of doing business is we lock up who we need to lock up, but we try to give kids a chance," said Claibourne. "When you ask a group of kids, 'What do you need to do to stop causing trouble?' It's usually a job."

Even if the gathering was small, it was a chance for anyone &endash; and especially young people &endash; to speak in front of key community and city leaders as high-level as Mayor Thomas Menino.

"What this is all about this afternoon is connections," said Menino. "Helping the police, the community, work together. The things you have going here, we're going to learn how to tell the story better than we do."

Conspicuously absent from the positive-minded forum was Pastor Bruce Wall, who in recent months has produced a glut of press releases calling for a "state of emergency" in the ten block radius around his church in Codman Square and accusing community leaders and elected officials of a complacent attitude toward the threat of violent crime in that neighborhood.

Loesch said that all Codman Square residents had been invited through flyers posted throughout the community, and that Wall had been invited specifically via e-mail.

"Pastor Wall has a history of not working with the community," said Loesch. "Even at the march that will take place on March 11, I know a lot of people from outside Boston might show up, but there won't necessarily be a lot of people from Codman Square there."

Speaking to the Reporter as people shuffled out of the YMCA last Saturday, Loesch said she was pleased with the way people had openly and enthusiastically discussed the strengths and needs of the Codman Square community.

"It's the first time so many groups have come together in this way," said Loesch. "They made the connection today."