Editor's Note: This article is part of a larger series of stories that was published in the Dec. 16, 2010 edition of the Dorchester Reporter.
Celeste Allan has raised seven children and like so many other mothers in Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan learned before her, she now knows that street violence is not solely measured by statistics and murder rates - but also by the hole it brings to the middle of her family.
Her second youngest child, 21-year old Richard Allan, was stabbed to death on an MBTA bus in Roxbury November 2. Allan acknowledges that her son was “no angel,” she had learned her son had fought with other young men from the neighborhood. But she insists that he was turning his life around in the months before his death, that his girlfriend announced that she was pregnant and the pair planned on raising the child together.
“Just because you’ve changed doesn’t mean the world around you changes,” Allan said. “And it’s during that time when you’re trying to turn your life around that you are most vulnerable, your past comes back.”
Richard Allan’s father died when he was seven, and with no male role models in Richard’s life, Allan said she struggled to ensure that he - as well as his siblings - stayed out of trouble while she worked to put food on their table.
Despite her efforts, Allan always felt that Richie and his four brothers needed someone who could teach them how to handle sidewalk conflicts responsibly.
“As a mother, it’s different, we’re taught to move past fights, that kind of thing,” Allan said. “But for young men, they’re expected to stand up and fight, they will if no one is there to tell them otherwise.”
In the months since her son’s death, Allan has received what she calls a surprising amount of support from other Mattapan residents, so much so in fact that it has helped provide solace to her during her time of darkness.
Allan said she was shocked when she returned home from the hospital on the day of her son’s murder to find church groups from throughout Mattapan had flooded the street, bringing with them food, condolences and prayer. That outpouring of attention continued for over a month, with food deliveries made to her home daily.
For the first time in her life, Allan said she did not have to cook Thanksgiving dinner, instead churchgoers filled her home with food and familiar faces, packing three tables and her kitchen.
Rather than remembering Richie through words, memories and prayer, Allan hopes to turn the compassion she saw in the weeks following her son’s death into a renewed conviction against street crime. She recalled watching the news for the first time since Richie’s murder to learn three men had been killed during a fight in Jamaica Plains, the story stuck a chord and told her that more needed to be done to stop tragedies like the one that claimed her sons life.
Allan’s plans are still in the works, but she said it’s become her conviction to change the way people view violence on Mattapan streets. She is considering making more permanent memorials for victims as a way to remind people that victims are more than numbers on a crime report, but said that for any real change to occur, neighbors must band together and show their commitment to peace before, not after a life is lost.
“What’s most in my heart is this community,” Allan said while looking down Blue Hill Avenue. “We need to come together as a family if we ever want to see things change.”