The community group Redefining Our Community (ROC) held its fourth annual block party on Evans St. in Dorchester last Saturday, Sept. 22 from 2-6 p.m. The event — set up on the block between Corbet and Nelson Streets— included music, dance lessons, food, and a kids’ bouncy house, as well as raffle prices and a voter registration table.
ROC was created in response to the murder of 13-year-old Steven Odom on October 4, 2007. The group’s president Trena Matos-Ambroise said her young neighbor’s violent death weighed heavy on her heart, and that she, her daughter, and her husband asked their neighbors to sign a petition to start an organization in the community.
“We came together for violence prevention and safety issues, but once we were here, we realized that knowing one another and making a closer community also had a lot to do with preventing violence,” Matos-Ambroise said.
From there, ROC began putting up street signs, getting rid of squatters, and started preventing drug dealers from coming into the community.
Steven’s father Pastor Ronald Odom, who has been involved with ROC since its beginning, said, “We vowed that nothing like this would ever happen again, not on our watch.”
Odom said the group was named Redefining Our Community because the residents did not want to let outsiders define who they are. They no longer wanted to be stereotyped by people who didn’t know the community the way they did.
Before he died, Steven used to say that something needed to be done about the violence in the community. Now, his father is trying to fulfill that wish.
“My pain is powering me,” he said.
Odom said he and his wife Kim were recently in Cincinatti for a Children’s Defense Fund conference, and were on a panel with Maya Angelou and Trayvon Martin’s family and lawyer.
“We’ve come in contact with a lot of people as a result of the loss of our child, and we’re just determined that some good is going to come out of it,” he said.
Although the greater goal of ROC is violence prevention, the emphasis on bringing the neighborhood together is also extremely important.
“No longer will we walk in the house and just wave and say ‘Hi, how are you doing.’ We know each other now, and we determined that we’re going to do that from now on,” Odom said.
Residents aren’t the only ones who get involved with the block party. Local vendors like the Pit Stop Barbecue and Evens Joseph Dance Studio on Morton St. have provided their food and services for free each year. Elected officials such as State Representatives Linda Forry and Russell Holmes, and City Councillors Charles Yancey and Ayanna Pressley also stopped by to show their support.
Nicole Purvis, a manager of constituent services from Councillor Yancey’s office, said, “Every neighborhood needs something like this [block party], especially for the kids.”
Myrtle Huggins, a teacher at the Lee School, said it’s good for families, like the Odoms, to see how much people care about them and feel for their loss. She also said that it is important for the older members of ROC to take on a younger person as a missionary, so they can carry on the organization when the older generation is gone.
Throughout the afternoon, as residents flooded in and out of the block party, it was clear that ROC had succeeded in its goal of redefining – and uniting – the neighborhood.
“We want the community to know that we have strength,” Trena Matos-Ambroise said. “And we are going to stand together unified.”