On Friday night, community members from the Codman Square and Four Corners neighborhoods gathered at the Great Hall for the 2014 Hidden Heroes/Sheroes award night, co-hosted by the Codman Square Neighborhood Council and the Greater Four Corners Action Coalition.
The event was started over twenty years ago by Rev. Dr. Bill Loesch, a long-time activist and local leader, in order to officially recognize unsung heroes in the community. The evening also serves as a fundraiser, with the goal of raising enough funds to give two $1,500 scholarships to local high school seniors who have demonstrated particular dedication to civic life and community engagement.
The event grants awards in several different categories: The Neighborhood Leadership Award, given to community members who have effected change through grassroots leadership; The Civic Leadership Award, given to community members who have brought change through public policy; The Millenium Award, which recognizes community members who have helped realize the goals of the Millennium Community Contract, a ten-year plan for the Codman Square and Four Corners neighborhoods developed between 2011 and 2013 by the Millennium Ten Initiative, a coalition of community partners, residents and government agencies led by the Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation (NDC); and the Youth Leadership Award, which recognizes teenagers who have inspired their peers through community engagement.
This year’s winners of the Leadership Award were Alveta Haynes, Janice Martin-Porter and Reverend Mark Scott. Hayne has been instrumental in bringing about the $375,000 renovation of the Erie/Ellington Playground near the Franklin Park Zoo and spearheading a residential parking program for those living near the new Geneva/Four Corners stop on the Fairmount commuter line.
Martin-Porter has been involved in community leadership since she founded a local neighborhood association in the early 1990s and has most recently been involved with the Four Corners Main Street Board and in the restructuring and renovation of the Fields Corner MBTA station. City Councilor Charles Yancey presented her with a proclamation from City Council that proclaimed November 21, 2014 to be “Janice Martin-Porter Day” in the City of Boston.
Reverend Mark Scott is a founding member of the Greater Four Corners Action Coalition, one of the founders and current board members of the Ella J. Baker House, and also served previously in the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives as Associate Director for Outreach. He spoke openly about the ways in which the neighborhood has changed over the past thirty years.
“I love this community, and I love living in it. It’s fairly easy to love, but it’s important to remember, it wasn’t always that way,” he said. His comments drew murmurs of agreement from an audience who shared many of the same memories as him.
“A night wouldn’t go by [in the 1990s] where you wouldn’t hear gunshots throughout the night” in the Codman Square or Four Corners area, he said. He referred to the importance of collective action in creating positive change, concluding, “A lot of people have done a lot of work for a long time” to improve safety and living conditions in the area.
The Civic Leadership Award was given to Gonzalo and Diana Diaz, the managers of America’s Food Basket on Washington Street. Event organizer and local activist Cynthia Loesch recognized the grocery store for halting its sale of tobacco products this past August, following three years of activism from the Codman Square Health Center-affiliated group, BOLD (Breath Of Life Dorchester) Teens.
The youth activist group, which Loesch founded sixteen years ago as a teenager, gained city-wide prominence when it successfully pushed the City of Boston to ban pharmacies from selling cigarettes in 2008 after years of lobbying. Earlier this year, the group had another big victory when CVS announced that it was going to extend its halt on the sale of tobacco products to all of its stores. In his brief comments while accepting the award, Gonzalo Diaz referenced his mother’s history of smoking as an impetus in his decision to stop the sale of tobacco products.
The Millennium Award was given to Meg Campbell and Thabiti Brown of Codman Academy. Campbell co-founded the school in 2001 and is also the first charter school leader to serve on the Boston School Committee, where she co-chairs the School Quality Work Group. She was not in attendance on Friday night. Brown, the school’s first and current principal, referenced his commitment to the community as changing his life plans. He said he originally intended to stay in Boston for two or three years, but has now been here 15 years due to his love for the community.
The Youth Leadership Award – and the $3,000 in scholarship money that the event successfully raised – was given to Chantay and Naomi Robinson, Codman Square locals who have been involved with the BOLD Teens group since 2011. The sisters are two out of a set of triplets. While both young women are still awaiting admissions decisions from schools, Chantay says she hopes to attend University of New Haven to major in forensic science, while Naomi hopes to attend Quinnipiac University to major in athletic training. Chantay adds that she hopes to come back to Boston in the future to continue the civic works she has begun here.
The event was attended by Representative Russell Holmes and City Councillor Charles Yancey. Yancey did not pass up the opportunity to mention his long-time push for a high school in Mattapan in a conversation after the award ceremony. “We are going to make it happen in three to four years,” he said. He also said he was a big fan of the Hidden Heroes/Sheroes Event, describing it as “a wonderful way of building a sense of community.”
While the focus Friday was on the accomplishments of the past, the groups that helped plan the event already have several initiatives lined up for the future. BOLD Teens is looking to expand its successes to convince Stop & Shop to follow CVS’s lead in banning the sale of tobacco products at all of its stores. They are hoping for nationwide impact, as the chain’s headquarters are located in Quincy.
The Codman Square Neighborhood Council is bringing back its winter farmer’s markets, deemed Fresh Fridays, which will be held in Codman Square’s Great Hall every Friday from 3 to 7 p.m. starting in January. Vendors will be selling locally grown produce, fresh-baked goods and seafood. The Council is also working in partnership with the Codman Square NDC to increase the stock of affordable housing in the neighborhood. ‘We want to ensure that people who want to stay here can stay here, and will not be priced out,’ says Marie-Armel Theodat, president of the Codman Square Neighborhood Council.
The Action for Regional Equity group, for which Greater Four Corners Action Coalition sits on the steering committee, is also hosting a summit entitled Race, Class & Social Justice at the Front Line on December 5 and 6 at 150 Mount Vernon Street. Those interested can call GFCAC at 617-436-0289.
Nominations for Hidden Heroes are submitted all year round, so those hoping to nominate someone for 2015 can start now by contacting the Codman Square Neighborhood Council. Selections are made by the end of the summer.