On Saturday, July 12, residents of Hopkins Street hosted Mayor Marty Walsh, other officials and peace activists from around the city to dedicate a parcel of city-owned land as the Steven P. Odom Serenity Garden. Graced by ancient oak and mulberry trees, the shady spot will now offer residents a gathering place and a chance to commune with nature.
According to event organizer Faylis Matos, the garden represents the shared vision of the neighborhood group Redefining Our Community, known simply as ROC.
“Often Dorchester is stigmatized as a place of darkness, a dangerous place,” said Matos. “But we won’t allow people who don’t live here to define us.”
Along the street, flowerbeds, a flourishing tomato patch, and fresh paint on many houses challenged any such stereotype. The garden will be further inspiration for beautifying the neighborhood, Matos said.
By some accident, the 5000 sq. ft. plot has remained in its natural state as the neighborhood built up around it. With the help of the Department of Neighborhood Development, the land will now be protected for the community.
“We don’t want it to be plowed over or have anything built on it,” said Matos.
She also expects the space to be used for neighborhood gatherings and performances. During the dedication, an interactive yoga dance and performances by vocalists and a rapper gave a sense of how the space can be used.
The garden has been named for Steven Odom, a 13 year-old neighborhood resident who was shot dead just steps from his front door, the innocent victim of a gang dispute. His parents, Rev. Ron and Kim Odom, pastors of nearby True Vine Church, continue to live in the neighborhood. Since their son’s death in 2009, the Odoms have turned their grief into activism, becoming leaders in Boston’s grassroots movement to combat urban violence.
The murder of Steven, a thoughtful boy whose round face looked out at the gathering from several large photos placed under the trees, also catalyzed the formation of ROC, a civic group that hosts regular meetings and summertime block parties. According to ROC founder Trena Matos-Ambroise, the whole neighborhood shared in the grief of the Odum family. Somehow they wanted to keep the same thing from happening to other children.
“So we got a clipboard and went knocking door to door,” she said. “And at every door we knocked on, people signed up to be a part of ROC.”
The group meets monthly and works closely with the police, according to neighborhood resident Maggie Droineaud.
“We keep watch on the neighborhood and know what is going on,” she said. “So we make sure our houses are safe and our kids are safe.”
But ROC is not all about crime. The group participates in Boston’s annual citywide clean-up, known as Boston Shine, and holds regular performances and events.
Mayor Walsh praised the work of ROC.
“We have to redefine our community and creating safe spaces is the most tangible way to do that,” he said. The strong sense of community that ROC embodies is what he believes is needed for change.
Walsh also thanked the Odoms.
“Often when a shooting happens, the family leaves. But by staying, this family has brought a message of peace to the entire city,” he said. “Steven’s life was here.”
Kim Odom read from her son’s peace journal, found in his locker at the Timilty School. It has become her guide for how to go about honoring his life. He had written: "It’s a shame that somebody gets shot and somebody gets killed every day. That’s why we seriously need peace."
Finally everyone moved onto the land itself and recited a pledge to honor Steven’s memory by respecting the land and using it for the benefit of the community. Then it was time to share some barbecue, listen to music and talk with friends under the trees.