Back to School BBQ in Uphams Corner resounds with calls for peace in the Mendes Legacy manner

Mayor Walsh poses with neighborhood kids at last Saturday's Back to School BBQ. Dan Sheehan photo

Calls for peace were the focus of the 20th annual Bobby Mendes Peace Legacy Back to School Barbecue last Saturday in Uphams Corner. Dozens of neighborhood kids lifted two fingers in the air to form peace signs as they posed for a photo with Mayor Martin Walsh before lining up to receive backpacks stuffed with school supplies and adorned with peace symbol buttons.

The event, now two decades old, was created by local activist Isaura Mendes, a mother who dedicated her life to community engagement and anti-violence advocacy after losing two sons, Bobby and Matthew, to street violence. 

“We got a good turnout,” said Mendes, smiling as she watched a throng of kids line up to receive their backpacks. “It makes me so happy.”

The backpacks are a hallmark of the event, which this year also featured a full barbecue spread, a bouncy house, and other kid-friendly activities spanning the length of Groom Street in Uphams Corner, a road also known as Bobby Mendes Way. State Rep. Liz Miranda, who was in attendance, praised Mendes as a fixture for survivors of gun violence in Dorchester, particularly those in the Cape Verdean community.

“I think for me, as a survivor before I was a state Rep, Isaura has always exhibited for the community the strength of turning your pain into power, and for the kids, as you can see, there’s hundreds of kids in need in our community, and for her to be consistent, and always providing for her community has been a really powerful message for people who are sort of new to the field or new activists,” Miranda said.

The representative, who lost a brother to gun violence, noted the significance of the event after Alfredo “Freddy” Centeio, a resident of Groom Street, was fatally shot earlier this month.

“When my brother died, one of the first people I called was Isaura, just because she’s always been that champion in honoring her children by helping the community,” said Miranda. “It’s a really important thing. Of course, there was a loss, a homicide of one of the young men who lived on this street, and so for this event to happen that’s positive right after that, I think also helps the community heal.”

Mendes said Centeio, 30, regularly attended the back to school barbecue over the years. He was Boston’s 25th homicide victim of the year.
Above, Isaura Mendes, City Councillor Annissa Essaibi-George, and State Rep. Liz Miranda share a moment. Below, Mayor Walsh poses with neighborhood kids. At left, a volunteer distributes a free backpack to a grateful recipient.