In Mattapan, basketball, a BBQ, and a search for peace on the streets

From left in the front row Bryce Latimer, Demi Latimer, Maleeya Collins and Jayden Shell dance with The Gifted Onez (TGO) during a break between basketball games. TGO performing arts company teaches life skills through the arts, using the tools of dance, rap, step, poetry, singing, and acting. Find them on Facebook @thegiftedonez

Last March, 32-year-old Kendrick Price, an assistant basketball coach at UMass Boston, died at a party in Dorchester. A month later, 74-year-old Eleanor Maloney, a grandmother, was killed in a crossfire that injured two others on Mattapan St. off Blue Hill Ave. In response to that violence, and other concerns, Boston City Council President Andrea Campbell launched a series of community meetings meant to address the persistence of violence on neighborhood streets.

Yet, as the summer moved along, the violence continued, and the casualties mounted, most recently with several murders in Dorchester, Mattapan, and Roxbury this month and the shootings of two men at the Mattapan Square T station early Monday morning.

All the while, community activists have not stopped in their search for solutions to the lawless behavior by some in their communities.

On Aug. 8, Campbell held a two-hour-plus hearing at the Mattapan Library to discuss how the city spends its money on efforts to curb violence.

“Homicides we all know are down, and obviously we want to commend the work of the BPD,” she said as the hearing began. “One way to respond is to ensure that we have adequate city resources going toward violence prevention as well as intervention.” She then drilled down for additional specifics, asking, “Who does it well?”

The City of Boston spends $12 million a year on prevention efforts through three programs: Shannon Grants, the Safe and Successful Youth Initiative (SSYI), and the Youth Development Fund. To give one example: SOAR Boston gets $3 million for street workers who engage young people in “prevention, intervention, and response.”

Typically, young people need to be handled differently than an “established gangster,” said Roy Martin, director of SSYI. For extreme cases, “group services do not work, and they’re not wise,” because they create new gangs. “We are talking about young people who are active in firearm violence . . . active shooters.” SSYI grants work to make a very small population of proven criminals safe and successful. Martin said, “The biggest challenge is following the client.”

Campbell, who represents District 4, has been organizing barbecues and meetings throughout the summer to connect people who have ideas about how to stop violence before it happens. On Aug.10, two days after the hearing, a Peace Day basketball tournament brought together first responders, members of the Boston Neighborhood Trauma Team, and people from many other organizations to play in the games and enjoy a barbecue.

After winning the semi-final game, a member of the Uptown Roslindale team, Steven Ulysee, was ecstatic. “We love all the love,” he said. “Doing this brings all these families together, and brings our cultures together so that we can be as one, and we can all be a family, and do this every year so that we can stop the crimes, and have more fun in community.”

During breaks between games, Kimberly Bridges lead The Gifted Onez in dance, step, rap and poetry performances. “Beautiful event,” She said. “The police are giving away food, sneakers. They’re giving away books and school bags.” She used to teach at the Timilty Middle School in Dorchester, mentored by Roger Harris “Best principal ever.” She added, “At the basketball tournaments, I got to see some of my old students from years ago.”

Karland Barrett, a onetime Marine,  set up two mobile massage seats on the lawn next to the basketball court. “People say I’m good with my hands,” said Barrett, the owner of 3R Massages (3rmassages.com). “I wanted to put my hand at building my own brand, my own organization, so that I could be in charge of instead of answering to someone else every day.”

Nearby, Olive sat on the bleachers in the afterglow of a massage. “It think it’s a great thing.” She said. “We all need to get together and have fun, and do things that are peaceful and enjoyable.”

Sitting between the Trauma Team and the coach of The Boston Lion Track Club, Oludare Muyid promoted his Grandare clothing line. “It’s all about happiness. You got to think about your mental health,” said Muyid, a junior in accounting and marketing at UMass Boston. “Think about what you’re passionate about. What do you like to do, and now think about how you can monetize that.”