Commentary: A New Way to be Boston Strong

By Stefanie O'Shea

This is Marathon Week, and as the president of the Dorchester Running Club, it is like homecoming for us. In a typical year, we would head to Hopkinton or Copley together on Marathon Monday to joyously run for Martin or watch our friends cross that famous finish line. But not this year. This year we were alone. On my solo run this weekend I went to Copley and it was silent: no scaffolding, no throngs of tourists, no runners, just a few lone people in face masks. The scene hit me hard. I felt the pain of our community missing out on something that brings so much joy, and I was reminded that there was so much more to lose and that many are suffering much worse.

On that run, I also ran past Little House, where for the last year I have worked with the team at College Bound Dorchester building its Boston Uncornered solution to urban poverty. Another pang of hurt hit, because I miss that building, I miss big bear hugs from the mentors we call College Readiness Advisors, seeing our students and hearing their stories of resilience and hope. There too I felt both pain and my good fortune. I still get to “see” my team every day on Zoom meetings, get to hear their voices on calls and feel the impact of their connections.

My job is to support. My life calling is to bring people together to be connected, to share and it's all pain and gratitude right now and I don't know where to go.

How do I best support my children and their at-home learning needs, while my husband, who is considered essential, is working in biotech? I can contribute to pizza funds for healthcare workers, the children create cards for EMTs and the police, but what about the less obvious people in our community who need support? The maps of those who are sick and dying are the deepest color purple right in my zip code. The students who we serve and people like them are a hidden population. I know that like me they are anxious about what is happening and, like me, they must take care of family, bills, and themselves, but with significantly less resources, financially and otherwise. Many of them won’t be receiving the stimulus check; most do not have access to or trust many of the government resources that fill our news feeds. Life before this economic crisis was already a financial burden for them and employment options were difficult even during our city’s previously low unemployment rate. What do we, as their neighbors, do to make sure they are supported through and after this?

I don’t know the solution, I barely even know what day it is, but I do know that finding time and space to think about others brings me joy. I know that no matter how down I am, I can serve and as I do so, I am lifted up. I wonder if we all use this time to think about the people who are suffering in silence, the hidden populations in neighborhoods that are being the hardest hit by COVID-19, where racial inequity already immensely affects health, income and outcomes in life. As we proudly share our Boston Strong memories, let us remember all Bostonians and think about how we can support everyone.

Stefanie O’Shea is the government relations and partnerships manager for College Bound Dorchester.