For a while, the stars aligned and magic issued from the mostly Black female staff of Madison Park Development Corporation (MPDC). We pulled together. We helped each other. We made hopes, ideas, and a few dreams, come alive. We cooperated, innovated, and elevated the community we served and each other.
We came from Boston and other places North, the South, East, West, land and sea (Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Hawaii…) Candelaria, Jeanne, Mirtha, Jackie, Celia, Carolyn, Nyvia, Pattie, Pam, Paula, Michelle, Terrie, and before Jeanne – Danette. The men, good guys all, were in the minority – Richard and David. (This list is not exhaustive and doesn’t include the Roxbury Film Festival planning group. That was an incredible amount of Black female – and one Black male – activism. And later a white male was there, too, Jon. I will write about it another time…pinky promise.)
MPDC had a great flowering of buildings, programs, and community activism. There were buildings to be built, land that was vacant, and a few commercial buildings that were just waiting to be acquired. (In hindsight, MPDC could have acquired more commercial buildings of the Dudley Business District but housing was the number one goal at the time.) Later, outside opportunities and internal demons (some personal, some environmental) began culling from our midst and things changed. Money became more important than community.
It was all good in the sisterhood until it wasn’t. Change inevitably happens and can almost cause you to forget the magic before the change. Before the 2008 economic downturn. Before Roxbury’s riches were discovered yet, even before the pandemic, Nubian Square (formerly Dudley) has not fully recovered. It is not the bustling place it was when I first arrived in Boston as a college student.
A fond recollection of MPDC was a staff retreat we had. I so wish my memory was better and that I could recall more of that special day. Here’s what I do remember: It was facilitated by Jim Pritchard of the Boston Management Consortium. It was attended by members of MPDC’s board in addition to staff. I especially remember Mr. Vinny Haynes (of the accomplished Haynes family) with his broad smile, Roxbury memories, and wisdom.
In team-building exercises and personal testimony, we shared what community and MPDC as a steward for that community meant to us. It was held on the top floor of Smith House with its panoramic views of Roxbury and the city beyond. It was a feat of community activism that the building had been erected for seniors – mostly Black and brown on the corner of Ruggles Street and Shawmut Avenue.
One staff member shared the fact that a building in Madison Park Village held a heartbreaking set of memories for her. It was where she used to get high and where she lost her sister to drugs. That she could walk and work in the neighborhood that held such sorrow for her and be happy and proud to do so, feeling that she was contributing something and elevating her sister in her work, was incredible to me. Such grace.
I shared a memory that I used to come to another MPDC property, the Haynes House, frequently. My mother-in-law lived there. My first husband, who had been a City Housing Inspector, had helped get his mother an apartment on the first floor. It was originally supposed to be an office but he’d pulled some strings – this was back in the day when personal relationships and the promise of a stellar tenant could cull favors. (May they both rest in peace.) Haynes House was the first building erected on what became the beautiful Madison Park Village,
We were young and youngish. Optimistic. At that time, CDCs were not only endeavoring to build housing but also to improve the lives of community residents and so there were training programs and staff was hired as much for their community knowledge as their degrees. MPDC was one of the few community development corporations in the city that was actually headed by someone Black (two of its EDs were Black women) and had been from its beginning.
I got my job at MPDC from an ad I saw posted in the Bay State Banner. Danette Jones, then the ED, and the rest of the large committee of people who interviewed me, took a chance that I could bring to life what became ACT Roxbury (Arts, Culture, and Trade) – one of the first programs funded for the Cultural Economic Development Program of the Massachusetts Cultural Council. We did a whole lot of things to showcase and elevate the wealth of talent, culture, and history in Roxbury, partnering with Marcia Butman of The Bridges Program (later called Discover Roxbury) to do shopping tours of Roxbury businesses.
Some of us are still friends and in touch regularly. Others of us have lost touch. Three of us have passed. All of the original staff have moved on. Luckily, that magic and possibility are still a part of who we are and how we walk in the world. We know what a group of talented and committed Black, Brown (and one Japanese-America) women can do.
Madison Park Development Corporation continues under the leadership of a new ED, Leslie Bos who worked briefly with the original crew years ago). There’s a new generation of people getting important community work done at the DeWitt Center, an incredible building erected after the original small building that held MPDC was demolished. This building and the rehab of the townhouses and apartment buildings in Madison Park Village (MPV) are a legacy of Jeanne’s ability to broker deals to finance the purchase and rehabilitation of buildings. One of Dewitt Center’s core staff members grew up in the Village.
Those were heady, magical days full of meetings, events, long days, and incremental changes that happened right on the edges of Nubian Square beginning from the Whittier Street Housing Development, including the former Woolworth Building, and crossing through the square to rescue Hibernian Hall on Dudley Street). The struggle to revitalize the entire Square is an ongoing one with fits and starts, changing and sometimes competing visions and players, and different Mayors and politicians. No one has yet brought Nubian Square back to the future when there wasn’t an empty storefront and there was activity day and night. (Soon come…?)
One of the best gifts that MPDC gave me is that it led me to my husband when he attended a talk I was giving on cultural economic development and offered to make a PowerPoint for me so that the next time I gave a presentation, I would have one. He did the PowerPoint, asked me out a couple of weeks later, and we’ve never looked back.
I am happy that with the cleaning passage of time, the golden Black Female power of that time outweighs the fissures and changes that came later. We made magic.
Trading on Local Talent: ACT Roxbury and Madison Park Development Corporation (Boston, MA) featured in The Creative Community Builder’s Handbook: How to Transform Communities Using Local Assets, Arts & Culture by Tom Burrup, Fieldstone Alliance, 2006.
To be a force for positive change: An arts/development activist’s vision, work and prayer-life by Warren Bolon, Christian Science Sentinel, August 26, 2002.