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Disco diva Donna Summer immortalized in Burke High School mural

Shanice Maxwell
Disco diva Donna Summer immortalized in Burke High School mural
The Donna Summer mural, located in the Jeremiah E. Burke High School, was created by the students of the Dream Builders Youth project and unveiled on June 13, 2014.

Donna Summer

More than 75 community members and Donna Summer fans gathered at the Jeremiah E. Burke High School recently to celebrate the launch of a mural tribute to the famed disco queen who died in 2012.

City officials joined in with a diverse crowd of locals and a live disc jockey as the youths of the Dream Builders Youth Project spearheaded an evening showcasing arts and entertainment to honor Donna Summer’s legacy.

The Dream Builders Youth Project is a Boston empowerment initiative designed to motivate and equip kids to pursue their passions and desired careers. The group devised the mural project as a way to honor Summer, who was raised in Boston and attended Burke High School.

“The program was really started when Donna Summer passed away; it started off as a conversation of how can we preserve her legacy, how can we do programming under her name to inspire the next Donna Summer?” said Justin Springer, co-founder of the Dream Builders Youth Project. “Her nephew is someone I grew up with in the music industry, so when she passed away I called him because I felt like it was just another story in Boston, and the conversation led to us to starting Dream Builders [in May].”

The Dream Builders project has turned into life coaching, Springer said, teaching local youth to follow their passions but to attach a purpose to it. “I’m glad we could do that in her name,” he said. “As a Bostonian, it makes a difference for kids to learn about someone who came from where they did and excelled.”

With Jelani Lynch as the MC, the audience at the mural tribute was encouraged to help teach students to take ownership of their lives. Sharing pieces of his own story, he stressed the need for adults to support youth in making those initial steps and assisting them along their journey.

“We’re always taught that someone else has control and as young people we don’t really have control — so the message is ownership,” said Lynch, who was also head facilitator of the project. “We teach them to take what they have, their natural gifts and abilities, and seek out resources to become a productive citizen and take their dreams to the next level.”

After the unveiling, students from the Dream Builders Project shared poetry, performed a dance routine and showed a video featuring the Burke’s principal, students and faculty as well as inspirational words by poet Maya Angelou.

Audience members gave standing ovations and nodded in agreement as the evening progressed.

Bittersweet expressions washed over her family members’ faces as clips of Summer were shown, leaving the crowd in total silence.

But before long, Summer tribute singer Rainere Martin took center stage, performing some of her greatest hits, and the atmosphere in the room became jovial again.

“I wanted people to take away from the event that anyone can accomplish anything,” said Robert Grant, co-founder of the Dream Builders Youth Project and nephew of Donna Summer. “Also, Boston has to acknowledge their own. There are a lot of great artists and great people who come out of this city but we gotta start recognizing it and making sure that we preserve legacies; and not just celebrities either, anybody could leave a legacy, you just have to apply yourself and make it happen.

“Overall it was a big event and I think it went well,” Grant added.

“I went to the Jeremiah E. Burke, class of 2003,” said Alex Owumi, community member, international pro basketball player and author. “I came to support the movement, donate; I just see a lot of good things coming out of the Burke.”

Community member Rufus Faulk said, “I wanted to support and encourage our young people and this has been a great opportunity to do that. This was about reclaiming their history and legacy, because Donna Summer is from this community, and they have the potential to be that and to achieve even more. I think this is a great first step.”