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Do the hustle

Block party celebrates Donna Summer and equality

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Do the hustle
Disco fans gathered at City Hall Plaza for the third annual Donna Summer Roller Disco, sponsored by the City of Boston and Together Boston. (Photo: Photo: Celina Colby)

A man in a silver sequined suit roller skates through a crowd of over 1,000 people. Trailing behind him is a conga line of movers and shakers straight out of “Saturday Night Fever.” Bell-bottoms abound. Afros fly free. Tie-dye experiences an unfortunate renaissance.

This is the third annual Donna Summer Roller Disco, put on by the City of Boston and Together Boston to celebrate the life of the famous diva. Locals and visitors flock to City Hall Plaza every year to dance the night away to the tunes of the ’70s legend. Toddlers dance next to grandparents, teens roller skate with their friends, drag queens flaunt their best platform heels and fringe vests. Organizer David Wedge from Together Boston surveys the party from the DJ booth, smiling approvingly. He says, “The spirit of Donna is alive and well in the city of Boston.”

Summer was born and raised in Mission Hill. When she passed away in 2012, her nephew Robert Grant began raising funds to have a mural put up at her old high school, Jeremiah E. Burke High in Dorchester. His desire to memorialize his aunt led to the creation of the roller disco. Grant couldn’t be happier with the result.

“She was always ahead of her time,” he says. “She would have loved this, it brings together all races, all genders, and all ages.”

Summer was well known for her support of gay rights, even in a time when gay culture was largely hidden from mainstream society. At this year’s disco on Friday, June 17, Walsh set up a condolence book for the City of Orlando in light of the recent nightclub shooting. Summer’s message of tolerance resonates more strongly than ever since the tragedy. The line to sign the book was steady all night and Walsh will mail the finished product to the Mayor of Orlando. It was a solemn, but necessary reminder of the injustices that still need to be fought.

Events like this bring out the true essence of Boston. A collection of unlikely individuals comes together with their best boas and their best moves, to dance the night away with hundreds of their closest friends. The spirit of Donna Summer really was alive in the night. Strangers embraced in front of the Orlando condolence book, couples kissed to the beat of “Last Dance” and there wasn’t a negative word or an unhappy soul in sight. Aside from dancing and skating, the event featured a special call-in from Donna’s sister Mimi. She said, “I know if she was here she would say, pursue your dreams, love one another, and never stop having faith.”

When acts of violence cause us to question the goodness of humanity, community is what pieces us back together. In the name of Donna Summer, and of equality, the people of Boston clasped each other’s hands, put on their best headdresses and hustled like their lives depended on it.

The Donna Summer memorial mural can be seen at Jeremiah E. Burke High School at 60 Washington Street in Dorchester.