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In Grove Hall, residents celebrate long-sought community center

The Wu administration estimates the center will cost between $45 million and $60 million.

Saraya Wintersmith, GBH News
In Grove Hall, residents celebrate long-sought community center
Mayor Michelle Wu announces the city's plan to build a new community center in Grove Hall. Saraya Wintersmith photo

Mayor Michelle Wu announced Thursday a forthcoming stand-alone community center for Boston’s Grove Hall neighborhood, an area residents say has long been neglected under previous city leadership even as they celebrated news of the new facility.

“We know that a whole lot of people have been fighting for this, praying for this, working for this for a very, very long time,” said the mayor, noting that several community centers housed within school buildings can only offer limited programming according to school day schedules.

“In neighborhoods like this one, it is especially important that our residents have safe, comfortable, resilient, inspiring spaces without having to expose everyone to the health risks of heat and the elements,” the mayor said.

The Grove Hall neighborhood sits on the border between Dorchester and Roxbury and houses Jeremiah E. Burke High School, the site of a pair of recent violent incidents within the last two months — one shooting last week and one stabbing in September. Both were altercations between Burke students.

“What an important day this is,” said Michael Kozu, co-director of the neighborhood services nonprofit Project R.I.G.H.T. Kozu and the organization represents one of the most persistent and vocal advocates for the facility as far back as the early 1980s.

“At the same time, while we’re celebrating, I also view this day with mixed emotions. The recent violence reminds us what we must take on,” Kozu said, pointing to the ways the neighborhood has been neglected.

“We need to remember how Grove Hall has been treated,” he continued. “The Burke lost accreditation in 1994 and the school department at that time allocated $4 million for its minimal renovation while at the same time allocating $25 million a piece for Latin, Latin Academy, East Boston and Hyde Park High School,” Kozu said. “That’s not fair.”

“Today, Mayor Wu is taking a major step to change how racism [manifests in] allocated resources in Boston.”

Multiple public officials pointed to their youth being shaped by programming and relationships forged in city community center facilities.

Justice Porter, a junior at the Burke High School said the forthcoming center would be impactful and beneficial for students and the surrounding neighborhood.

“We need help with everything that’s going on in our community. Growing up, learning how to become an adult, dealing with different circumstances that may be so hard to deal with [like] trauma,” she said, pointing to community meetings as one of the rare, uncomfortable spaces where students are asked to publicly process trauma.

“I know so many students that need either academic help, emotional, mental,” she continued. “They don’t know who to reach out to, or how to deal with it and they just close up, they bottle it up and they don’t speak about it and that cannot happen…This community center would help us not only grow up…but it would help us for the rest of our lives.”

Virginia Morrison, executive director of the Grove Hall Neighborhood Development Corporation, suggested the forthcoming center be named after civil rights activist Jean McGuire who was stabbed while walking her dog in Franklin Park earlier this week.

McGuire, 91, was the first Black woman to win a seat on the Boston School Committee while it was still an elected body. She also co-founded and served as longtime director of METCO voluntary school desegregation program, through which students from Boston are bused to suburban schools.

“While we live, let’s show honor, respect to our freedom fighters,” said Morrison to cheers. “Let’s name this center after our freedom fighter Jean McGuire!”

The Wu administration estimates the center will cost between $45 million and $60 million. Construction is expected to begin in 2024.

Saraya Wintersmith covers Boston City Hall for GBH News.