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Roxbury Community College turns 50

Ronald Mitchell
Roxbury Community College turns 50
Happy 50th Anniversary Roxbury Community College

When a college reaches 50 years old it is customary the talk about it in glowing terms, using phrases like “beacon of education” and “cherished asset of the community.”

Most people applaud and heap praise on the institution without understanding the struggle involved in creating it. When it comes to Roxbury Community College, that struggle was long, and took a group of dedicated community members five years to make that dream a reality. Once the institution was founded, it took an additional struggle to give it a permanent home, one worthy of the community it serves. Now, 50 years later, it’s not only a place of opportunity and higher learning, but also a physical symbol of Boston’s Black community’s commitment to educating our own people here in our own community.

Like the stately pillars of MIT’s main building #4 on Mass. Ave. that welcomes you to Cambridge after crossing over the Charles River, RCC’s beautiful arts and culture theater building perched on one side of Roxbury Crossing and the iconic Reggie Lewis Center on the other, provide a grand entrance in to our community. The structure illustrates to all comers that we believe in education and we demand from our state the resources to lift our people.

Here in New England we live in the educational capital of the Western world. More people attend schools of higher learning here than in anywhere else in the world, with only two exceptions: Moscow and Beijing. Those two cities are the capitals of large countries, so it’s easy to understand why they educate more people. 

It was not lost on the members of our Black community in the mid-1960s, that we deserved to benefit from this region’s long and storied educational past. Schools like Harvard, Yale and Princeton, with founding dates that go back multiple centuries, are no more important to their communities’ legacy than RCC has become to ours. Because, like them, RCC gives to its student and, in turn, its community the opportunity to learn and become more prosperous than before.

The overriding mission of Roxbury Community College has been and always will be a beacon of affordable, quality education, welcoming all. It was finally founded in 1973, and was housed in a few different locations before moving in 1988 to its 16-acre, six-building campus houses with specialized science and computer laboratories.

As RCC’s first president Lawrence Johnson noted in the June 21, 1973 issue of the Banner announcing the school’s opening, it took an advisory group from 1967 until that year to open. In the same article, Johnson also opined that he hoped the community would be patient as the school established itself. “I hoped the Roxbury community is going to expect us to be Harvard in one year. Harvard is some 300 years old and even Harvard stumbled and fell and scratched its knees when it started.”

And, yes, over the first 50 years RCC has had it stumbles, but over time it has grown into the kind of educational institution that we in  the Roxbury community can be proud of.

When the powers that be wanted RCC to be a satellite school of Bunker Hill Community College, Chuck Turner and many others in the community stood up and demanded that we keep our institution. And in the end, we did. As founding member Angel Page and architect of the RCC’s current campus Don Lee recalled, the approval of the school’s current campus location on Columbus Avenue drove the in final stake in the state’s horrific plan to build the central artery tunnel though Roxbury, which would have divided our community.

As we look back and celebrate the first 50 years of RCC, we have to pay homage to those who understood the importance of having our own college in our own community. People that include Royal Bolling Sr., Mel King, Harry Elam, Hubie Jones, Jean McGuire, John O’Bryant, Bill Owens and many others. I thank them for also having the grit to stand up and fight against those who wanted to water down the dream, and  also for having the foresight to require this state, our state, to live up to its solemn responsibility to provide our Black community a path to a better life  through higher education, an opportunity our state Massachusetts and all the New England States have provided to the whole western world for the past 300 years.