Henry, an elderly gentleman with a teasing twinkle in his eye, may be a new resident at the Ellen S. Jackson Apartments on Blue Hill Avenue in Roxbury, but he’s already completely settled in. “It feels so good to be at home,” Henry reflected “This place is a real community now.” The Art Connection worked with Project Manager Diane Clark to identify spaces where art could adorn the new building, which welcomed its first residents in summer 2015.
Once residents had settled in, Resident Services Coordinator Grace Furtado organized a committee of newly housed residents to view and select the art for the building. Henry was one of the residents at the Ellen S. Jackson apartments who collaborated to select a permanent collection of 32 works of art in diverse genres and media, including photographs, paintings, original prints, mixed media, and fiber art, to enliven previously blank walls in hallways and community spaces. The committee selected works that they hope will stimulate dialogue, including mixed media assemblages that invite a closer look and, for their library, a quilt by artist Mary Gillis documenting casualties of the Iraq war.
Nuestra Communidad Development Corps (NCDC) is devoted to building the wealth and enhancing the physical, economic, and social well being of Roxbury and other underserved populations in greater Boston by taking a community-driven approach that promotes self sufficiency and neighborhood revitalization. By developing high quality affordable and mixed-income rental and for sale housing; encouraging homeownership and increasing financial resiliency through financial coaching and foreclosure prevention, fostering small business creation, helping develop community leaders, and preventing and reducing crime through community organizing, Nuestra CDC aids in community revitalization.
The Art Connection has placed art in other Nuestra Communidad’s buildings, but the recent placement at Ellen S. Jackson Apartments is especially noteworthy. The apartments are named for Ellen S. Jackson, a Roxbury native who in 1965 had five children attending overcrowded, racially isolated schools. Looking out for her children’s learning, Ellen spearheaded and became director of a voluntary busing program called Operation Exodus. This revolutionary community-led effort was aimed at bringing black students from these overcrowded schools to fill empty seats in higher performing, predominantly white schools. Many feel that Mrs. Jackson’s courageous actions contributed to the filing of the NAACP lawsuit in 1972, which ultimately led to the desegregation of Boston public schools.
The volunteer committee of local Roxbury community activists selected Mrs. Jackson as the building’s namesake because of her connection to the neighborhood and her profound impact on equity and access throughout the City of Boston, tenets of Nuestra Communidad’s mission. In this same spirit of access, the newly constructed building bearing her name provides 40 units of affordable housing for low-income elders as well as economic opportunities for local vendors in its commercial spaces. Mrs. Jackson passed away in 2001, but members of her family joined residents, community members, longtime friends and officials, including Boston City Councilor Jackson for District 7, State Representative Byron Rushing, and partners from the Department of Housing, the Department of Neighborhood Development, Housing and Urban Development in paying homage at the building’s December 2015 ribbon cutting.
Project Manager Diane Clark has had a personal stake in seeing the 12 year project of establishing the Ellen S. Jackson apartments come to fruition. Growing up in Roxbury, Diane remembers the days when the site where the building now stands was a neglected lot where she used to play. Generations before her recall when that same section of Blue Hill Avenue was a thriving neighborhood full of shops and markets, and how riots about race-motivated violence left much of the avenue dilapidated. The Ellen S. Jackson apartments serve as tangible evidence of progress towards neighborhood revitalization.
Now that the building is occupied and art hangs on the walls, the huge collaborative effort feels finalized. Diane reflects that, “Working with The Art Connection staff and coordinating with the artists has been a great experience. It was a pleasure to have the opportunity to meet some of the local artists when picking up the works. Everyone was very friendly, passionate and sincere. I’ve received great feedback on the art with our Director of Real Estate Development Marcia Thornhill describing it as ‘exquisite and very fitting for the building.’”
Nuestra Communidad aims to help people be proud of the place they call home, and Diane remarks that,“exposure to art adds so much to the enjoyment of the building for our residents,” helping to create a setting which residents can be proud of. Mary, another resident and member of the selection committee agrees, saying, “I’m just so happy to live in this beautiful place. The art makes it feel even more like home.”
To learn more about Nuestra Communidad please visit: http://nuestracdc.org
Check out photos from the ribbon-cutting reception.
Masthead image: Singing Girl II, Woodblock by Ruth Ginsberg-Place