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Pat Cooke, Tina Chery, Candice Gartley, and Bob MacEachern on life and activism in Dorchester, MA

On August 21st, 2008 Tina Chery, Pat Cooke, Candice Gartley, and Bob MacEachern gathered at Dot2Dot Cafe in Dorchester, MA for NPi’s first speakers panel and community dialogue. Topics discussed included Dorchester’s rich history, the many ways Dorchester has changed over the past few decades, lessons learned working in the community over the years, the media’s limited and consistently negative coverage of Dorchester stories, and the joys of living in Dorchester.

Here are a few excerpts from the conversation.

On community building and activism

“In terms of where we go from here, I think the largest issue is quite simply breaking down the different – let’s use the word ’silos’ or pockets of our community at different levels. And I’m not just talking geographically; it’s also generationally. The problem that a lot of communities have is basically where did all the old people go and why aren’t the young people seeing the old people hanging out in the streets and having that mix… Our main challenge is connecting the different senses of levels of community: age, race, sexuality, religion, finances. These are all distinct groupings that people like putting people into. But how do we get everyone to start working together? Because Dorchester has a great history of making that happen. I see it continually happen.”

– Robert J. MacEachern, President of the Board, Codman Square Health Center

On lessons learned doing the work they do

“For the past 12 or 13 years I’ve worked with at risk high school kids and the past five years, at the Home for Little Wanderers, a group home for gay and lesbian teens. And many of the lessons I’ve learned working with high school kids and working with neighbors are very much the same, but present themselves in different ways. I’ve always been amazed by the strength that people have when it comes down to the wire, when someone feels like their back is up against the wall, but yet they feel supported at some level. That inner strength to stand up and do the right thing, to channel everything, the negative that’s been shot at them… when they feel that someone’s supporting them.”

– Robert J. MacEachern, President of the Board, Codman Square Health Center, Dorchester, Mass.

On the challenges facing Dorchester, Massachusetts

“The underlying problems of race and class continue. We’ve made great progress I think in the last generation, but that progress is imperfect and incomplete. We’re at a very interesting time and Dorchester is in a good position to make the most of it with Obama’s candidacy. It’s going to open up – if the election turns out – a whole new conversation that certainly not only Dorchester needs to get involved with, but all of America needs to get involved with. As that racial conversation moves forward, it will become more apparent that class is the root issue here, and America is supposed to be a classless society. It’s not. And color is indeed skin deep, but class cuts to the bone. And resolving class differences is going to take an enormous amount of effort. A couple of differences are obvious. The symptoms of a problem are obvious. Class differences are not so obvious, but they are very important in shaping a just society.”

– Pat Cooke, Community Activist

On living in Dorchester, Massachusetts

“I tell my kids we’re living in Manhattan. You got a front yard, you got a back yard… but it also comes with all the problems that a city has. You have to be cautious, but it also has a lot of gifts that you can take away from it… You come away with these really hard lessons in life and the shooting at night and the negative stuff that happens, and then you meet wonderful people who sew prom dresses for your kids, or they come out and tell Polish jokes when your car has been demolished by a stolen car barreling down the street. There’s always another side to it, and my God it compels you to become involved in this community. That’s the lesson I’ve learned. I wouldn’t want to live any other place. I don’t think I could deal with the sanity.”

– Candice Gartley, Chief of Staff, Codman Square Health Center

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