After years of advocacy to tackle youth violence, a new community center is coming to Grove Hall

Dorchester’s first standalone, A city-run community center will be built on vacant land in Grove Hall, Mayor Michelle Wu announced Thursday, after years of activism by residents aimed at quelling youth violence in the neighborhood.

The community center will be located at 40-48, avenue de Genève, across from Jeremiah E. Burke High School, where student-to-student violence has erupted in recent weeks. Construction of the facility is expected to begin in 2024, according to Boston social services chief José Massó, and will likely cost between $50 million and $60 million, with funding coming from the city’s capital budget.

“We need help with everything that happens in our community: growing up, learning to become an adult, dealing with different circumstances that are so difficult to manage, trauma. We are removing these things,” said Justis Porter, a 17-year-old junior, who spoke on behalf of the Burke student body to the gathered crowd of city officials, residents and community advocates at the future site of the new facility. “This community center will help us – not only grow from babies to adults – but it will help us for the rest of our lives.”

The city is currently functioning five community centers in Dorchester, Wu noted, but all are located in school buildings, including the Grove Hall Community Center attached to the Burke.

“It’s been a blessing in many ways because we know the needs of these communities are deeply connected,” Wu said in his prepared remarks. “But the reality is also that community events and programs have also been limited by the school calendar in these cases.”

Residents and neighborhood advocates say the opening of a new community center will fill a long-standing gap in youth services at Grove Hall. After the shooting death of 17-year-old Burke junior Raekwon Brown in 2016, Grove Hall Community Center was converted into a seniors’ center and all of its youth programs were suspended. Brown was killed less than a block from the school. Activists have been pressure city ​​officials for a youth center since then.

“Young people are our present and our future. We need to make sure we have the resources in place to make sure they thrive,” said Emmanuel Tikili, co-director of the Grove Hall-based nonprofit RIGHT Inc. project. “And a center for young people – a place where there are positive adults and a space that adds value with the things they know will help them grow as individuals and as collectives – I think it will be necessary.

At Wu’s press conference on Thursday, community activists and elected officials spoke of the urgent need for the community center, citing recent violence in the area, including the shooting of a 14-year-old boy in Roxbury this week and that of ‘a student. outside the Burke on October 4. A few weeks earlier, on September 12, an 18-year-old student was stabbed, allegedly by another student, in Burke’s hallway.

“We’re not doing enough,” said Sister Virginia Muhammad of the Neighborhood Development Corporation of Grove Hall. “This community does not feel safe.”

The future site of the Grove Hall Community Center once housed the Crown Social and Recreation Hall, the master piece from the drug smuggling empire of Roxbury kingpin Darryl “God” Whiting in the late 80s and early 90s. After his arrest and conviction, the City bought the three plots at 40-48, avenue de Genève by seizure between 1991 and 1995, according to Wu administration officials. The lot then became “The bubble,“a temporary structure where children could play basketball under a bubble-shaped leaky plastic roof.

“The Bubble” was “neutral ground for everyone,” said Project RIGHT Inc.’s Aljemall Peeples, who ran a youth basketball league there before it also shut down more ago. ten years old. Although often in disrepair, the structure at least allowed teenagers from different parts of the neighborhood to come together without bumping into gang territorial boundaries. Peeples thinks the new community center could also serve as a safe place for young people to develop their talents not only in athletics, but also in art and music.

“There are a lot of kids doing things on their own,” Peeples said, “and that [community center] will give them a path to do it the right way.

Deanna Pan can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @DDpan.

Jill E. Washington