Saturday, October 22, 2011

‘Occupy Boston’ Meets ‘Occupy the Hood’

Occupy Boston: Diversity,

Unity at rally in Roxbury

Photo: Denise Williams, who lost two nephews to gun violence in July, spoke at the rally. Denise Williams, who lost two nephews to gun violence in July, spoke at the rally. (ESSDRAS M SUAREZ/GLOBE STAFF)

By John M. Guilfoil
Boston Globe Staff

Oct 22, 2011 - In Roxbury, as Christians stood with Muslims and as white college students stood with a black woman who recently lost two nephews to gun violence, the voice of the Occupy Boston movement sounded more diverse than ever in the three weeks since protesters set up tents in the Financial District.

“We’re one family,’’ said True-See Allah of the Nation of Islam, addressing a crowd of more than 500 in Dudley Square during a rally for Occupy the Hood, a movement in Roxbury allied to Occupy Boston and other Occupy movements around the country.

“It’s not about black and white; it’s about who’s wrong and who’s right,’’ he continued. “The Nation of Islam stands with you 1,000 percent. This is a beautiful sight, and we want to take this moment, and we want to build from it and continue to grow and grow.’’

While the occupation in Dewey Square has been diverse, whites have been the majority. Yesterday’s Occupy the Hood Rally was nearly evenly divided between whites and non-whites, as students and Occupy Boston regulars joined local residents.

“The message of this movement, when you boil it down, is that we are the 99 percent,’’ said Brian Kwoba, 28, of Cambridge, one of the Occupy the Hood organizers. “There’s the top 1 percent, and the rest of us are denied a voice. But people of color are disproportionately denied a voice. Therefore, in order for us to unite all of the 99 percent, we need all of us to unite together, communities of color and other communities.’’

The crowd of many races and religions, whose politics ranged from libertarian to socialist, mingled and generally agreed with each other. With the diversity came an acknowledgment of differences.

“I am nowhere in the same bracket as the majority of people who live in this neighborhood,’’ said Lucas Koerner, 19, a sophomore at Tufts University who was part of a delegation of about 30 from the school. “I’m just here to be in solidarity with this amazing grass-roots community that is expanding into the marginalized communities. I think it’s demonstrating great potential to break out of its populist cage.’’

One of the speakers at the rally was Denise Williams, whose nephews, LaShon Washington, 39, and Joseph Winston, 26, were shot to death in Roxbury on July 5.

The college students were moved by Williams’s story. Her words also represented some of the core concerns of Occupy the Hood, which organizers said included crime, police relations, fair employment, and civil services.

“On July 4, my family went to a cookout that we have every year,’’ she said. “At 5 o’clock in the morning, there was a knock on my door.’’

Washington had served five years in jail. He turned his life around, but struggled to hold down a job because most employers would not hire a former convict. A security firm gave him an opportunity, and he worked nights as a bouncer. One of his daughters recently graduated from college.

Winston was a man with special needs who never seemed to get the services he needed, said Williams. He served time in jail for threatening to blow up a courthouse, despite pleas from his family that he did not know what he was saying.

Police said at the time that Winston was involved in gang activity and targeted and that Washington was not targeted.

“Most of the time in the hood, the first thing they say is ‘gang-related.’ ’’ Williams said. “LaShon Washington worked two jobs. Had four kids. And took care of them. How do two people leave a cookout and not even make it 5 miles, and they’re dead?’’

It was not a story the college students often hear.

“It was a very powerful and moving story,’’ said Spencer Demaris, 20, a junior at Harvard. “When you’re on campus all the time, it’s easy to forget what goes on in the bigger city. I think it was a powerful reminder that there’s a lot going on in Boston.’’

John M. Guilfoil can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @globe_guilfoil.

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