A Lesson Learned from Roxbury

We are family mural across Jackson Square Station.
“We are family” mural across Jackson Square Station.
Gabriel Miles

On January 25, 2024, Boston Logan International Airport made national headlines after a video revealed that Massachusetts transformed a section of Logan’s terminal E into a temporary migrant shelter for the state as other shelters reached capacity or were already over capacity.  It was not an optimal space, as a Guatemalan mother interviewed by Fox25 would say. Her children got sick, and they’re waiting for housing. The temporary overflow has gained a lot of controversy. For those who were there, and from observers, it was clear that Massachusetts is facing a crisis. 

Melnea A. Cass Recreation Center is one of the locations that the City of Boston transformed into a migrant shelter. (Gabriel Miles)

In an attempt to provide a solution, Massachusetts began establishing overflow shelters across the state. Most sites were large empty buildings or hotels, such as the one in Concord that got converted or the recently announced 24 Farnsworth St in Seaport (as of February). However, the Healey administration could not just target hotels as that would’ve been unsustainable. So they had to consider other places. During the week of January 15th, the administration made the highly controversial decision to close the Melnea A. Cass Recreation Center in Roxbury to house migrants. It’s a challenging topic to answer whether it was right by the state. On the one hand, it does give migrants a place to stay, but on the other hand, it takes something away from the residents.

Melnea A. Cass’s pool entrance was closed to prevent Residents from entering. (Gabriel Miles)

The move caused controversy, and those affected or facing the issue were divided between two different points of view. One point of view is that Massachusetts did the right thing: providing migrants a place to shelter as they awaited housing and accommodations. The other side argues that the state shouldn’t have used the recreation center to shelter migrants because it took something away from the local community, a community that had already been looked down on by the City of Boston. 

This developing issue left me with many questions. I wondered how the everyday residents felt about this development in their neighborhood. I did not interview people from organizations or companies.I wanted the street level perspective and so I went to Roxbury to speak directly to the simple resident who has to go through it all. When I arrived, I immediately noticed a strong sense of community. I came via Jackson Square on the MBTA Orange Line, as that is the closest stop to the Melnea Cass Recreation Center, and it would allow me to see a handful of Roxbury residents as I walked towards the building.

“We are family” mural across Jackson Square Station. (Gabriel Miles)

Approaching the recreation center, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of peace. It was a community feeling that I’ve personally never witnessed before. People rode their bikes, played tennis, and ran by me as I walked. Everyone there was quiet, calm, and peaceful. When I approached the recreation center, I could not help but notice a group of boys competing in a basketball game on a court to my right. They all seemed dedicated to the game, especially since they did not glance at me with my camera. Seeing such a community warmed my heart, and it was genuinely beautiful. I couldn’t help but capture a photo. I ended up staying and watching the game. They were both very competitive against each other.

The basketball next to Marcella Playground, Roxbury (Gabriel Miles)

Standing before the Melnea Cass Recreation Center, I could not help but notice how sad it must’ve felt for the community when it closed. The area around the building is quiet and empty. At that moment, I realized how hard it was to find someone to interview who looked at least willing to talk. When I walked to the pool entrance, I noticed the doors covered in a large sheet of paper with a set of more miniature sheets reading: CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC. Next to this set of doors was a group of observers. I tried interviewing them, but unfortunately they did not have any information for this article. So I decided to walk around the park next to the building where a handful of people played baseball,  cricket, or were just running around. 

I don’t advise this, but I approached a stranger for his opinion. His name was Ramon. He is a grandfather to two grandchildren and an immigrant from Central America. He came to the United States around 15-20 years ago and has lived in Roxbury.  I asked him, “What is your opinion on the recreation center, and does it impact you in any way?” And his response was plentiful to get a perspective on how it impacts a community.

He said it’s difficult to explain to his daughter what’s happening, as they need clarification about why they see so many people around the recreation center when they arrive. He also explained that now he has to go out with his grandchildren whenever they want to go to the park across the street from where they live. Now, he has to find a place for them to go after school since they have closed the recreation center. However, he does understand that they are helping displaced migrants, as his family also received help when he moved here at a different time. He just doesn’t know what to say to his grandchildren about what’s going on, and he cannot explain the reasoning in a way for them to understand or not to be scared. He also mentioned that the migrants there do not stay forever, as they come and go. He hopes that one day, they will have everything settled. 

Another response I received praised the mayor for closing the recreation center for the migrants. His response caught me by surprise. All the news articles I’ve read have shown how these residents are infuriated by the closure or just angered by the situation. While that is true, it is also essential to see that not everyone is outraged by the decision. Some are selfless and rather have the migrants have a place to stay than have a recreation center. 

Their responses gave me a better understanding of a community’s impact. It was heartwarming to see that despite temporarily not having a recreation center to gather, they still care for each other and those in the shelters. Compared to other cities, I’ve seen fewer and fewer articles on the Roxbury situation over time. The community seems so solid and selfless there. They put others before themselves, so I love exploring communities, especially those who have gone through hard times. I hope that Roxbury will continue to strive for many years to come and that the people will find a home there. It truly warms my heart.

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