Chuck Turner is a long time activist and former Boston City Councilor, representing Greater Roxbury.

We Shall Not Be Moved

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

I’m back! After 28 months on a mountain top in the West Virginia mountains at USP Hazelton, I’m at home again! Or at least I’m back in Boston and close to being home again. At the moment, I’m living in a halfway house in Boston but expect to be at home by the middle to end of August.

Thanks to Sadiki Kambon and the board of the Black Community Information Center, I have an office in the Imani House, 516 Warren Street. I’m there from 9 to 5, Monday through Friday familiarizing myself with what has happened during the two years I’ve been gone and deciding how to resume organizing.

I am somewhat startled by the fact that while I have only been gone for two years, the process of physical change seems to be on fast forward. In Dudley Square and Jackson Square, new development appears to be moving forward at hyper speed.

On the one hand many seem pleased that after years of struggle, physical change is taking place. At the same time, I hear a continuous concern voiced about how this change will effect our present population.

The question I continually hear is “who will benefit from the change?” This question focuses on whether the cost of the apartments being built in Jackson Square and elsewhere, as well as the newcomers brought to Greater Roxbury through the housing and city jobs at Ferdinand’s will economically drive out our lower income neighbors and change the population of our community over the next five, ten, fifteen years.

Having seen how urban renewal effected the South End population as well as black communities across the country, this concern can not be dismissed. We also can’t ignore the fact that Richard Taylor, a black developer, and others are advocating that the micro mini apartments (350 to 450 square feet) now renting for $2000 a month and up in the Seaport District be brought to Roxbury.

However, our history teaches us that through organizing we have historically been able to develop the strength to overcome the obstacles that have faced us. Now is the time to come together once again and commit ourselves as an economically diverse, predominantly black and Latino community to fight for policies that enable us to remain as an economically diverse, predominantly black and Latino community.

We can not allow political and economic interests to divide us and weaken our ability to stand as a united community. There has been a long, hard struggle in Boston to build an economically diverse, predominantly black and Latino community to hold this valuable land. It’s our responsibility to continue that struggle.

With a new mayor about to be elected, we have an excellent opportunity to build the political strength to offset the economic forces of gentrification. We should not give our support individually or collectively to any candidate who does not publicly commit to developing policies that maintain balance between low, moderate, and upper income housing not only in Greater Roxbury but also across Boston.

We should not give support to any candidate who does not agree to publicly join the leadership at the Boston Housing Authority in fighting the cuts in the Section 8 program being pushed on us by our federal housing officials. We need a mayor who will stand with us and the people of the city to fight the forces of gentrification and economic injustice. We can’t let the one percent and their allies use their economic and political power to drive us out.

We have demonstrated time after time during the last fifty years that we have the power not only to protect the quality of our lives but also to improve it when we stand together and don’t let economic, political, or social forces divide us. It is time once again to show our commitment to fight for justice. It’s time to unite behind the Kwanzaa principles of Umoja (Unity) and Kugichagulia (Self Determination).

The struggle for justice must continue,


11 thoughts on “We Shall Not Be Moved

  1. Rodney Singleton

    Hey Al,

    I think the candidates are avoiding b/c issues of gentrification are explosive. One could get blown out of the water…


    1. Al Willis

      I think the candidates are avoiding b/c issues of gentrification are explosive. One could get blown out of the water…

      Blown out by who? I’m not sure there’s enough attention being paid, especially in communitites of color, that it would make any substantial difference in the outcome.

  2. Kai Grant

    It would be to our advantage as a community to discuss more than Housing- whether, affordable, low-income or market rate- and add to the conversation economic stimuli i.e. subsidized commercial spaces, cooperative space rentals and incubators. #teachamantofish

  3. jumaada

    Welcome back home Chuck. Our prayers were with you continuously and now your are both physically and spiritually on the scence. As to the Dudley area, you were part of the planning process in the Vision piece especially as it relates to jobs and economics. Please know that it is still in existence and your input is still needed. Please let me know, if I can be of assistance, of how you wish to go about getting involved in this respect. Thank you and may God continue to bless you, your family and all of us. Jumaada

  4. louis

    Just wanted to see how long it would take you to get your sea legs back under you. Sure yure right…you knew what the deal was from the beginning. If you stood in front of the excuvator on Seaver for one illegal development they knew you would have brought the thunder to what they are trying to do to all of Roxbury. The deal was to deliver a secondary commercial business and government center. The opportunity was lost in the back bay when the speculators found out that the land value was going up at the sale of the old Berkley St police station they got in front of the developers forcing them into Roxbury; that is the only reason the fort ( New police headquarters) is existing on parcel 3 instead of the two, 21 story business and free market office towers that was designed and planned for 7000 jobs in the Roxbury area. It is also the reason why they built another fort less than a quarter mile away in Dudley, to let the “new settlers know that they would be safe. Is this not how the West was won and the native Americans subdued? You know that the institutions are trying to take over all cities, they began with the privitiazation of Boston City Hospital that was given to BU which had a fiscally failing program and it now including the education, public housing and community based business. That is why the push for priviatization of the schools with the so called Charter reform; public housing being sold to private corporations with 99 year leases and the parks and recreations spaces, like White Statium, being pushed to private non profits corporations and the likes. You knew then as you are saying now that the private corporations and institutions like NorthEastern that pay little or no taxes and their commando style special police are taking large areas of Roxbury for their own use and quietly but effectively pushing poor black and latino folks our of the community. The Mayor of Newton has put a small check on BC expantion goals but the trends are the same across the country.

    The reason for acceloration of the program was the Mayor was thinking he had time to get all the agreements in place before he moved on. His change in health forced them to advance the time for the switch overs and to put their personal resources in place.

    With your assistance we will call a meeting of the minds shortly to go over what we can and must do to STOP the destruction of Roxbury and the wholesale distribution of its assets to the private corportations and institutions.

    While this is a national trend regarding communities of color we here in Boston have to take our direction from the realities we face and act within the context of our situation until “help” in terms of resistance and training arrives.

    Glad to see you are back and to know that you never left; as the lessons from 90 Warren St GRDC, to the back roads of Franklin park, I 95 Corridor expantion, have not been forgotten. We continue to grow as we struggle…Harrambe!

    God Blessings on you, hope to see and speak with you then.


  5. Rodney Singleton

    Reading Chuck Turner’s piece “We Shall Not Be Moved” on gentrification motivates us to think beyond just demanding preservation and a fair balance of housing across all income levels, which we all admit is needed. It’s equally important to ensure we’re providing paths and options out of poverty, on the road to wealth building that’s our best defense against gentrification.

    Gentrification is a matter of class first and foremost, not a black, white or race issue at first blush, an issue of the gentry class. But while gentrification starts out as a cast of classes, we’re quickly reminded that we – people of color – are the cast at the lowest rungs of the socioeconomic ladder, fighting for parity! So, what starts out as a class divide, becomes a racial divide. Yes, the struggle continues.

    Digging deeper though, it is incumbent on us to reconcile the root causes of our cast differences and fix the institutional norms that divide us. And make no mistake: the cast system exists within the black community as well. The likes of Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and the baller in vogue, have all transcended to the upper cast begging the question: are we living in post-racial America?

    We know better! We’re not living in a post-racial America at all! But the idea that somehow we’re all equal now because a few of us have taken on prominent roles in our society doesn’t excuse the fact that much work remains to realize a higher degree of equality.

    Likewise, the deeper question around real equality isn’t about what we can afford in terms of housing or anything else we may wish to buy for that matter, given our current economic situation. Growth is the key and we shouldn’t be selling ourselves short. Looking forward, we see ourselves growing with: better educational opportunities; better jobs and careers; better pay, owning a business, owning a home; or expanding a business.

    In the end our community vision and the charge for us and our political leadership is not just how we make housing affordable to folks already living in our communities to avoid displacement, but how we invest in our citizens so they can afford their housing and a quality of life that gives rise to a healthy, growing community.

    But too often in Roxbury and other neighborhoods of color in Boston that investment is only in the housing stock to warehouse and imprison us, passing along the returns of that investment to a developer.

    In fact, opportunities for investments are so plentiful and lucrative that we’ve actually created an industry of community development corporations whereby each is tripping over one another to assist us with the crunch we feel around affordability. From a policy perspective, city and state government have become very efficient at partnering with any number of CDC’s to plan our future, with a less than transparent community engagement process that seems to fall on deaf ears!

    Chuck Turner was conflicted when he advocated for improvements for the Cass rink, noting that such improvements may spur gentrification. He kept on advocating, no one was displaced and now we have one of the best indoor recreational facilities in the city. And the folks in Roxbury deserve that!

    Speaking of advocacy, what we want to avoid at all costs is to have a struggling single parent household with children who avoided gangs, drugs, random violence on our streets, graduated from high school and college and then came back to Roxbury to be members of the community, only to find they are shut out of the community that reared them because that lucrative CDC machine meant to serve us only builds subsidized housing they cannot qualify for because they have good jobs, or housing so expensive that the good job they hold is not enough. This helps to destabilize the community and is never done in white communities, but is routinely done in communities of color.

    And if you need data, one only need look at what Nuestra is building in the first phase of Bartlett Place near Dudley Square. Sons and daughters of Roxbury, as described above will not be able to live in the first phase of development, a fact that the BRA board chided Nuestra for at their September 12th board meeting. So Chuck Turner’s argument of a balanced approach to housing, while a good one, went out the window! And if Nuestra’s Atkins development is any indication of what will happen to any future balance of income around housing and the possibility of homeownership that the community stipulated in the Bartlett RFP, we shouldn’t hold out hope!

    It’s not about where we are now, unless we’re content to languishing where we are! It’s about where we’re going and our future. The growth of our struggling families and their success should be our mission. And our investments need to be targeted on their success, rather than their failure.

    Right now our development policy assumes we’ll always be mostly poor, that we’ll fail at educating our young and fail at being inclusive when it comes to jobs and business opportunities. That assumption of failure dictates our housing and development options, to the point where more than 90% of housing units in Roxbury are rental, and nearly half of all housing units are subsidized.

    Of course the housing next door selling for nearly half a million bucks isn’t meant for us, because no one ever invested in us so we could afford it.

    The question for our political leadership: what unique skill set do you bring to the table as mayor or city councilor that provides us a path out of poverty to a place where we can afford the half million dollar housing price tag, or somehow moderate the housing price tag so that working families and communities can build wealth and a future in their own neighborhoods?


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