JACKSON SQUARE—Over 150 residents, friends, alumni and family of the Bromley-Heath housing development stuffed Bromley Hall last Friday evening Jan. 19 to respond to what they said is continued and unfair “character assassination” and misrepresentation by the media—specifically, the Boston Herald—and elected officials of facts about the Bromley-Heath community.
Half of the auditorium was filled with people standing behind the already occupied chairs. The meeting lasted three hours and included speeches from youths, elderly and parents. Statements were punctuated with occasional tears and yells of “That’s right,” from the crowd.
The meeting was scheduled to complain about media coverage of the development and to begin to repair the public image of Bromley-Heath. Recent Herald reports about the murder of 13-year-old Luis Gerena, who was apparently shot multiple times as he walked near the Bromley-Heath housing development the night of Jan. 12, used the story as segue to talk about what Bromley-Heath residents say are unrelated issues. Gerena lived in Mission Hill with his grandmother.
A 23-person drug bust at the development last October was the culmination of a six-month operation headed by the FBI and the E-13 Police Drug Control Unit. Police say the bust was related to a Bromley-Heath gang with allegedly over 100 members.
Since then the Herald called the housing development an “ill-maintained and crime-ridden project.”
It has also published a piece trumpeting the work of “tenant activists” Mildred Hailey and Anna Mae Cole, co-founders of the Tenant Management Corporation (TMC) that runs Bromley-Heath, in their struggle to broker a gang truce between their development and a rival gang from Roxbury.
Still, some residents of the development said they resent the negative labels so much it brought them to tears.
“This is not a one-shot deal tonight. We have to stick together,” said Cole. “We don’t throw our people under the bus.”
“No matter what the politicians say, we can stand up and fight back,” said Hailey, TMC’s director. “We have to let everyone know we won’t let them make us be a political pawn for them.”
The Boston Housing Authority (BHA) has been working with TMC on a plan for direct oversight by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). TMC’s contract with the BHA expires March 31. A HUD takeover would not be the same as a BHA takeover, which would dismantle TMC. “We’re [BHA and TMC] working on a joint petition to HUD,” said BHA spokesperson Lydia Agro this week.
Some speakers at the meeting equated the media coverage to a campaign to deface Bromley-Heath in order for the city to take over the development because of its prime real estate location and potential for development. “That’s absolutely not true,” said Agro.
Speakers continued to refer to a Jan. 16 Herald editorial titled “Time for BHA takeover,” in which the Herald wrote, “Bromley-Heath is an ungovernable city within a city, playing host to generation after hopeless generation of kids who from their own basketball courts can see the office towers of the Back Bay. But most haven’t a clue how to get from the lives of abject poverty they are leading to the gleaming towers in need of a skilled work force.”
The editorial claimed federal authorities say close to 40 percent of shootings in Boston between last January and July could be attributed to gang members connected to Bromley-Heath. It also called for a “clean sweep of the project’s management–and of residents who are fully complicit in the nest of criminal activity of which Bromley-Heath is the center.” The article referred to the situation as one that one could not wave a magic wand to fix.
That kind of talk had Bromley-Heath residents saying they feel angry and marginalized.
The Herald did not respond to Gazette phone calls seeking comment.
“The reason the place looks nice and the way it does today is because of the care of the tenants,” said James Younger. “You won’t find another project as clean as Bromley-Heath in all of Boston.”
At the start of last Friday’s meeting, a two-page unsigned document of responses to the Herald was handed out to participants.
“I would suggest that the Herald editors take a good look at the areas where shootings and gun related activity appears to be the most prevalent. It certainly is not Jamaica Plain…,” it said. “We need to have communities come together and find out what they can do to help the youth in all various areas. We do not need a lot of insinuating and all out lying bullshit directed to these places where people are trying to live in harmony.”
“I consider it a blessing for my life when I know people are gathering together in the midst of trouble to help one another,” said Rev. Jeffrey Brown. “I’ve walked around Bromley-Heath at all times of the day and night. You can see, nothing’s happened to me.
“This is not a violent gathering,” he said. “This is a gathering about a family of people who love and care about each other… residents of Boston the same as all… Stop printing lies. The tragedy of the 13-year old had nothing to do with Bromley-Heath. Stop putting every violent incident of crime on Bromley-Heath. People are working hard and working overtime to be able to turn their lives around. Put that in your newspaper,” he said.
“How dare someone who doesn’t know about our community come here and destroy our character,” said Cole. “Every town has crime. Our kids can ride a bike and not get picked up by a pick-up truck and dumped in a trashcan dismembered. We don’t live in hell. We live in heaven here,” she said.
“In terms of crime,” said Younger, “I don’t believe that if this was any other community there would be as much of a concentration in coverage on crime.”
“Some of us do not believe in this gathering. I respect that,” said Jacque Cummings-Furtado, a Bromley-Heath employee. “Some of you may agree with the Herald—and I respect that. But I disagree with their [facts] … We are a development of deep family roots, happiness, sadness, success and triumph. Let’s not be stripped of our rights again.”
“If it wasn’t for Bromley-Heath I wouldn’t be who or where I am today,” said Susan Thorpe. “When I cried, this village rocked me.”
“I have lived here for nine years,” said Carlos Diaz. “I’ve never had problems with the residents. Our boy was raised here—he’s never had any problems with anyone. So I don’t know what all this gobbledy-gook is about. Crime is everywhere. Not just at Bromley-Heath.”
“I’m a product of Bromley-Heath,” said Bobby Bigby, assistant pastor at the United House of Prayer in Jamaica Plain. “This [media coverage] is a lie. I don’t care who tells it. But we don’t have to believe it.”
“I am one of those Bromley-Heath kids. I worked in the Back Bay towers. But I came back to Bromley-Heath,” said parent and volunteer Shawanda Patterson.
Patterson was a dancer on the college team level and founded her own award-winning cheerleading squad. She has been awarded by the E-13 Police for outstanding service to youths.
She rhetorically asked the media and politicians, “Do you know how many teens graduated high school that live in Bromley Heath? Did you ever ask how many professionals are here? Did you ever look to see how many Bromley-Heath volunteers there are?”
Residents attributed their stories and the family aspect of Bromley-Heath to Hailey, Cole and TMC.
“I came here from Panama in 1975. I didn’t know anyone,” said Edwin Roach. “I met Hailey and Cole, and they gave me a job in Bromley-Heath security. During that time Miss Hailey taught me a lot. We did a lot Boston Housing is not doing. To hear these things about Bromley-Heath makes me mad. I’m willing to do anything to help get respect back,” he said.
Concerned youths from Bromley-Heath also spoke. “Lately I’ve been reading about violence in my community,” said Candace Rodriguez. “When I first came here I was afraid. But it’s beautiful.
“Listen to what I have to say. If you don’t, then you are as ignorant as you say Bromley-Heath is,” she said. “The media says Bromley-Heath is the second-worst place in Boston to live. I disagree with everything you say about my community. We’re not perfect but no community in Boston is perfect. You got it all twisted. We have hopes and dreams.
“We will be someone in this world. We all will let our voices be heard. We are the future,” she said.
Rodriguez’s speech was met with tears from some and applause that echoed off the jammed hall’s walls and hummed through the room.
“You should be proud of your young people,” said Hailey to the crowd.
Cole closed the evening with a speech and prayer. “One of the things that is important and that we need is to get back to basics. Talk to each other, talk to one another, and help each other out. Lean on the wisdom of the elders.
“I was a teenage mom and married at 15. I started on welfare and got my GED at 55. I’ve managed two Boston Housing developments and three elderly developments. We went through the same cycles you go through. Not all of us are perfect. We all have skeletons in the closet. There is nothing wrong with good manners, good respect and concern for one another.”
John Ruch contributed to this article.