Wake Up the Earth Festival celebrates 40th anniversary

By Jessica Gard

Yesterday, I witnessed magnolia blossoms on Boylston Street. The witch hazel and the daffodils have shown their faces in corners all over the city. Spring crept in on hesitant tip-toe, but it has arrived. Now is the time to turn our faces to the sun as the green earth starts to warm and grow again.

After a long gray winter, spring is sweet magic. A sweet, loud magic. Birds chirp, squirrels caper, and, among the humans, we leave our houses to greet our neighbors, leaving snow shovels and space-savers behind. Walking a little taller and a little looser, we return to warmth and the bounty of nature.

For 40 years, Jamaica Plain has marked the return of warm days with an annual Wake Up the Earth Festival. This festival, hosted by Spontaneous Celebrations, is truly a neighborhood affair. Held each year on the first Saturday in May, Wake Up the Earth starts with a parade. It’s all-inclusive affair and parents are invited to bring their whimsically-attired children, carrying whatever noisemaker they favor, to join the many community groups marching and playing from either Roxbury or JP Center. The two parades meet at the Maypole in the Southwest Corridor Park for the opening ceremonies.

The festivities of the day feature six stages of music and performers, local food and merchandise vendors, nonprofits from throughout our community, activities for the children, and much more.

This neighborhood soiree reflects our shared values of environmentalism, inclusion, cultural diversity, and grass-roots activism. This year, like every year, the festival features local performers and the range of acts include: Latin, African and other world music, local rock bands, brass bands, positive political hip-hop, local dance groups, a Brazilian drum corp. The performance ensembles housed at Spontaneous Celebrations include: a choir of local families called Sing Positive!, Ballet Rox, the Beantown Society, stilt-walkers, and a drum corp—these ensembles feature youth and children who have been working all year for this opportunity to showcase their talents.

This year, as the Wake Up the Earth Festival celebrates its 40 year, the Festival Roots Revue in the Community Garden will showcase the rich history of the Festival and its roots in the community celebration of a hard-won victory to stop the I-95 extension, a battle that brought us the Southwest Corridor Park. The revue will highlight the decades of community and global activism that is the pride of the Festival’s organizers.

This festival runs on volunteer labor, local donations, and art workshops for and by community members like you. As our community changes, this Festival reflects those changes. In recent years, all-day yoga classes have become a featured activity, alongside the junk percussion, African, and Brazilian drumming that debuted in 1979 at the first Wake Up the Earth. This festival picks up the culture and creativity threaded throughout our community and weaves it together, dancing in the park on a beautiful May day.

As our community experiences the influx of new neighbors and new businesses, it is our hope that everyone will take this time to leave behind our cloistered winter existences to come and meet their neighbors.

Our cell phone contacts, our social media, our digital screens and virtual worlds are richer and more fulfilling when we cultivate our lives beyond the screen, when we “friend” each other over a game of mini-golf or, in mutual appreciation of a great band or moving piece of art.

Come out into the spring, come to the park and be a part of our festival, come Wake Up the Earth and meet your neighbors.

Jessica Gard is a volunteer staff writer at Spontaneous Celebrations, which hosts the Wake Up the Earth Festival.


Budget Proposal Invests in the Most Vulnerable Amongst Us

By Local State Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez

[The House Ways and Means Budget Proposal was released on April 11. Debate on the 1,400 amendments began April 23 and continued past the deadline date of the Gazette.]

On April 11, I released my first budget as Chair of the House Ways and Means committee. The $40.9 billion budget is all about people, no matter the circumstances, and how we meet the needs of the most vulnerable among us. We focus on lifting people up, so everyone can take advantage of all our Commonwealth has to offer. Throughout the budget process, I felt like I could see the faces of the people in my community, and throughout Massachusetts. From the DCR ranger at Mt. Greylock, to the dishwasher working at a small restaurant in Mission Hill, this budget is about investing in people.

It invests in MassHealth, which provides health insurance for the frail, homeless, recovering, mothers with children, poor, and the working poor. It allocates funds to help those struggling with substance use disorder, including enough money for 5 new recovery centers, and $5 million for programs that divert people into treatment rather than jail. We make historic investments in mental health, ensuring we fully fund caseload so people can receive care. We empower the Department of Children and Families to continue its reforms, now that it has hired new social workers and managers to ensure children are protected in our communities.

In addition to these areas, the House Ways and Means budget proposal makes targeted investments in the area of housing. Since 2013, the House has steadily increased funding for permanent housing solutions, like the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP) and Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT). As we’ve made these investments, the number of families and individuals living in homeless shelters, has decreased 26 percent, and the number of families living in motels and hotels has decreased to nearly zero. Building on the $1.7 billion housing bond bill the House passed earlier this year, this budget continues to fund permanent housing solutions. These combined efforts will help ensure stability and safety amidst record-high housing prices in Massachusetts.

The House budget puts tangible resources and funding to carry out policies and programs put in place by monumental criminal justice reform legislation passed in the House and Senate last week. In addition to the $3 million we set aside for the Council of State Governments bill in last year’s budget, we allocate another $3 million for evidence-based recidivism reduction programs. Known as Community-Based Re-Entry Programs, they can reduce the number of people going back to jail through workforce development, supportive housing, and behavioral health treatment. On the front end of the criminal justice system we fund a specialty court expansion to increase access to services for defendants with substance use, mental health, and trauma issues. We increase pay rates for public defenders and assistant district attorneys, recognizing that retaining experienced staff benefits everyone involved in the criminal justice system.

The Commonwealth’s safety net supports people at every stage of their life. Whether they’re struggling with asthma because of poor housing conditions, getting back on their feet after being laid off, or struggling to make rent, Massachusetts is committed to lifting its people up. We prepare people for the future through quality education and workforce development training. The House recommends historic levels of local aid to fund public education, including $4.9 billion in Chapter 70 funding, of which $39 million is directed to address increasing teacher and faculty healthcare costs, as recommended by the Foundation Budget Review Commission.          Additionally, we increase the Special Education Circuit Breaker 6.7 percent over last fiscal year and inject an additional $9.5 million over last fiscal year to reimburse districts with charter schools. For those out of school, we recommend $32.6 million for Adult Basic Education, which provides funding for adults to pursue their GED and provides ELL classes. This $3.3 million increase over last year will allow 1,000 more slots to become available off the ELL waitlist. Combined with investments to increase the pay of early educators and workforce development programs in STEM fields, our budget makes sure that students learn and are prepared to be the leaders of tomorrow.

A key role of the state’s safety net is to provide direct services to individuals, and the role of the natural environment on a person’s wellbeing is an important part of the equation. This is especially important considering that communities of color tend to bear the impacts of climate change and pollution. We increase funding for the Department of Environmental Protection by 17 percent to $29 million and fully fund the Office of Watershed Management, which is responsible for protecting the drinking water of 2.5 million people, including those of us in Boston. And we provide $40 million for DCR State Parks and Recreation to allow parks, reservations, campgrounds, beaches, pools, rinks, and natural resources stay open and accessible to the public. In addition to increasing funding for core environmental agencies, we recommend a historic $2.2 million investment in the Office of Climate Change and Adaptation. Through the hiring of new inspectors, permit writers, park rangers, and scientists, and in concert with our commitment to solar power, hydropower, and offshore wind, Massachusetts will take the next step to prepare for a climate-resilient future.

Overall, the House Ways and Means Fiscal Year 2019 Budget is an investment in our most vulnerable. We uphold our commitments to healthcare, housing, and so many crucial programs that ensure the safety and wellbeing of people across the Commonwealth. We understand that these programs empower people to make the most of opportunities and succeed later in life. I look forward to working closely with all members of the House of Representatives in the upcoming budget debate. I believe that together we will build upon our accomplishments to produce a budget that strengthens our core investments in people across Massachusetts.

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