Boston’s Black community seeks NU’s accountability on gentrification

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Boston’s Black community seeks NU’s accountability on gentrification

Melissa Wells, news staff

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The African Liberation Department within the newly established student organization Law Students for Indigenous Liberation held its first annual event, titled “The State of Black Boston: Confronting Oppression,” on Friday, Oct. 12 in Dockser Hall.

Founded in April this year by Ezinne Adibe and Hakeem Muhammad, Law Students for Indigenous Liberation raises awareness of oppression, advocates for the human rights of native populations and empowers those communities with legal resources.

The gentrifying effects of Northeastern’s recent expansions on neighboring Black communities prompted Ezinne Adibe and Hakeem Muhammad to “bring the hood” to the law school for a community forum.

“The main purpose of this event was to introduce the community to our new student organization and then also gauge from the community what some of their more pressing concerns were,” Adibe, a third-year Northeastern law student, said. “We could use that information to develop some concrete plans in which we can assist the community in achieving their aims.”

The conference connected students and disenfranchised members of the Black communities in the Roxbury and Dorchester areas by introducing various speakers from different parts of Boston, providing meals for the homeless community and handing out free Black political literature.

The Black Law Students Association co-sponsored the event and both the Muslim Law Student Association and Black Dawah Network sponsored the meals for the homeless, an initiative the African Liberation Department hopes to make ongoing.

One speaker at the event, Minister Rodney Muhammad of the Nation of Islam in Roxbury, sermonized to approximately 30 participants with his insight on what the Black population in Boston faces today.

“Black is still trouble in America,” Minister Muhammad said, “just like Boston is still segregated in the city. Boston has a history of this: Poor Black and brown children from the age of five to 19 years old are still living in segregated communities along with their parents. Racism is rooted in public policy.”

A theme that developed over the course of the night was accountability. Beyond accountability within the Black community, participants reflected on how to continue holding themselves accountable.

“It’s important to be a part of the conversation and know what’s going on in the Black community, especially as an out-of-state student,” Kimar Karu, a first-year law student from Salt Lake City, said.

Romayne Williamson, a Boston native from Hyde Park, echoed Karu’s sentiment.

“I, myself, just want to look into it more to see how I can be a voice of reason, how I can help my community in the hope that we can afford to live in Boston and keep our culture alive,” Williamson said.

Beyond the overarching subject of systemic oppression, topics ranged from poverty and police brutality to unemployment plaguing the Black community. The conversation continually navigated back to the gentrification of Roxbury — and holding Northeastern accountable for its role in it.

Gerthy Lahens, 67, is a community organizer of 20 years who spoke at the forum. She lived on Huntington Avenue for 30 years. After the event finished, Lahens talked specifically about her experience being gentrified, applauding the Law Students for Indigenous Liberation for recognizing the effects of Northeastern’s role.

“I’ve seen it and lived it and worked on it,” she said. “They are doing so much organizing work here to have the university understand that they’re pushing families away here and in Roxbury. I think this was the key place to meet and say, ‘Okay, what is going on outside of campus?’”

The symposium also included a communal discussion led by Leslie E. Harris, a former associate justice for the Suffolk Juvenile Court, and Susan Maze-Rothstein, a law professor at Northeastern. Both Harris and Maze-Rothstein acknowledged that while the university and School of Law have spearheaded efforts in seeking justice, they need to pursue restorative justice for the gentrified community of Roxbury.

“There are many streets where housing is really [Northeastern] dorms, but I can remember visiting friends in those homes. Those used to be residential,” said L.V. Randolph, founder of Cambridge Argillite, Inc.

For Adibe, the community has spoken regarding what issues matter most for her organization to begin to address.

“Gentrification is a constant concern here, so we have to think of ways to hold institutions accountable for infringing on the community through their expansion and development, and also work with local organizations to see what kind of efforts they’re already engaged in so we can assist them,” Adibe said. “We are ready to hold Northeastern accountable.”