The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News

The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News

The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News



Got an idea? A concern? A problem? Let The Huntington News know:

Get to know your local leaders: Q&A with Roxbury liaison Asha Janay

Margot Murphy
Asha Janay poses for a headshot at Nubian Market in Roxbury. Nubian Market hosted office hours April 19 for the public to communicate their issues to Janay.

In September 2023, Asha Janay took on the role of Roxbury liaison in the Department of Neighborhood Services. In the brief time Janay has been liaison, she has been hard at work helping Roxbury thrive by connecting with residents and sharing city resources. As a Roxbury native herself, Janay is passionate about supporting Roxbury in any way possible. The News sat down with Janay to hear more about the day-to-day operations of a liaison and what issues are currently prominent in Roxbury. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

HN: What is the overview of your job and what does it look like day-to-day?

Janay: As a Roxbury liaison, we’re both doing admin and community-based work, so I try to spend as much time as I can in the community by doing coffee hours, responding to fire emergencies and doing walk-throughs if there are any sidewalk or trash complaints or rodent issues. 

HN: What brought you to the role of Roxbury liaison?

Janay: I was a resource and referral specialist at [Massachusetts Child Psychiatry Access Program] working offering services for mothers. I was also a social worker for the [Massachusetts] Department of Children & Families which inspired my desire to be more engaged in the community, especially Roxbury since I’ve lived there for the past 20-plus years. My sister-in-law was like, ‘Hey, you know, you should reach out to somebody from the city of Boston to see ways you can do more volunteer opportunities.’ Then I ended up connecting with the Chief of [Community] Engagement Brianna Millor to see ways I could be more engaged and then she told me about this role. I ended up interviewing within that same week for the position. I love community work; I mean, it’s a hobby that turned into a paid position. Giving back to the community is my passion and I’m glad I’m in the role that I’m in right now.

HN: As a Roxbury native, how do your personal connections to the neighborhood affect the way you do your job as a liaison?

Janay: Honestly, I feel like being a Roxbury liaison opened my eyes to a lot of things. Before, I never looked at the sidewalks or if there was an issue that was going on, I didn’t know who to report it to. I think being from Roxbury and knowing the people of Roxbury, I’m able to advocate for them because I’m living in the same situation that they’re living in, so I think it makes the connection a little bit deeper and more personable. When a Roxbury resident calls me about trash pickup, rodent issues, noise complaints, etc., I’m able to actually do the work and follow through. It makes the job a little bit easier knowing the people and living in the same community you serve.

HN: Have you noticed any particular ways Northeastern University has impacted the Roxbury community, whether it be positively or negatively?

Janay: We have some amazing co-ops from Northeastern who are doing great work. I’ve been in contact with the Office of City and Community Engagement, and I’m currently working with Chimel [Idiokitas], who is a Roxbury native as well, and Chelsea [Lauder], just to see ways that they can try to help out, do more events and have the Northeastern students be more engaged in the community. And so that’s something that we’re constantly working with, but I’ve always had positive interaction with Northeastern and they’ve done so much for the Roxbury community.

HN: What have been some key issues or needs that you’ve identified in the Roxbury community?

Janay: I would say some of the key issues are street and sidewalk repairs. The sidewalks are an ongoing situation. There are constant sidewalk issues, trash pickup and street re-pavements. I’ve been doing a lot of walk-throughs for sidewalks with the Department of Public Works and trying to get that repaired when the weather gets better.

HN: What are some key organizations that you’ve worked with in the Roxbury community that you think are particularly noteworthy?

Janay: I think the neighborhood associations have been a great support for me. They’ve connected me to a lot of residents of Roxbury and connected me to different businesses. I think having a good relationship with different associations, whether it’s Mount Pleasant, Forest & Vine Association, Project R.I.G.H.T or [the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative], they have all been very supportive in responding to any questions or concerns that I have because I’m still learning about what the job entails and working on building that connection, so they’ve helped me.

HN: You mentioned that you do a lot of community service and community work. Could you tell me a little bit more about how you found a passion for that and why that type of work is important for you?

Janay: I wasn’t born in America; I was born in Somalia. I came here at a young age — I think age 5 — with my mom and we left our country because of war. And coming to America, we’ve had a lot of resources that usually migrants don’t always get, but I feel like we have more support because of the community. Being able to come to America, to a whole new country, new language, new food — shout-out to Somali culture and [the Somali Development Center], they have been very supportive to my family when we came to America and helped my mom find a job. I think they gave me the passion to be more engaged in the community. I ended up giving back to the homeless. I do a homeless drive on my own every year, both summer and winter time, where I gather winter gear, summer gear and food and give it to the homeless individuals that were on Mass. and Cass, but also around the Roxbury area. I think coming to America, finding that community and having that community support gave me the passion to continue to give back. 

Editor’s note: This story was updated 9:00 p.m. April 24 to accurately reflect Janay’s role as a referral specialist and social worker and her reference to Mount Pleasant, Forest & Vine Association.

About the Contributors
Gitana Savage, Deputy City Editor
Margot Murphy, Deputy Photo Editor
More to Discover