By Seth Daniel
Earlier this month, the O’Day/West Newton neighborhood group met for only the third time in its short history – intent on getting something going in O’Day Park that could unite the various neighborhoods of the South End.
The group – a subcommittee off of the Blackstone/Franklin Neighborhood Association – has quickly gained steam and is planning such things as a Bingo night in the park and possibly a family night celebrating cultures from all over the neighborhood.
Jewel Cash Sr. has been part of those spearheading the group and said she and neighbors, the Boston Police and organizations like IBA would like to see O’Day Park revived in a way that it becomes a nexus of peace.
“Residents surrounding O’Day park and other parts of the South End and Boston are concerned with the rising number of shootings and violence in our communities,” she said. “The police and security police officers risk their lives daily as they try to deal with the issues and return to their families every night or day. My mission is to find ways to build bridges between residents of different economic, social and cultural backgrounds in the South End. We want to be inclusive and invite friends and neighbors from across the street and across the neighborhood as well as the city of Boston. We want our children and grandchildren to be able to play and learn from each other in the same playground down the street. I never allowed my daughter to play at O’Day because a young man had been murdered there years ago and I feared putting my daughter in such an unsafe environment.”
That, Cash said, was in the 1970s and 1980s when she first moved to Villa Victoria to pursue a degree in sociology and Spanish. Since that time, she said she has enjoyed the South End and hopes that the effort in O’Day can prevent the worries around violence, and bring the neighborhood together.
Instead of it being the center of a turf war between Villa and Cathedral, old and young, new residents and established residents, rich and poor, she and the rest of the group said they hope to see it become a place where all of those groups can come together peacefully.
Already, the Boston Police D-4 officers have stood up to be counted in the effort.
Officer Jorge Dias announced at the meeting this month that the police were ready to contribute $1,000 to be used in the Bingo Night.
“I have a few friends who are interested in helping these things out and I reach out to them and they are interested in community policing,” he said. “If you have $100, it’s not going to bring anyone out, but if you’re giving out $500 or $1,000 in Bingo games, that builds up the pot and will get people interested.”
Dias said they are particularly interested in the effort for the same reason that D-4 has been a big backer of the One Hood Basketball League, paying with private money for the kids in the league to go to Six Flags this week following the conclusion of the league.
He said bringing the kids together from the various neighborhoods, whether on the basketball court or in O’Day Park, prevents the turf wars from getting out of hand. Once they get to know one another in a different setting, he said, attitudes can change.
Additionally, those in the group were adamant that once activities like music, Bingo, and supervised teen activities are more prevalent, the bad characters that congregate to commit crimes in O’Day Park will disappear to less visible places.
“This could be like the One Hood Basketball League,” said Dias. “The One Hood Basketball League is huge for us with public safety because it takes place right in the middle of the neighborhood and everyone is there together.”
In addition to Bingo, the group has pledged to have a Police Flashlight Walk in O’Day in September and to create a Facebook page to promote the activities.
“My dream is to have something happen in and around O’Day four times a year,” said Cash. “The South End is a very culturally wealthy address to live in Boston, but many of its residents suffer from what I call a ‘cultural deficit disorder,’ which means one neighbor our family knows very little about the cultural background of others that live in the building or their street or their neighborhood. I am participating in this new emerging group of neighbors so that I might see the South End that I met in 1976 when I came to live in Villa Victoria… I feel that the answer to the violence in the crime is to rid ourselves of fears due to ignorance and to join hands crossing barriers of fears and ignorance.”