By Joyce King, Retired Educator, 89-Year-Old South End Resident
The move of the Harriet Tubman House is difficult; I understand that very well because I was born in the South End and never lived any place else. Thankfully, we are not losing the Harriet Tubman House or the programs that carry her leg-acy. That’s because United South End Settlements has made a very difficult but necessary decision – it’s selling 566 Columbus Ave. – the building that cur-rently houses the Harriet Tubman House, consolidating and adding to programs at its Rutland Street location just a few blocks away.
In its 127-year history of serving as a central South End presence while evolv-ing with the community, USES finds itself facing a central question: does it preserve a building or an institution? It has chosen the latter, ensuring generations of families will be served long into the future.
While the sale of 566 Columbus Avenue is essential for the preservation of USES and the legacy of service it embodies, USES did not sell to the highest bidder. It selected South End developer New Boston Ventures because of the firm’s history of working with the community and giving back and the unique and generous community benefits it’s proposing.
New Boston Ventures responded to USES’s request for proposals as a community partner and has demonstrated its commitment through its actions. It has assisted the non-profit tenants of 566 Columbus find new and affordable spaces that are close by, helped with relocation and buildout costs, and will be providing rental subsidies. It is also giving USES space in the new building – at street level – so it can continue to have a presence of community and civic engagement at this vibrant location in the neighborhood. The project is committed to preserving and protecting what it can, including the mural on the building by Jameel Parker.
USES has outlined a very clear and exciting path forward, using proceeds from the sale wisely and thoughtfully to ensure that its doors remain open to contin-ue offering services to the community. One-third of children in the South End live in poverty, so we need USES to still be here, offering a place for children of all backgrounds to learn, to laugh, and to grow up happy, healthy and confident; a foundation to being successful. We need USES to also continue supporting families who take care of our children, helping them achieve their goals. The experiences that many of us have had at the Harriet Tubman House will now take place at Rutland Street, as USES expands programs that support children and families in our community. It is with the community in mind that USES is now positioning itself to continue to be one of the most valuable assets in the South End. We as a community need to remember that Harriet Tubman wasn’t about a specific location, she was about helping others wherever she could. USES is doing the same. Let’s not let location cloud our judgement. In uniting to-gether to support USES, we are honoring Harriet Tubman’s legacy while answering the question: what’s more important, preserving a building or an institution