Nubian Square’s brand is “the Heart and Soul of Roxbury.”
A delegation of Bedford High School parents and students, including some leaders of the Parents Diversity Council, spent more than an hour walking those streets Saturday afternoon, experiencing first-hand their variety, vitality, and resilience.
The visitors’ guides included BHS senior Mya Brewster, who came to Bedford as a METCO student in sixth grade.
“I want to share my community,” she explained. “There is Black culture here in Boston.”
Brewster, who lives in Dorchester, said she became a Nubian Square walking-tour guide through her participation in a two-year METCO internship called “BEAT (Boston Equity Action Teams).” Participants explored the consequences of “a lack of information about the Black experience in Boston.”
The internship was “a paid opportunity to learn about things like civic engagement, activism work, and how to give back,” she said.
“I’ve done this tour for lots of METCO districts,” said Brewster, who hopes to attend the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. “Bedford has been my host and I want to reciprocate.”
METCO, founded in 1966, describes itself as “a school integration program that enrolls Boston students in participating suburban public schools to reduce racial isolation.” Bedford schools joined the METCO program in 1974.
Late last year METCO moved to a new headquarters on Roxbury Street in Nubian Square. That’s where the Bedford delegation and their hosts shared lunch before the tour.
Before heading outside, the group spent some time in an exhibition area featuring a local civil rights chronology through the 1960s and ’70s with a series of narratives and photographs along the walls.
For most of the attendees, this was history. For Brewster’s mother Danita, it was memory. She said that in 1975 she was a student riding a school bus from Columbia Point in Dorchester that was stoned in South Boston by opponents of busing to achieve racial balance.
Mya Brewster explained the practices of redlining and blockbusting, decreasing home values and resources devoted to schools. Pointing to an adjacent photo, she said, “I really want to highlight white allyship” in the development of METCO.
Indeed, the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was an impetus for many districts to affiliate with METCO in 1968, she pointed out, adding that the killing of George Floyd in 2020 may turn out to be another milestone for support. Julio Castillo, METCO’s community outreach and engagement coordinator, cited “the renewed antiracism movement. Landmark events open our eyes and ears more.”
He added, “As long as racism exists, there needs to be programs like this.”
Nubian Square is named for Nubia, an ancient Northeastern African region that was home to some of the continent’s first kingdoms.
The convergence of Dudley, Warren, and Washington streets and Malcolm X Boulevard in Roxbury for decades was called Dudley Square, named after 16th century Gov. Thomas Dudley. Activists supporting the name change to Nubian Square charged that Dudley allowed the passage of laws that permitted slavery and that his family later enabled the slave trade.
Ironically, Dudley’s name is emblazoned onto one of Bedford’s Brother Rocks along the Concord River. In 1637, the General Court granted some 2,200 acres of land to Dudley and John Winthrop. The two men agreed to divide the land, using the boulders as a boundary. In the 19th century, the nearby land was purchased by the Pickman family, Dudley descendants.
On the street, Brewster shared the narration with Castillo and another staff member, Michael Dober – alumni, college, and career coordinator. After she described the adjacent Faces of Roxbury mural, Castillo pointed to a park under construction across the street honoring Edward Gourdin. Besides serving as the state’s first Black Superior Court associate justice, Gourdin was an Olympic athlete and a general in the National Guard.
Venerable Dudley Station was steps away; vestiges of the former elevated line that ran from just south of downtown Boston to Forest Hills were still visible to those who knew where to look. Castillo also spoke of neighborhood resistance to plans for an extended Interstate 95 to carve through the neighborhood along a former railroad bed more than a half century ago.
The guides pointed out locally-owned businesses and encouraged the visitors to patronize
– Frugal Books, Black Market, Nubian Gallery, and Tropical Foods, whose owner made his heirs promise to resist gentrification.
The group paused before the new state building named for former State Rep. Bruce Bolling, which houses, among other things, the headquarters of the Boston Public Schools and the Roxbury Innovation Center.
Across Washington, Brewster pointed out the headquarters of Haley House, a five-pronged social-services landmark for Roxbury and the South End.
“Roxbury has so much more than can be seen with the naked eye,” Brewster declared. “There’s so much here.”
Along Washington Street, more public art – colorful three-story murals on building facades, part of an effort to reframe “the narrative placed upon us by external forces,” Castillo said. The group learned about Melnea Cass, a 20th century civil and community rights activist in Boston. And the final stop was “Roxbury Love Story,” a recent mural of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King. They met as students in Boston.
After the event, one of the Bedford participants, Kim Anderson, executive director of Boston Bridges Initiative, said, “I was blown away by the educators and tour guides. Nubian Square should be known for its amazing community and how it holds a powerful role in cultivating so many civil rights activists. Mya’s enthusiasm was contagious, and I want to share the experience with others.”