If black lives matter, city would hold hearing for Roxbury Prep

Time for long delay to end in city review of school building plans

THIS MONTH, at a press conference in the wake of protests over the brutal murder of George Floyd, Mayor Marty Walsh pledged his “commitment to making Boston a national leader in healing the wounds of our history and building a more just future.”

The mayor’s pledge sounded earnest and genuine, but he didn’t offer any details about what exactly he would do to heal wounds.

The 1,500 students and families of Roxbury Prep charter school offer this suggestion: He can support our high school project proposed at 361 Belgrade Ave. in Roslindale. The group of opponents, all of whom are white, have had both overt and undertones of racial motivations for their opposition from the very beginning. This has not been lost on us, nor on district City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo, who represents the area where the school would be built and supports us, nor on the diverse coalition of over 800 West Roxbury and Roslindale residents who have taken an action in support of our project.

The site is currently an unused and dilapidated automotive service shop. It would be the only high school in Roslindale. Not only is it perfect for a high school — with an MBTA line right behind it and multiple bus lines in front of it — the site is actually zoned for a school. So we ask, why not ours?

Last year, the Boston Globe’s editorial page noted that those residents’ stated concerns about traffic “mask the more obvious issue of a largely minority student population attending school in a largely white neighborhood.”

The editorial went so far as to say that “the more opponents protest that this isn’t about race, the less convincing they sound.” Last week, more than a year after the editorial, the paper’s editorial board weighed in again.

“At a time when issues of racial justice and equity have risen to the top of a lot of political to-do lists, a school that has provided quality education for a largely nonwhite student body for the past 20 years ought to be a shoo-in for equitable treatment. Right?” asked the paper.

We as a school have been hesitant to name the racism that has been laid bare by our attempt to build a school that serves mostly black and brown children near West Roxbury, a predominantly white neighborhood.  We have politely addressed all of the concerns around “traffic” and “size”.  We cannot be silent any longer. This national movement calls on us to be more courageous, to name wrong when we see it and to challenge our elected officials to stand on the right side of history. This is what we ask our scholars to do every single day.

We call on the mayor to be courageous as well.

Roxbury Prep has been waiting over 400 days for a hearing before the Boston Planning and Development Agency. The average wait for the majority of projects after the close of the public comment period is 83 days. If ever there was a clear picture of what systematic racism coursing through the veins of city government looks like, it’s our project at 361 Belgrade. It’s the type of double standard that communities of color experience regularly.

By and large, the diverse community of Roslindale has met the opportunity to transform the parcel into a college prep high school for 560 students with open arms. Over 2,000 residents have signed a petition in support and more than 85 percent of the comments filed with the BPDA during the development review process registered their support. The school held multiple community meetings — more than it was required to — and even responded to community input by changing the project plans based on feedback.

Some elected officials of color — seeing the unfair treatment — have written letters and op-eds calling for the school’s project to be placed on the BPDA agenda. Those calls have fallen on deaf ears.

Roxbury Prep’s students are now in two cramped, inadequate quarters, where 9th and 10th graders go to school miles away from their 11th and 12th grade peers. They eat lunch at their desks because there’s no cafeteria. They walk a mile to the Y for gym.

The mayor quoted former President Obama in speaking about racism and bigotry. “We cannot return to the old normal,” he quoted the former president. “We must work together to create a new normal, in which the legacy of bigotry and unequal treatment no longer infects our institutions or our hearts.”

Meet the Author
If the mayor really believes that black lives matter, then he will know that it matters that the children of Roxbury Prep get the same access to Boston’s government agencies as anyone else.

Shradha Patel is the founder and first principal at Roxbury Prep High School.