We will move from Pariah Street to Pride Street

Jonathan Gale

I write today about our “Pariah Street,” where 28 low-income families are changing their lives.

South of Boston lies a sleepy middle- to upper-income community with a population approaching twenty thousand, and a housing authority that oversees about 220 elderly housing and 28 family residences.

The 28 pariah families

The 28 family residences with their low income mostly single mom families, some of whom are drug users, and others who fight with alcoholism and live-in boyfriends that refuse to help make lives better for their girlfriends and their children, are all housed on just one street, they are the pariah of the town, the kids who can not participate in town wide activities because the cost is prohibitive, the parents who are not expected to show up at school open house nights, and the street that others will use as a cut through, but almost never as a drop off for play dates.

They are the moms and children that use the town's small food pantry, shop at the second hand stores for children’s clothing, get free breakfast and lunch at school, and are bullied both by their “peers” at school and disrespected by most of the town's upper class residents, who by the way, use just as many drugs, and drink even more expensive liquors, only they live in large beautiful homes with manicured lawns, expensive cars in the driveway, and don’t rely on MassHealth for their families' insurance.

The name of the game is mobbing and bullying, and until recently, these thirty families have experienced it all. From the school department to the police, from the housing authority to the pop warner sports teams, these families and especially the children have felt the pain that only bullying and mobbing can inflict on victims.

Building respect, building community

Recently however, thanks to the hard work of just a few residents of the street, the police department, the recreation commission, and even the housing authority are beginning to finally understand the many years of pain and outcast felt by the families on that one singled out street.

The housing director has begun holding community meetings in an attempt to hear the concerns of the residents and create a more transparent relationship. The police department has begun to more closely monitor the illegal activity on the street, and promises to help the residents re-claim the street for both adults and children. The recreation commission has committed to bring their resources directly to the street so that the families can take advantage of some of their community activities, but even more impressive, the recreation commission has committed to make funds available so that many of the children and adults on this one single low income street can for the first time participate in activities and classes offered to residents of the town.

For now, only a few families on the street are invested and committed to stopping the bullying, only a few police officers have shown a real interest in the problems of the street, and only the senior management of the housing authority has shown any respect for the people of the street as “town residents,” but, still, the journey of healing has begun.

Becoming a street of pride

It won’t be easy, especially for the residents of that one street who will continue to be singled out by most of the towns residents as “losers, moochers, drug users, alcoholics, and trouble makers,” but with hard work, honesty, and over time a new sense of pride, it is this writers hope that the residents of my community will treat those of us on that street like any other town residents, and that one day we will be able to smile and take pride, not only in our town, but in the street on which we live.

Just like the residents in my town who live in the big houses and can save for their children’s college, we too have dreams. We want better jobs, higher wages, access to better health care, new clothing, cars that actually don’t break down, vacations to the sunshine state, and to stop shopping at the food pantry. We want to live our lives in peace, we want to be just like the rest of you, and we want what you want.

I end not by asking you to forgive us for who we are, and for where we live, but to forgive yourselves for the way you have treated us for so many years. Taunting and bullying are the cruelest kind of continuous punishment you and your children can inflict on others, but they are also behaviors you can stop. After all, isn’t ninety percent of how we get along about our attitude, respect, and understanding?

Update on progress
Jonathan Gale is the Associate Coordinator of the Stop Bullying Coalition. He lives with his wife and grandchildren on the street that he is determined will be called "Pride."