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Opinion: Viva Community!

February 8th, 2011 at 9:37 pm | Posted by Melissa Jonas

Neighbors enjoyed a Beacon Rocks performance on Festival Street last summer. The El Centro building and the proposed parking lot site are in the background. Photo by Wendi.

Beacon Hill is (and historically always has been) a community of mixed incomes, cultures, ages and lifestyles. I am sometimes teased by friends from other ’hoods for what seems like excessive neighborhood pride, but there’s a lot to be proud of! Our Neighborhood Council is an active and effective voice for the community, and meetings are almost always respectful and productive. Even comments on our neighborhood blog manage to stay civil most of the time.

I hope we can maintain the positive and productive tone as the process moves forward to plan the next stages of development activity at El Centro de la Raza. El Centro staff, volunteers, patrons and tenants are part of our Beacon Hill community. I don’t understand the “us versus them” tone that creeps into conversations and comment threads about El Centro—especially when we’re all in the same room. We share the same goals and priorities: making Beacon Hill safe, vibrant and successful for everyone who lives, works, plays, studies and shops here.

El Centro de la Raza is working towards a goal to develop affordable housing, commercial space, and a public plaza. They are trying to build the “beloved community.” The need is real and the goals are attainable. While the process of changing zoning around the light rail station moves forward, El Centro is trying to activate their now-vacant south lot. They want to encourage vendors and food trucks, and to improve security and pedestrian access.  They also need revenue and are proposing a gravel parking lot with 80 spaces for commuters and sports fans.

In 1972, the “Four Amigos” inspired countless volunteers to pressure elected officials for access to a space that would become a community meeting place. The original Beacon Hill Elementary building was vacant and seemed an ideal location. Their passion and dedication still inspire 38 years later.

El Centro de la Raza is the Center for all Peoples. The name is Spanish; the roots and mission multicultural. Roberto Maestas is the man best known for the occupation that led to El Centro’s foundation, but a photo of those involved in the occupation would make a classic Benetton t-shirt.

Today, the people who seek services (and those who provide them) are astonishingly diverse. Blonde acupuncture clients share the halls with East African mothers picking up children who learned Spanish with their Filipino classmates. Ukrainian seniors wait in line at the food bank staffed by Latino volunteers coordinated by an Asian AmeriCorps leader.

El Centro’s clients and staff are more than culturally diverse. They also represent the economic diversity of Beacon Hill. The food bank and meal programs help our hungry neighbors.  All services are supported by donors and volunteers who have extra time, money, or other resources to share. Several small businesses and independent nonprofit organizations thrive as tenants in the building.. Public art and cultural events are offered throughout the year. El Centro is also the new home for Tots Jam, the toddler music class that started at ROCKiT space.

In addition to the work that goes on inside the building, El Centro advocates for and represents those in our community who might not otherwise participate in the political process. Through translation services, advocacy training, public meetings hosted at accessible times, and other means, El Centro staff and volunteers engage and inspire the community.

I’m not thrilled about parking lots on Beacon Hill. I don’t like any part of the idea. However, I’m willing to support El Centro’s efforts to build a temporary lot while the slow zoning process moves forward. A safe, accessible area with vibrant small businesses is a better short term use of this area than an empty lot. Some small income to help support programs is better than nothing.

El Centro is a vital part of the incredible community I’m proud to call home. They need our help so they can help us.

Oh, by the way… a group of diverse community activists are working to secure public meeting space on Beacon Hill. The North Beacon Hill Council is working with the Beacon Hill Merchants’ Association and other groups to request free access to office space in the library. We need a place to share community information and provide storage and meeting space. Please contact the Mayor’s Office and City Council members to support our efforts. We’re not asking people to occupy the space—an email or tweet should suffice.

Viva Beacon Hill!

(Do you have an opinion? We welcome opinion articles on topics related to Beacon Hill. Please email us your ideas.)

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