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68 Blocks: Life, Death, Hope

Facing the future, or the dream of one

There were 19 shootings in Bowdoin-Geneva this year, but no one was killed. Here, that seems a step ahead. But progress, if real, feels like a fragile reed in a garden furrowed deep with promise and pain.

Jhana Senxian serves food at a summer gathering celebrating the community garden on Coleman Street.

Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

Jhana Senxian serves food at a summer gathering celebrating the community garden on Coleman Street.

This project was reported and written by Jenna Russell, Meghan E. Irons, Akilah Johnson, Maria Cramer, and Andrew Ryan

The party in the garden is two days away, and Jhana Senxian is scrambling. She needs volunteers to weed the neighborhood plots. She needs tables and chairs. She needs to get a coat of paint on the garden shed.

In her living room on Coleman Street, she passes stacks of fliers to two neighbors, trusted aides. Floyd Odom sets off down the street, a social force of nature, stopping at every door to spread the word about the party. Kaori Tate, 10, lingers on the wine-colored couch, seeming older than she did two months ago.

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Don’t just leave fliers on porches — talk to people, Jhana coaches. Kaori nods. “Make a connection,” she says.

Jhana is worried. This will be the first time the garden gate is flung open to show the whole neighborhood the progress they have made.

Have they done enough?

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She set out in the spring to transform the community garden on Coleman Street into a gleaming green jewel. And she had hoped to use the garden to bring her neighbors together. There are days now in mid-August when that seems to be happening. But the garden, and the street beyond, aren’t lush and gorgeous yet. There are picture-perfect plots with vegetables in rows, and there are other plots where weeds have taken over.

Jason Grant, a city employee, boards up the front door of the yellow house on Hendry Street, a source of many complaints, after the city vacated it over a host of code violations.

Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff

Jason Grant, a city employee, boards up the front door of the yellow house on Hendry Street, a source of many complaints, after the city vacated it over a host of code violations.

The white-haired man who has run the garden for years tries to keep up with her requests. Once suspicious of her motives, he now sees her as a partner — but a demanding one. “Jesus Christ, the girl is persistent!” he says. A week ago, he finally installed the message board she has wanted since June for posting announcements in the garden.

Now, Jhana isn’t sure she likes it. “Hmm,” she says, eyeing it skeptically. “I thought he would put it horizontally, on posts.”

But the message board stays put; there are more pressing problems.

Everywhere Jhana looks there are things that need doing. The peach tree by the garden gate has been marred by blight — black marks freckle the peaches’ yellow flesh — and she has been told to treat the tree with special oil. There is blight invading the tomatoes, too, and as the garden’s bounty ripens, rats have been spotted again.

Moving steadily from task to task, Jhana pushes aside the shock she felt two days ago when a woman in the neighborhood — who swore she just wants to help — came to tell Jhana what some people think of her: that she wants to be “queen of Coleman Street.” That her agenda is her own, not her neighbors’. That even her fliers are too nice, making it look like Jhana thinks she’s better than everyone else.

Seriously? she thinks, cross and impatient. So beauty has no place in this neighborhood?

The party is an important test for Jhana — a public moment when her leadership will be assessed. She wants it to go smoothly, but there is only so much she can do. She doesn’t know who will show up, or if they will really bring food. But at least she isn’t doing it alone.

Floyd is in charge of coaxing neighbors to cook. But Floyd won’t take donations from just anyone. He needs to peek in every kitchen, gauging cleanliness. One man “had like 20 cats on the counters, so I crossed him off the list. I said, ‘No, no, you just come yourself.’ ”

“Girl,” Floyd says, widening his eyes, “you should see some of these houses.”

“So tell those people to bring condiments,” says Jhana. “Ice, apples, things like that.”

As Floyd and Kaori finish their rounds on the street, another neighbor is in her kitchen frying green tomatoes. Rolanda neglected her own garden plot this summer, but Jhana has given her tomatoes to fry for the party. She makes a trial batch and carries it down to the garden.

This is what Rolanda has dreamed about all summer. Inside the gate, where Jhana, Floyd, and Kaori are waiting, she drops tomatoes onto paper towels placed on upturned palms. They are crunchy, crusted with cornmeal, still red-hot from their bath in sizzling oil.

A resident of the house surrenders his dog to animal control.

Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff

A resident of the house surrenders his dog to animal control.

It is almost dark when Floyd climbs the peach tree. Rolanda wants to make peach cobbler for the party, too. Perched above the garden, Floyd picks the last ripe fruit from the tree.

“Is there anything you can’t do, Floyd?” Jhana teases.

The sun is sinking into a crown of trees at the far end of Hendry Street when the group of nearly 20 rounds the corner and walks toward the big yellow house at the end. It’s the usual team of city inspectors, cops, and neighborhood activists out for one of its regular walks to spot problems. Today, Darryl Smith, a lead city inspector, asked to see the house that’s purported to be a source of gunfire and drug traffic. As the group approaches the house, a dark silhouette atop a rise, they fall silent. Most of them stop to wait from a safe distance. They watch as Smith and two others — a code enforcement officer and a cop — walk into the shadows. At the fence surrounding a yard of chest-high weeds, they pause, and then step through the open gate, one after another.

They have only gone a few feet when they spot something moving and freeze. A pit bull is on the porch, poised. The men are motionless for an instant. The pit bull stiffens as though to strike, and they run, stumbling over weeds and each other as they lunge for the gate. Then, safely on the street, they pause to look back. On balconies and side porches are a half-dozen empty crates and cages.

“They got a lot of dogs,” Smith says.

Two days later, he gathers eight inspectors in a conference room at Inspectional Services headquarters. They are members of a team trained to enter problem houses. Smith thinks they can do something about the yellow house and the trouble on Hendry Street. Police have continued to station patrol cars there, but there’s not much more they can do without hard evidence of criminal activity. But Inspectional Services can evict tenants and board up houses if there are serious code violations.

It seems a perfect solution. All they need is for someone who lives there to let them in and sign a letter authorizing an inspection. That could be tricky business. Smith turns to a stern-looking woman with a Bluetooth phone headset in her ear, Evangeline Maxwell. Everyone calls her Van. She will lead the team. She is a specialist at talking her way in.

Presumably, the tenants are dangerous and savvy, Smith says. If nothing else, they’ll know they can refuse. Van nods sleepily. She knows the drill.

“Any other concerns?” Smith says, looking around the room.

“Just those dogs,” Van replies.

A view down Hendry Street in Bowdoin-Geneva, with the problem yellow house at the end.

Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff

A view down Hendry Street in Bowdoin-Geneva, with the problem yellow house at the end.

An hour later, they gather on a side street near Hendry. It’s 11 a.m. Already the sun is beating down. An animal control officer is there with a truck. There are five cops in case there’s trouble. Smith had wanted the element of surprise, to stay out of sight while Van and one other went to the door. But the cops showed up early and parked their cruisers in front of the house.

“We’ll see what we get now,” Smith says, anxiously rubbing his chin.

Van and another inspector walk up the middle of the street with two patrolmen. Nearby, a woman and a small child watch from a third-floor balcony. The team mounts the porch and enters the dark front hall. It stinks of dog urine, stale marijuana smoke, and scented candles. A roll of sticky fly tape hangs from the ceiling.

Van knocks on the door of the first-floor apartment. A man with no shirt who looks like a body builder answers. He immediately refuses to let them in and closes the door. On the second floor, they get the same treatment from a man who says he doesn’t live there and that no one else is at home. The entry team moves up the remaining flight of stairs to the third floor.

Outside on the sidewalk, Smith and the other inspectors pace. Three patrolmen cluster under the meager shade of a small tree.

Smith’s cellphone rings. It’s one of the inspectors inside. “We’re in,” Smith says to the others around him, glee in his voice. “We’re in on the third floor.”

Inspectors head inside to start looking around. On the third floor, Van has gone into the apartment to talk to the haggard young woman who gave the inspectors permission.

“Gunfire?” she says when asked about trouble. She has her 11-month-old on her hip. “Of course. It’s Dorchester.”

Someone pounds on the door and comes in. It’s the muscled man from the first floor. Records would later show he has a long criminal history, including prison time for armed carjacking and a conviction for challenging a police officer to a fight in the hallway of Dorchester District Court.

He looks hard at Van, then at the young mother. “Come talk to me later,” he says.

Outside, a police officer with a hand on his gun leads two inspectors through the yard to a side door and into the basement. In the darkened cellar there are fleas and rat droppings, and they find what they need: Faulty wiring, rusted-out exhaust pipes on the building’s furnaces, and a host of other problems. “It’s going to be an immediate vacate,” Smith says. “Tempers are going to flare.”

Kaori Tate, 10, jumps rope outside the garden at a block party before Labor Day. The track athlete is about to start sixth grade, and she has her new Air Jordans, gray and purple, ready.

Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

Kaori Tate, 10, jumps rope outside the garden at a block party before Labor Day. The track athlete is about to start sixth grade, and she has her new Air Jordans, gray and purple, ready.

Soon there is commotion inside. Cops and the inspectors are pounding on apartment doors, telling tenants they have to leave. Anyone who can prove they are a legal tenant of the place will be put up at a hotel at the city’s expense. Animal control seizes two dogs. A man on the front porch is screaming. From a second-floor
apartment, young men and women stream out, carrying flat-screen TVs and duffel bags and casting dark looks at the cops and inspectors.

It takes most of the day for everyone to pack and leave. Trucks come and shut off the water and snip the power line. A city employee with saws and a power drill screws plywood sheets to the windows. A last man comes from the second floor, throws some things into a black Infinity SUV. His name is Victor T. Scott., a 23-year-old who six years earlier had been caught in a drug sting. According to court records, he met an undercover cop at the top of the street, and sold him six bags of crack. As a condition of his probation, Scott had been ordered not to set foot on Hendry Street.

Before driving away, he stops and fixes his eyes on each of the inspectors remaining at the site, as though to send a message.

It is nearly night. A half moon has risen. The worker with the power drill makes a last dash inside the boarded-up house, calling out, “Hello? Everybody out?” He returns to the porch, screws plywood over the front door then, with a dozen sharp blasts of a staple gun, affixes a blue sign with Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s name and, in big letters, “No Trespassing.”

“All right,” the worker says and packs up his tools.

Today is the day Jalanae really gets to celebrate her birthday.

Four days ago, she turned 14 and got a Google tablet and dinner at Olive Garden. But today, she will get what she really wants — a piercing so she can put a ring through the cartilage of her upper ear.

That wish comes true as soon as her best friend arrives. Like this could happen without her best friend — or without traveling to Legacy Place, in Dedham. Shopping centers are ubiquitous teen hangouts but absent from her neighborhood.

Jalanae met her friend four years ago at summer camp. Theresa didn’t really want to send her. But Jalanae’s grandmother insisted: “You gotta let her out. There’s too much happening in the ’hood.”

It was around the time the old community center at Theresa’s school got shot up. It still haunts Jalanae, who attended the school and was there, waiting for her mother to get off work. She will never forget the confusion, panic, and fear.

Theresa Johnson’s son, Sean, says he’s done with the street life. That he wants to learn a trade, get a job, and take care of his family.

Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff

Theresa Johnson’s son, Sean, says he’s done with the street life. That he wants to learn a trade, get a job, and take care of his family.

Jalanae is Theresa’s sensitive child, the one brought to tears with a look of disappointment. She’s not as street savvy as other kids her age, doesn’t cross the city on the bus, rarely walks home from school alone. Yet, in some ways, Jalanae has more freedom than her siblings did, especially her older sister. She goes to Chez Vous Roller Skating Rink for teen nights and spends weekends at her best friend’s in Medford.

Sean speculates his mother is raising his little sister differently than the others, trying to keep her from following in their footsteps. And he’s right about that. Theresa is working hard to keep Jalanae close while also giving her room to grow.

The girls are singing loud and off-key as the car stops in front of Claire’s in Legacy Place.

They run through the downpour and into the store.

“She’s just getting one hole in her cartilage,” Theresa tells the assistant manager. Jalanae wants two piercings, though, one in each ear.

“Well, I had a talk with your father, and he said one.”

Jalanae sits in the chair pouting, “She messed up the whole plan.”

“Who me?” Theresa asks, feigning sympathy. “My bad. Your father said one.”

Theresa and Jalanae’s father split six or seven years ago, and he tends to be the heavy in situations when Theresa is the pushover.

The ear-piercing, from paperwork to piercing, takes about 30 minutes. When it’s done, Jalanae must remind herself not to touch the Hello Kitty earring in the crux of her upper ear.

This is what teenagers do — they commit small acts of rebellion. And Theresa allowed it, but on her terms.

THE GARDEN PARTY is a success, after all Jhana’s worrying. Dusk falls as the small crowd lingers under a white tent, eating from heaping platters of Vietnamese spring rolls and fried green tomatoes. A passing rain shower only heightens the mood of quiet togetherness. There is talk of a shooting the night before in a nearby park, but mostly there is lighter conversation blending gently with the soft guitar music and the sound of children playing on the walkways, between rows of towering corn stalks.

Kaori is one of the last to leave. The 10-year-old helps Jhana clean up long past nightfall, after her parents have gone home.

Emboldened by their success, the Coleman Street neighbors gather again two weeks later, just before ­Labor Day, for another, even more ambitious party, with salsa lessons and soccer matches in the street. It starts slowly but grows, under the smoke rising from the twin grills in the garden. Jhana starts to relax. She didn’t have much help setting up this morning. Even Floyd was feeling put-upon, and refused to fetch the fish cakes — everybody’s favorite — from the woman who had graciously agreed to make them.

Kaori helped, as always, carrying chairs. Now she sits in the street — which is closed to traffic — painting sunflowers on a “Welcome to Coleman Street” banner.

When her friend appears on her grandfather’s porch, Kaori gasps. “Ghiyahna!” she yells, sprinting up the street. She throws her arms around her and they dance together.

Kaori takes Ghiyahna’s hand and leads her into the garden.

“Guess what I planted?” Kaori tells her friend. “Onions. But they’re not growing up yet.”

The cool September wind rustles dry corn stalks behind them. In a week, they will start sixth grade at different schools. Kaori has her new Air Jordans, gray and purple, ready.

Elsewhere in the garden, the shared plots Jhana planted are still packed with rows of shiny lettuce, fragrant basil, scores of tomatoes. She has been indecisive about picking them — still uncertain when, exactly, they are ready for harvest, and reluctant to strip away the garden’s hard-earned beauty.

Tal picks up trash at Moakley Park as part of his temporary job with the city.

Bill Greene/Globe Staff

Tal picks up trash at Moakley Park as part of his temporary job with the city.

She wants to keep the place vibrant after summer ends. Maybe she will plan a turning-in party, with music and hot cider, in the fall, when gardeners put plots to bed for the winter.

The end of the season will not be the end of her work. Soon the city will announce a grant to help her continue, thousands of dollars to hire young people from the neighborhood.

A week ago, she added flowers to the plantings on the sidewalks. A crew of UMass students helped her transplant vibrant black-eyed Susans from the garden, ignoring a loud, profane domestic altercation that erupted in the street as they were working.

The effect was transformative, injecting orange dazzle beside the muted tones of fern and eggplant. But all the black-eyed Susans died shortly thereafter, seemingly pining for their old home in the garden.

Jhana shrugs off the disappointment, as she has before this summer. Instead, she hangs on to a few moments when she glimpsed something shifting in the neighborhood.

She sees it now, outside the garden gate, where a neighbor who used to be homeless, who felt like an outcast on the street, is jumping rope, grinning and carefree in her Patriots jersey.

And she saw it at the first garden party, when it started raining. It could have meant disaster. But the guitarist moved his chair under the tent and kept playing — a soft, traditional, Spanish rain-calling song — and the people at the party followed, huddling close in the shelter while rain fell all around.

IT’S SEPTEMBER. Sean’s been in jail five months, and Theresa decides she can’t go through all of this again. Making sure there’s money in his canteen account, all the hours on the phone, the calls to his lawyer, the court dates — it’s just too much.

Sean has to choose, he has to make a choice.

“I’m your mother, and I love you,” she starts during their daily phone call. “But if you want to take this road, then I’m done.”

How can you make me pick, he fumes. Franklin Field or her? His friends or his mother?

“I’m making you choose between life and death,” she continues. “I don’t want to know you because people light candles on the street for you.”

People’s children seem to be dying all around her, and she keeps putting herself in a pair of shoes she never hopes to wear, those of a grieving mother — a mother who grieves because her child is gone, a mother who grieves because her child took a life.

What would I be doing if this was my child?

She tries to put herself inside the mind of a killer. “What is he doing, sitting somewhere, smoking a blunt thinking, ‘Yeah, I got that [dude].’ ”

That can’t be her son. She can’t allow it. He has to know he will have to answer for what he’s done — answer to mankind, answer to God. Easy will, too. “He can’t keep doing this,” she says.

Sean knows she worries. He knows she doesn’t want to bury her children, or her children to bury someone else’s child. “She don’t want none of us to end up doing life in jail or something.”

He worries, too. He fears she will see him as a perpetual problem. Fears she will never see the potential that lies beneath. “I try not to bring no issues anywhere around her.”

Members of a church youth group harvest tomatoes in the garden in August.

Bill Greene/Globe Staff

Members of a church youth group harvest tomatoes in the garden in August.

He doesn’t believe Theresa is ready to wash her hands of him. But he does believe this: “If I ever get locked up again, she’s not going to help me. I’m going to be doing it by myself.”

Right now, Theresa is doing the time with him. The whole family is.

But no, she won’t do this again.

Sean says he’s done with the street life. That he wants to learn a trade, get a job, take care of his family.

He never wants to come back here. Theresa almost believes him. Almost.

A son’s love for his mother must be stronger than his love for the streets.

It just has to be.

SUSAN YOUNG, the neighborhood worker at the Bowdoin Street Health Center, is worried as she calls Tal’s cellphone from her office. She’s heard he was in a fight on his front porch, which is upsetting, but it’s not the main thing bothering her. He seems tense lately, jittery. It makes her think something is up.

After the success of his party on Norton Street and his initial enthusiasm for a new job, he seemed to drift. The last couple of weeks, Susan and Father Richard “Doc” Conway have been fighting just to get him to show up to work regularly. His bosses report that he’ll work with vigor, then simply not show up. He gives lots of reasons for absences, some valid, some maybe not: a twisted ankle, a sore back, a stuffed-up nose. He often didn't bother to call to say he won’t be there. Susan and Doc were livid when they discovered that. It’s a temporary job, but they had hoped to have it extended. Desperate calls to City Hall had been required to make that happen.

But now Susan can’t get rid of the feeling that something more is going on with him, something bad. She wants to get to the bottom of it. When Tal answers the phone, Susan tells him to come to her office. She wants to talk.

“WE HAVE A LOT of good things to talk about,” Mayor Thomas M. Menino says to the crowd of 50 or so city department heads, cops, and neighborhood workers seated in a function room at First Parish church.

The late September gathering is another of the get-togethers held every two weeks since last October. Usually, they talk about problems in Bowdoin-Geneva and ways to fix them. But now it’s mid-September. The weather is starting to cool, and the mayor is here to review the summer’s accomplishments.

Menino finishes his short speech, then someone starts a projector, and slides flash on a screen. Officials take turns narrating: The city helped put on 35 fairs and events. The team of neighborhood walkers flagged 79 problems — overgrown weeds, loose trash, problem properties. Forty-three citations were issued. Sidewalk cracks were fixed on Bowdoin, yellow center lines painted on Quincy, streetlights fixed . . .

A slide of crime statistics shows on the screen. Shootings are up, but no one was killed this summer and overall, violent crime is down 9 percent.

Menino makes a point of saying the mission isn’t over, that there’s work ahead. “We’re not done,” he says. “We’re not perfect here.” But the mood is clearly upbeat.

WHEN SUSAN’S phone rings a little more than a week later, she is at home looking out a window at a cold, driving rain and hunting the sky for lightning. An electrical storm would mean her son’s football practice will be called off, and she’ll have to go pick him up. It’s a Friday at the end of September. Another neighborhood worker is on the line. His voice is tense. There’s been a shooting. A friend of Tal’s was hit in the chest a few blocks from where Tal lives.

Father Richard “Doc” Conway and Susan Young (second from left) read a prayer in front of St. Peter Church during a peace march on an October night
.

Bill Greene/Globe Staff

Father Richard “Doc” Conway and Susan Young (second from left) read a prayer in front of St. Peter Church during a peace march on an October night .

Susan gasps. The neighborhood worker doesn’t need to tell her what this means. In the last week, there has been a rash of shootings — on Tuesday there were shots on Norton Street, where Tal lives, last night a fatal one in a barbershop on Geneva just outside the neighborhood. Police think it’s a series of back-and-forth retaliation hits by rival gangs, one of them Tal’s.

The man shot tonight is as close a friend as Tal has. They’ve known each other since childhood. There are any number of possible next moves: Someone in the gang involved tonight could come after Tal, or Tal could go after one of them.

He is outside his house now, the worker tells Susan. He’s ranting. Furious and shouting.

“Can you talk to him?” the neighborhood worker says. “He usually listens to you.”

Susan hangs up and quickly dials Tal’s cellphone. No one picks up. She dials the landline at Tal’s house, and his mother answers. He’s outside, his mother says.

Find him, Susan tells her. Try to calm him down. She’ll be there as quickly as she can.

She looks at the time — just after 6 — and shoots another glance at the sky before rushing out of the house.

A short time later, Doc is hurrying across the rain-lacquered pavement toward the crime scene, holding an umbrella against the downpour.

When the call came, he was in traffic on I-93, returning from Weymouth where he’d been signing papers for a new condo. He decided to sell his place to buy something bigger, in a quieter building, preparing for that time when he crosses a line into true old age.

After getting the news, he called Tal from the car. He asked a few urgent questions. Did he want to get out of town? They would find a way to get him out, if that’s what he wanted. And then he’d driven as fast as he could back to Bowdoin-Geneva.

Susan called at one point. She had reached Tal and assured herself that he was inside his house and safe, so she left to pick up her son. Doc decided to go to the scene.

Ahead now Doc sees the police lights. Cops are milling about outside the house. Neighbors watch from porches. Doc goes to talk to the cops and stands with them for a while inside the barrier of police tape, holding his umbrella over them.

With the back-and forth shootings, he’s as worried as he’s ever been.

“We have to get him out of here,” Doc shouts. He is emotional and emphatic. “We have to find a way get him out.”

Through the night, Doc is on the phone with Tal repeatedly. So is Susan and Jack Danilecki, a police captain who has been trying to help Tal find permanent work.

“Listen to me,” Danilecki recalls saying to Tal. “Don’t go out there.”

“Jack, all I want to do is go to work and come home and not get killed,” Tal replied.

“Give me your word you’re not going out there.”

Tal stays in and pours himself three vodka cranberries. His friend survives.

After the crime scene is closed and everyone leaves, police cruisers patrol Norton Street, passing by Tal’s house every 10 or 15 minutes. Two more cruisers park at either end of the street to observe anyone who tries to come or go. Doc goes back to the rectory. He has a quiet dinner alone, and pours himself a measure of Dewar’s.

A MONTH PASSES and then another. The air grows cold, and the frantic wail of sirens all but stops. Across the 68 blocks of Bowdoin-Geneva, the chill brings some relief from summer’s anxieties. But old sorrows linger and the work goes on.

In the days after the shooting of Tal’s friend, police, prosecutors, and a slew of city and neighborhood workers, including Susan and Doc, meet Tal and others considered members of Norton Street. The men tell the officials what the authorities hoped to hear, that they want the violence to stop. Another meeting is called two days later with their Homes Ave. rivals. Just one came, and only because authorities made it a condition of his probation.

Tal continues to work cleaning parks for the city, showing up more reliably, until the end of the season on Nov. 23. Now, he’s looking for work again. He imagines an idyllic future life somewhere outside Bowdoin-Geneva, when he marries and has a family and a steady job. Sometimes he pictures that life nearby but often it’s far away, maybe in Miami, where he sees himself getting married on a beach, wearing a white Louis Vuitton suit. But there is yet no solid prospect of him leaving the neighborhood.

Theresa Johnson’s summer worries have receded. When the school year starts, she thrives again among the throngs of children at Marshall Elementary. She takes a second job at an after-school program, bringing in a little more money but extending her work day to 12 hours.

Sean’s court case is now nearing trial. She worries he’s not going to get a fair deal. Easy, according to his brother, doesn’t run with Greenwood Street anymore. Theresa insisted Easy get a job, but the Nov. 30 deadline she set for him comes and goes. He’s still not working.

The yellow house on Hendry Street is still boarded up. Children play in the street. A basketball hoop that had been thrown in the weeds was put back up, and Tony Van Der Meer begins to feel good about living there again. But his uneasiness isn’t completely gone; tenants of the condemned building have been spotted living in a house two blocks away. “The action from Hendry Street,” one activist said at a meeting, “is moving to Quincy Street.”

Little Nate Davis is blindsided in prison one day and knocked out cold in October. He wakes up in the infirmary with no recollection of it. He has only a few months left on his sentence now. Medication has lessened his anger and night terrors, he says. He’s studying for his GED, picking up his plan to attend Morehouse College in Atlanta. He wants to be a math teacher, and to be done with street life. But in the next breath he declares he will remain forever loyal to his ciphers — his inner circle of friends on the street — and always have their backs in a fight.

Big Nate Davis and Latrina Fomby-Davis creep slowly toward a day when their grief won’t be so raw. It’s a long road, but there are more good days now. Big Nate has a job working on computers at a high-tech company in Franklin. It’s temporary, but it’s full time. It will help pay the bills. But he never really stops missing his boys. He and Trina on occasion tell a story of that long-ago trip to Disney World, when it seemed like things would turn out differently. They had lost Nicholas at a water park that day and had frantically called out his name in the crowd but they couldn’t find him. Park officials evacuated the pool and there was Nicholas floating. They tell the story as though one one day they’ll turn the corner and he might come back splashing obliviously in the waves.

One October night, amid fallen leaves and a breeze hinting of winter, Susan and Doc gather a small crowd outside the health center — mothers and fathers, a few police officers, 10-year-old twin girls. Slim and some of the other homeless guys from “the office” are there. A man carries a sign saying “PEACE.”

Doc hands out candles from a cardboard box and helps people light them in the wind. In a moment, the group moves slowly forward along the street and starts to sing. Young raises a bullhorn and shouts into it, “We want residents to know we want the violence to stop!”

The group pauses in front of the Davises’ house halfway down Norton Street. Susan reminds them, her voice soaring through the sound system, that right here the neighborhood lost a child to violence. Doc jogs up the six porch steps and rings the bell, but no one answers, and they march on.

A minivan honks in approval. A young man snaps a photograph. At a street corner, Slim tells Susan he had to leave for an AA meeting. She nods and watches him disappear into the darkness.

They cross Bowdoin and move along a circuit of streets — Draper, Topliff, Homes Avenue, dangerous streets, where fear has ruled. They pause at places where young men died, here a sidewalk memorial where votive candles melt to a pool of hard wax, there a barren street corner. As they go, people emerge from houses and stand on porches and balconies. A woman with a small dog joins the march, then an elderly man.

“Have you ever lost a loved one on these streets?” Susan shouts into the bullhorn. “Come join us. Please come join us.”

As she marches, she believes that all the work will one day pay off. Next summer there will surely be shooting again and probably again the summer after that. But there is a tipping point out there somewhere — she feels sure of it — a point where all the effort takes hold, and she shouts again into the dark, “Come join us, come join us.”

AT A NURSING HOME across the city, Ella Pierce picks up a ripe, red tomato. A friend from the neighborhood brought it to her and left it here by her bed. She holds the warm fruit in her hand, treasure from the garden she loves, and pictures in her mind a place where such beautiful things can grow.

Reporters and photographers involved in this project can be reached at 68blocks@globe.com
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