Closed-door machinations on Beacon Hill usually don’t mean much to people in Dorchester, but there are exceptions.
So it was that Tina Chery, the longtime Dorchester peace activist, was over the moon when she learned that a $150,000 budget appropriation for the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute in Fields Corner had survived the budget process.
“Oh, my goodness,” she said Tuesday. “I’m so excited. It speaks volumes.“
That amount is small change in the context of a $36.5 billion state budget. But it represents a lifeline for a community group that constantly struggles to keep going.
Working on the front lines with families wracked by violence doesn’t leave much time for lobbying or monitoring the budget process.
“There’s been 24 homicides now, and right now we’re dealing with another one,” Chery said “It’s hard to understand the complexities of the [budget] process and keep up with our priorities at the same time.”
Chery’s path to activism is both tragic and well known. She has devoted herself to keeping the memory of her son alive. Louis, 15, was gunned down outside the Fields Corner MBTA station in 1993. He wasn’t a target, but in an instant he was gone.
Chery quickly discovered there was very little support for families struggling to cope with homicide. There were police officers and prosecutors, but no one to help you deal with burying your child or coping with the aftermath.
So, in 1994, she founded the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute. Its primary role is to counsel survivors of violence. Volunteers help arrange funerals, a daunting issue for many families. Chery and the people who work with her will hold your hand for as long as you need them to. They encourage survivors to remember the lives of their loved ones, instead of their deaths.
This is how she describes its mission: “helping families transform their pain and anger into power and action.”
They have always done this on a shoestring. An annual Mother’s Day “Walk for Peace” is its only significant fund-raiser. Chery spends a lot of time looking for financial help.
As anyone who has visited her headquarters can attest, she is great at recruiting help.
“We look at human capital as a resource we can tap into,” Chery said. “It has been challenging, yet we have a lot of people who want to volunteer in helping us with marketing, grant-writing, whatever skill sets people have that we can tap into.”
Now that the state has given, Chery is eyeing the city budget process. She’s never dealt with the Walsh administration and isn’t sure what to expect. That’s not a criticism, just the reality of dealing with a new regime, one that is sorting out its priorities. She’s in a long line of people waiting to find out where they stand.
“We’re starting over,” she said.
Lawmakers deserve credit for funneling money to the institute and other deserving community programs. As always, not everyone is convinced that all of the money in the budget really exists; we’ll see, for example, how much of the millions expected from casino licenses ever materializes.
At any rate, the concerns of Beacon Hill budget obsessives are different from those of a Dorchester activist whose deeply personal mission is now guaranteed to survive for another year.
“Nonprofits in urban settings are very, very difficult,” Chery said. “For us, the support and the belief of the community keeps us going and not giving up on what we believe in.”
That kind of human capital may, in the end, be every bit as valuable as the money from Beacon Hill.