Boston didn’t want to see Dudley Square become Nubian Square. But Roxbury did.
On Thursday morning, the Public Improvement Commission approved the name change, marking an important first step in a neighborhood controlling its narrative.
“As a lifelong Roxbury resident and one who understands its critical historical and cultural role in Boston and in the black community, I am so excited that the people led this movement to change the name of this important destination within our community,” said state Representative Liz Miranda, who represents parts of Roxbury and Dorchester.
“Having spaces within our community that reflect and empower our communities is not only important, it can lead to the revitalization and a cultural renaissance for the center of our community.”
There’s power in naming things, in imagining, in what we have to say and see every day.
In Boston, we drive down streets named after racial scientist Louis Agassiz. Our celebrated market hall and meeting place is named after Peter Faneuil, a slave owner and human trafficker.
Sometimes, changing a name doesn’t do enough because history and racism are powerful and people will cling to their chosen titles. But other times, a name change is exactly what a community needs.
Kujichagulia, the second principle of Kwanzaa, centers black self-determination and the ability to define ourselves, to name ourselves, to create for ourselves, and to speak for ourselves.
Last month, 54 percent of Bostonians rejected the push to change Dudley Square to Nubian Square in a citywide ballot question. But all of Boston does not live, shop, or visit the neighborhood. In Roxbury, 67 percent of the residents voted in favor of renaming the community hub.
Thomas Dudley was a political leader in 1641 — when Massachusetts became the first colony to legally sanction slavery. If the black and brown people who do live in the square, their square, don’t want that name hovering over them where they live, work, and play, it should be their choice to rename.
“This is a big day for our community,” Sadiki Kambon, the chair of the Nubian Square Coalition and a leader of the effort, told the Globe on Thursday. “It’s a name that reflects, number one, who we are as a people.”
Nubian Square does reflect the diaspora. It also pays homage to A Nubian Notion, the black-owned business that flourished in Dudley Square for nearly 50 years until it closed two years ago.
When Kai and Christopher Grant opened Black Market two years ago, it was a space to host regular pop-up shops for black-owned businesses. But it was more than that, too. Their mission is to stimulate economic development in Roxbury, close the wealth gap, and build community. The Grants carry the baton A Nubian Notion held for so long.
“At first, we thought to ourselves the name was cool, especially to honor Malik Abdal Khallaq, founder of A Nubian Notion,” Kai Grant said. “But we did hesitate and think, a name change is nice but if it doesn’t change the living conditions of your community, what does it do? For generations, Roxbury has been a dumping ground for other people’s trash. But we are your friendly neighborhood disruptors, and naming it ourselves, this is us stepping up and saying we are here to do something transformative. We are envisionists, pushing together to shake things up and help people remember their greatness.“
And they are also pushing for policy change, affordable housing, and ensuring the black and brown people Nubian Square is supposed to honor can continue to call it home.
Too often, the ancient Nubian people are erased in favor of lighter-skinned Egyptians. Historically, the African kingdoms have been pushed out and overlooked in conversations about art, architecture, culture, and governance.
That could happen in Nubian Square. Roxbury is already changing. Boston, with its overpriced rent, billion-dollar property value, and sickening economic gaps, is becoming a city for the wealthy.
Jawad Brown, a Match Middle School math teacher, lives in Roxbury. His dad is from Dudley Square. Though he grew up in Amherst, his summers and weekends were often spent in the neighborhood.
“I have mixed feelings,” Brown says of the name change. “It empowers the community it serves and I’m down for that. I’m all for that, especially for young kids who have to say where they are taking transportation, where they go to get food, where they are going to the library. When you say Nubian Square, that is going to feel different.”
But it looks different, too. Brown says with all of the development, his concern is for the people.
Kyara “DJ Troy Frost” Andrade shares that same angst. She grew up in Dorchester and Roxbury. She lives around Dudley Square, and it’s always been a part of her everyday life.
“Nubian Square is obviously a better name than Dudley Square,” she says. “I feel happy that it was a community decision because that is the right thing to do. It’s an important part of my experience to highlight it as a black neighborhood and set that in stone in terms of who this community belongs to.”
But she’s scared, too.
“I have a real fear that people will continue to be displaced,” she says. “I feel worried. Will we be here to enjoy the name change or nah, because rent is wild. What’s good?”
What she said. The housing struggle is real.
As we celebrate the naming of Nubian Square, we also have to work hard to ensure it doesn’t become a name we pour out for the residents who are no longer here.