In wake of racist graffiti, a community gathers to support students
Students arriving for school at Joseph P. Tynan Elementary were met with a barrage of cheers Friday morning, just two days after vandals left the South Boston school sullied with racist graffiti.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh, City Councilor Ayanna Pressley, and interim Boston Public Schools superintendent Laura Perille were among the hundred or so people who gathered for the so-called standout, which was organized as a way to support the school’s students in the wake of the incident.
“There’s a lot that’s happened, it’s a challenge, but [this is] beautiful,” said the event’s organizer, Thaddeus Miles, as he surveyed the collection of those gathered. “There’s a pathway to unity, and I think it had the opposite effect of what the person who wrote those particular things may have expected.”
In an online post publicizing the event, Miles had been quick to point out that the goal of the gathering wasn’t to protest or serve as a forum for speeches. Rather, it was to “wrap our hearts around the students, teachers, and administration.”
And as the young students exited school buses Friday, those gathered near the school’s entrance cheered, clapped, and yelled messages of support.
Some held signs or flags. Others passed out stickers. Drivers passing by honked horns in support.
“It’s so easy to leave a mark on [young kids],” said Ashley Silva, 25, of Dorchester, who decided to attend the event after seeing a post about it on Facebook. “These experiences shouldn’t occur to them because it’ll leave a mark on them.”
According to Perille, early-arriving Tynan School staff discovered the graffiti — which targeted black students and also contained the phrase “Whitey 4 Lyfe” — Wednesday morning. Facility workers quickly worked to get the school doors power-washed and painted over, but about two dozen students ended up seeing the graffiti.
In the days since, school and district officials have been quick to offer support to teachers and staff at the school, holding an assembly to address the incident, sending letters home, and making a number of trauma-related resources available.
And Friday’s rally, Perille acknowledged, was an extension of that.
“I think this reaction shows that we cannot tolerate this here in Boston, regardless of the negative national environment,” she said. “I think people feel called to respond and stand up and say, ‘Regardless of what’s happening nationally, we will not tolerate this in our community and around our children.’ ”
The idea that the vandalism could be attributed to an increasingly divisive national political climate was echoed by many in attendance Friday, with some pointing to similar incidents that have occurred in recent months, nationally and in Massachusetts.
Earlier this year, for instance, an African-American history display at Wayland High School was the target of racist remarks, according to the Associated Press. That same month, a swastika was found at Needham High School — one of three similar instances that occurred at the school during the school year.
“The hate-filled rhetoric that we’re hearing coming from this administration has pushed people to show themselves at their worst,” said Cindy Rowe, executive director for the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action.
To others, meanwhile, this latest episode harkened back to a more racially fraught era in the neighborhood’s history.
“This is an ongoing struggle in South Boston,” said Michael Dowling, a South Boston resident and part of the South Boston Association of Non-Profits, who attended Friday’s event. “This felt very generational to me — the same thing that was happening 40 years ago.
“So it hasn’t gone away.”
Friday’s standout, though, aimed to show that despite the city’s history — or the current political climate — residents could unite for a worthy cause.
“There’s a lot of positive energy here in South Boston that people don’t actually get to see,” said Miles, who cochairs My Brother’s Keeper Boston, an organization addressing opportunity gaps faced by young men of color. “This is not the South Boston of old, that I know. Stuff happens, and people hang onto things.
“But this is a beautiful community, it’s a culturally diverse community, and I think today is starting to show that a little bit.”