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The Mass Media

2-26-24 PDF
February 26, 2024
An inside look at Bobby B. Beacon’s insides. Illustrated by Bianca Oppedisano/ Mass Media Staff.
Bobby's Inside Story
February 26, 2024

Into the warmth, yet into the cold

Just a little while back, at Boston Logan Airport, migrant families were forced to sleep on the floor. They laid down blankets, piled up belongings and tried to make the hard ground comfortable. Children played in the hallways and parents rested against walls. Nearly a hundred people who arrived in Massachusetts seeking asylum were left stranded in the airport, waiting to be relocated to a shelter. Finally, on Jan. 31, the families were moved to the Melena A. Cass Recreational Complex, a state-run community center. [1] Located centrally in Roxbury, the Cass Center is an essential space with athletics and youth programs. The majority of those who participate in these initiatives there are Black and Brown lower-income Bostonians.  

Soon after the migrant families relocated, a crowd of Roxbury residents rallied outside the building chanting “Shame on Wu!” and “Shame on Healey!” Governor Maura Healey and Mayor Michelle Wu had made little effort to consult the community on their opinions, and had given Roxbury residents little notice of the shutdown. Suddenly, the Cass Center became the intersection of two massive societal issues: the horrific displacement of migrants and the all-too-familiar loss of Black and Brown third spaces. Both during the rally and in online polls, Bostonians asked what their elected officials refused to truly address: Why Roxbury? The answer? Black and Brown spaces are disposable, because Black and Brown people are not a priority in this country, not even in Massachusetts.  

Over the past year, there has been a noticeable uptick in migration from countries like Haiti to the United States. Many families choose to arrive in Massachusetts, which is the only state in the country with the constitutional right to shelter for families. The right to housing has been codified into law in countries such as South Africa, France and Nigeria. [2] Massachusetts passed the “right to shelter law” in 1983, [3] becoming the first state in the country to do so. Although it only applies to families in dire need of housing, the mere existence of such legislation highlights Massachusetts’ continued commitment to progressive policies. This law is enforced by the state itself, rather than individual cities and towns. So, when the Cass Center was chosen to be an emergency shelter, the decision was made by Governor Healey’s office, not the Boston city government. [2] However, multiple other possible shelter locations had been toured, including the West Roxbury Education Complex and Suffolk Downs in East Boston. Little information has been made public about why other cities and towns in the Greater Boston area had not been considered or chosen. 

It can be inferred that this may be a result of “Not In My Backyard” sentiments found in affluent, white suburbs. NIMBY-ism, a distinctly American tradition, can be defined as opposition to the development of something disagreeable in one’s neighborhood. [4] NIMBY groups have blocked everything from affordable housing projects to expansions of public transit. In lower-income Black and Brown communities, NIMBY-ism does not carry the same weight as it does in white, rich areas. Furthermore—oftentimes when Black and Brown people protest against projects that may result in environmental harm, further disenfranchisement or the removal of essential resources—their voices are effectively disregarded. Hence, Roxbury residents were not only kept in the dark about the Cass Center, but were also ignored while pushing back against the decision. This occurrence is not new. It is an American ritual, repeated time and time again.  

It’s winter in New England. The days are short, melting quickly into dark and chilly nights. The cold is everywhere, within the hearts of our politicians and the minds of the privileged. Migrants and Roxbury residents alike need warmth—shelter, community and love. But as one group temporarily escapes the cold, another is left shivering in the dark. There is plenty of light to go around, but it is shuttered away by ignorance and disgust. As migrants face heinous xenophobia and tragic loss, Black and Brown Bostonians are once again subject to the familiarity of systemic racism. There doesn’t always have to be someone left to freeze. But here we are, shivering again.  



[1] https://www.wbur.org/news/2024/02/02/politics-healey-wu-shelter-roxbury-migrants-melnea-cass-recreation-center 

[2] https://nlihc.org/sites/default/files/AG-2018/Ch01-S06_Housing-Human-Right_2018.pdf 

[3] https://www.masslive.com/politics/2023/11/7-things-to-know-about-mass-right-to-shelter-as-budget-vote-looms.html 

[4] https://www.britannica.com/topic/NIMBY