As students at Boston College, many may feel that they have a good sense of what it means to be “Boston Strong.” For the Class of 2016 Presidential Scholars, Boston Strong can be more than just a response to the marathon bombing, but also a response to the social justice issues Boston faces every day.
Every year, the sophomore class of Presidential Scholars works on a social justice project. The class of 2016 decided to dedicate its project to what it means to be Boston Strong. The project’s inspiration-this year taking the form of a publication comprised of social justice articles from various charities-started almost exactly a year ago on April 15, 2013, the day of the Boston Marathon bombing. For these Presidential Scholars, who come from all over the country, this was the moment when they first felt part of the greater Boston community.
“We all said that day was the day we all felt we were truly Bostonians and truly connected to the city,” said Lucas Allen, Presidential Scholar and A&S ’16. “That idea of Boston Strong really had an impact on us.” It was this day that would urge the students to take on the concept of Boston Strong in their social justice project.
The students began exploring this notion of Boston Strong through a panel event held this past October. “In October, we had an event all about examining the phrase Boston Strong,” Allen said. “One of the themes we found was this idea that came back to what Mayor Menino had said in the week after the act, ‘Our strength as a city is that we take care of one another.’ That right there was our strongest connection. We are thinking about Boston Strong, what does this strength mean? It means taking care of one another or creating a more just society.”
The panel also commented on the fact that there are social justice tragedies that happen in Boston all the time, especially in lower income communities. “We want to make sure that when we are examining Boston Strong that we should critically reflect on it,” Schwan said.
The students then decided they would continue this conversation about Boston Strong through the creation of a publication featuring articles about social justice issues including health care, immigration, homelessness, and education in Boston, as well as articles about the Boston Marathon and the idea of Boston Strong. “We wanted to capture the direct voices of agents for change in social justice in Boston,” Allen said. “We wanted to connect them all and show how their initiatives interface through the marathon.” A few contributing organizations include the Boston Public Health Commission, the Greater Boston Citizenship Initiative, and Breathe Easy Boston.
The articles celebrate the success Boston has had in these social justice areas, but also acknowledge that there is much more to be done especially in light of this concept of Boston Strong. “[The publication is] looking at ways in which Boston is strong in those areas, but also ways in which Boston can uniquely address improving those problems, so we can embody Boston Strong rather than just remember Boston Strong,” said Nathan Schwan, A&S ’16.
“Our articles are not only expert analyses of the problem, they are also innovative solutions and personal narratives about how the problems have affected individuals in Boston,” Allen said.
Dan Lundberg, Presidential Scholar and A&S ’16, ran in last year’s marathon and was able to show the rest of the group how charity and social justice has always been an integral part of the Boston Marathon’s mission. “One of the things Dan showed to us was how much the Marathon is connected to charities and social justice issues and how many different aspects of social justice like health care, homelessness, and disabilities use the marathon as a time to come together to raise awareness and raise funding for charities,” Schwan said. It was through this knowledge that the Presidential scholars began to realize how the Marathon is a symbol of social justice and plan for this month’s events.
Starting on April 15, “Strong Month” will be kicking off with an event at 7 p.m. in the Murray Function Room in the Yawkey Center. The event will include three speakers and the release of the publication. “Strong Month is going to be 26 days, one for each mile of the marathon,” Schwan said.
“Each day we are going to release an article from the social justice portion of our publication. With each day we will have an interactive question for people to answer on Facebook by sharing our photo and commenting their response. We really want this to be an interactive thing with the BC community and the Boston community in general.” These articles will be shared via Facebook, as well as through the website strongmonth.org.
“Also, each day we are going to have an action step. It can be as simple as having a certain conversation with someone, or it could be a volunteer opportunity with one of the organizations that contributed to our publication,” Allen said.
“There is a lot of energy in Boston Strong, whether it is emotional or a connectedness,” Schwan said. “How do we harness that energy and point it in the right direction? You use it on the one hand to remember and pay respect to the people who were affected. But an incredible way to honor that is to recognize how we have all come together and take this to the next step.”