HSTF youth organizers have made headlines through a wide range of successful actions
and organizing victories during the past fifteen years in areas of affordable housing, youth/police relations, community development, Boston Public School policies, and tobacco control. Youth organizers have won awards for increasing voter registration in the neighborhood by 80%, and they have successfully advocated for millions of public dollars to be invested in the Jamaica Plain/Roxbury community for parks, youth safety, and youth jobs. Our teens changed the bylaws of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council so youth aged 16 and 17 could vote and run as candidates. HSTF’s work in youth community organizing has been documented in several publications, including chapters in Youth-Led Community Organizing by Melvin Delgado (Oxford University Press, 2008) and Juvenile Justice: Advancing Research, Policy, and Practice, by Francine Sherman and Francine Jacobs (John Wiley & Sons, 2011). Hyde Square Task Force received the 2011 Massachusetts Nonprofit Network Excellence Award in Advocacy for its achievements in youth community organizing.
Major Hyde Square Task Force Organizing Campaigns
Jackson Square Development
In 2000, youth led our organization’s initial foray into urban development by preventing a proposed KMart near the Jackson Square T-station which would have put dozens of locally-owned businesses in jeopardy. HSTF teens mobilized hundreds of residents and catalyzed what has become the largest neighborhood-led community development initiative in Boston’s history, the $250 million Jackson Square Development Project.
Blessed Sacrament Campus
Hyde Square Task Force youth played a major role in an extensive community-organizing campaign in 2005 and 2006, which resulted in the community gaining control of the 3.2-acre Blessed Sacrament Church campus. Located in the heart of Hyde/Jackson Square—Boston’s Latin Quarter—the campus is host to new local businesses and mixed-income housing. In addition, Hyde Square Task Force’s Youth Community Development Center is housed in the Cheverus Building, a former Catholic grammar school, and serves thousands of Boston youth each year.
Sex Education in the Boston Public Schools
In August of 2006, HSTF young women began to fight back against sexual harassment on Hyde/Jackson Square’s streets. Eventually, the teens realized the problem was widespread and took their awareness campaign into their high schools. In 2010, after STI rates skyrocketed in Boston (by 70% in some neighborhoods) HSTF youth worked with staff to evolve the originally women-focused sexual harassment initiative into a campaign for Comprehensive Sexuality Education and Condom Availability in the Boston Public Schools. After three years of petitions, advocacy/outreach meetings, a packed Boston City Council hearing, and showings of our youth-produced film Sex in Schools: Does Our Ignorance Keep Us Safe, in June 2013 the Boston School Committee passed a new policy that calls for Comprehensive Sex Education in BPS and for condoms to be easily available in every high school in the district. The Boston Public Health Commission has also committed to having a Health Resource Center in every BPS high school to house trained sex educators and counselors.
Campaign for Civics in the Boston Public Schools
HSTF youth receive a well-rounded curriculum in civic education as they identify issues in the community. In 2008, our youth realized that civics classes weren’t offered in the Boston Public Schools, and they decided to take action. They organized a crowded Boston City Council hearing and had positive meetings with Mayor Menino and then-Superintendent Carol Johnson. HSTF youth and BPS administrators, teachers, and curriculum writers co-wrote a new high school elective entitled Civics for Boston Youth: Power, Rights and Community Change. In the course, students learn about our political system, current events, laws, politics, and the history of movements for social, racial, and economic justice. The course builds students’ critical thinking related to their role in the world and provides them with resources to engage actively in their community. As of 2013, the class is offered at 10 high schools, reaching more than 300 students—it is one of the most popular Social Science electives. A coalition of groups formed to integrate the work of community-based organizations into the Civics classrooms to provide hands-on experience in social change.
MBTA Police Campaign
In 2010, negative interactions with and harassment by MBTA Transit Police spurred another campaign. With professional support, HSTF youth developed an survey about Transit Police behavior and interviewed 700 of their teen peers who ride the T daily. Findings included that 35% of respondents reported witnessing a Transit Police officer using insults with racially-charged language; 48% reported witnessing a Transit Police officer pushing or shoving a rider; 46% reported witnessing a Transit Police officer using threats toward youth; and 76% of teens agreed with the statement that “Transit Police could use training in how to communicate in a positive manner with youth.” After a series of meetings between youth and the MBTA General Manager and Police Chief, the MBTA agreed to make some changes that included training for Transit Police about how to interact with urban youth and the creation of a Transit Police Youth Advisory Board. Eighteen months later, HSTF teens conducted a follow-up survey to see if changes had occurred, and they found significant improvement. In 2010 only 25% of polled youth agreed with the statement that “Transit Police are skilled in communicating with teens,” but in 2012 that had doubled to 50%. In 2010, 33% of youth agreed with the statement that “Transit Police are successful in making teens feel safe while riding the T.” In 2012, 53% of the teens agreed with that statement. In 2010, only 29% of youth agreed that “Transit Police act in a respectful way towards teens.” In 2012, 46% agreed with that statement. In 2010, 65% of youth had NOT heard a Transit Police officer using insults with racially-charged language. In 2012, that had increased to 76%. Hyde Square Task Force youth continue to keep open communication with the MBTA.