The began as a way to combat drugs and violence in the Hyde-Jackson Square neighborhood, but it has since expanded its mission to include youth-based programming focused on everything from literacy to dance to health care.
The organization recently bought the Cheverus building as part of the Blessed Sacrament campus, where they have been able to expand from one small common space and a couple of cubicled offices to three floors featuring a dance studio, music room, a large meeting space and several classrooms and offices.
I spoke with Dr. Kenneth Tangvik, one of the founders of the organization and the current director of program development.
How was the Hyde Square Task Force founded?
It was founded by a group of neighbors back in the late 1980s, when the Boston police was calling the Hyde and Jackson Square areas the “cocaine capital of New England.” I had recently moved to the neighborhood and had a small child and noticed that most of the corners and boarded up buildings were used for drug dealing. There was a lot of arson around, a lot of cars torched, pretty bad stuff.
We met with a group of neighbors and they admitted they had lost control of the neighborhood. We decided to take control into our own hands. In 1988 we had a public march that did two things. We basically confronted the drug dealers and told them to get the hell out of there and asked the police to start taking care and clean up the neighborhood.
We also had a huge meeting in the Blessed Sacrament campus that city officials called one of the best meetings they had seen. It all started out of that meeting.
In the 1990s there was a spike in youth violence, such as drive-by shootings. On a weekly basis many young people were getting killed by such senseless violence, and that’s when we decided to focus more on youth and youth development. They were getting so few resources and opportunities and we wanted to fill that need.
We had a really small staff in the mid-90s, but in 1998 when Claudio Martinez took over, we did a strategic planning process with the community and it became apparent that the parents and youth wanted more youth activities and events and programming. Since then, we’ve gone from a $100,000 yearly budget to $2 million yearly budget and from serving about 30 or 40 kids a year to about 800 kids.
Why do you feel it is important to focus on youth?
What we saw was that very few people in positions of power were paying attention to demographics of youth. In the past few decades the youth of the city has changed from primarily white to a much higher percentage of youth of color.
We wanted to show that these youth are here, they aren’t going anywhere, and although some people say, “Oh, this is a huge problem,” we think they bring a lot of vibrancy and life to the city.
Hyde Square employs what we call a Youth Community Development Model. We find that youth transform themselves by engaging with and trying to help their community. We engage in a lot of city planning and civic work but youth are always at the center.
Can you tell me about your various programs?
We have a whole range of programs. We’re known for our community programs because that’s what makes the headlines, but we have a great music clubhouse where hundreds of kids every year learn and practice instruments and music education. We have a nationally recognized dance program. Our youth have performed at Paris and the White House. Our dance program serves over 300 kids a year
We also have a literacy program where our youth actually wrote and published book about nutrition about a year ago, and it has been circulated around Boston. We have a group of teens working on health care who have produced a and also a film about violence
So we have a lot going on. We have an after school program and a large college success program where we track youth through not only high school but also college. There are hundreds of kids in the college program that we track all the way through their college years. We want them not just to enter college but also to stay in and graduate.
Tell me more about the most recent campaign getting attention.
There has been a lot of buzz recently around a campaign the youth are leading on .
A few years ago the teenage girls of our organization were complaining that they were getting harassed on Centre Street, especially in the summer when they were wearing summer clothing. They started discussing that and began realizing this was happening in schools too. In fact, in a survey they conducted, 80 percent of teenage girls said they had been sexually harassed in school. They also found there was very little sexual education going on in Boston schools. In addition, some very alarming sexual statistics came out this year: Chlamydia has gone up 70 percent in the past ten years in Boston teenagers.
These teens want and need more comprehensive education in schools across Boston. They are really the ones asking for this… Of course, one of the more controversial aspects proposed is to have condoms available in schools and that has gotten media attention.
What is next for the Hyde Square Task Force?
In 1999 and 2000, while we were fighting to keep a Kmart out of the area, we ended up being able to partner with the , in order to have more of a voice about what is built around here.
We have positioned ourselves to be involved in the development of Jackson Square, a $250 million project. There are going to be several developments: affordable housing, youth center, local retail, recreational center and more. We have the chance to actually be a co-developer in this project, steering it in the right direction so the community has a voice as well as the wealthy developers.
Why is JP a good home for the Hyde Square Task Force?
A lot of the original activists who founded it are Latinos and we describe ourselves as a Latino-led organization that serves a very diverse group of youth.
Also, Jamaica Plain and Roxbury, they are examples of neighborhoods that have undergone a number of changes and we are happy to be a part of that. But we really serve kids citywide, from every neighborhood.
What’s the best thing the Hyde Square Task Force had done for JP?
I think the best thing is to make the youth in our community visible. To demonstrate to the public that youth can make change, positive change, to our community and that youth have the will and desire to benefit our community.