Professor’s bus to combat youth violence introduced

Professor’s bus to combat youth violence introduced

Thanks to a Northeastern professor, the latest vehicle for reducing violence in Boston is literally a vehicle.

Associate graphic design professor Thomas Starr saw years of work culminate in a refurbished Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) bus plastered with his own design, which contains messages about victims of urban youth violence.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and others commended Starr at City Hall Plaza on Tuesday for creating an image that honors young victims lost to violence in the city. The bus will take commuters around Boston for about nine months to spread the message. It will switch routes periodically to travel to all corners of the city.

Mayor Menino said Starr did a great job with respect to the bus graphic, as it can help the city “work with our young people to talk about the future – talk about the hope we’re going to give them with … the messages that’ll be coming out of this bus around the neighborhoods of our city.”

The messages on the bus’ school bus yellow background represent the need for increasing violence to stop and that the young dead must be remembered.

All over the outside of the bus are quotes about victims in black ink and the lifespan of each, below the quote, in white ink – for example, “1988-2005” coupled with “He was a good listener.” On the inside were similar panels where advertisements would normally appear with one-word descriptions with lifespans – “friend” and “1983-2003,” “brother” and “1986-2005,” “classmate” and “1988-2005.”

Starr said he wants people of “all classes and neighborhoods” to see the bus and think about the underlying messages its graphics communicate. Then, he wants people to start talking about the issues.

“The children who contributed testimonies to the project began a public dialogue,” Starr said. “This morning you have come together to add to it. As the memorial travels Boston streets, it’s my hope that the dialogue will continue.”

In addition to Menino and Starr, other Boston-area anti-violence activists in the city spoke at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, including Clementina Chery, founder of the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute; James Mandell, the president of Children’s Hospital Boston; Deborah Prothrow-Stith, a professor of public health practice at the Harvard School of Public Health; and Leslie Christian, executive director of the Crispus Attucks Children’s Center.

Mandell said the bus is “really fantastic,” but hopes that someday we will “never need this kind of memorial.”

Chery, the master of ceremonies, introduced Starr as “the visionary.”

Starr thanked Chery’s peace institute for conducting the research about the victims, which provided the content for his design.

A grant from the National Endowment for the Arts helped Starr finance the bus, though some things came for free, like the normally paid advertising space on the bus.

Ron Kroschwitz, general manager of the Boston office of Titan Worldwide, the outdoor advertising company that donated the advertising space, said the company was “delighted that Tom Starr, the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute and the National Endowment for the Arts came to us for this special project.”

After the ceremony, Menino said the bus is “one part of the puzzle” of Boston’s violence problems, although “there isn’t one answer. This is one of the answers.”

Dorchester resident Josh McMillan said although “it’s cool,” he doesn’t think the bus will have impact on violence.

“Just because you’re bringing a bus in a neighborhood, I don’t really know that it’s going to have a big impact,” said McMillan, who said he has friends who have been killed and who have been shot and lived. “It’s not going to take the anger out of these kids’ minds. It’s just a whole bunch of words.”

Still, McMillan wore a purple ribbon on his black jacket. Speakers and other audience members also wore the ribbon, which is a universal symbol for peace.

Emma Harrison, a Boston resident, was another audience member wearing a purple ribbon. She has a more optimistic view on the bus’ ability to curb violence in the city, despite losing a grandson to street violence.

“If they want to do right, it will send a message,” Harrison said. “I guarantee that.”

Harrison’s grandson, Cerrone, died in 1998 at the age of 15 when he was caught up in a shooting in Dorchester.

“What broke me up was [one quote on the bus that read] ‘He had a nice smile,’ Harrison said. “Cerrone always smiled – always had a big smile on his face.” –>

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