Seat@theTable

Change for Good Takes Time

Betty McGuire entered a diner, sat at the counter, and asked to be served. Instead, she was forced to leave.

Even though Betty was a regular at the diner, she had never been served. She continued to visit the establishment week after week, each time being turned away.

“In a way, I was on the frontline of the Civil Rights Movement,” she told us. “I was spat on, pushed and kicked around.” Betty was dedicated to the idea of change through peace, not violence. Throughout the 1960’s, she participated in numerous peaceful protests, ranging from where she sat to where she tried to buy tickets.

We had the opportunity to meet Betty during a recent shoot for one of our violence prevention projects. Nine kids and 19 grandchildren later, Betty McGuire is still at work, helping her community embrace peaceful solutions instead of turning to violence. She’s a community advocate in the Boston neighborhood of Roxbury, where she has lived for more than 50 years. She works with youth in the area, as well as social groups, block captains, and leaders that come together as part of the community’s violence prevention team.

Program Director Tania Mireless and the Boston Public Health Department helped bring the community-based team together. As Tania explained to us, when you look to address youth violence, you not only look at the scale of the problem a neighborhood faces, but you also look to see what community assets exist there that can help. “Betty is one of those assets,” she said.

The team is following a strategic planning process developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) called STRYVE. The process is focused on preventing future violence, as opposed to intervening after it has taken place. The planning framework shows communities how to gather support, recognize signs of youth violence, and use evidence-based strategies to change issues they’re seeing.

Change takes time, Betty told us. She was working with her neighborhood during “the Boston Miracle” when murders dropped from 152 a year to 31 and last summer when a fellow community advocate told us homicides were at an all-time low. If Betty’s life is any indication, change may be hard, but it’s certainly worthwhile. “It took a few years,” she said with a slight grin, “but I finally ate at that diner.”