Support the news

'68 Blocks': One Neighborhood's Struggle With Violence16:54

Best friends Kaori Tate and Ghiyahna Ennis explore their plot in the community garden. (Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe)
Best friends Kaori Tate and Ghiyahna Ennis explore their plot in the community garden. (Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe)

Bowdoin-Geneva is a Massachusetts neighborhood infamous for its violence. The 68-block section of Dorchester, Boston's largest neighborhood, has been consistently more dangerous than Boston as a whole over the past 25 years.

A team of reporters from the Boston Globe spent almost a year seeking to understand the perpetual cycles of violence and why efforts to turn the tide repeatedly fail.

As the nation grapples with the issue of gun violence, NPR's Neal Conan talks with metro reporters Meghan Irons and Akilah Johnson — who lived in the neighborhood from May to September 2012 — about the stories they chronicled in the five-part series "68 Blocks: Life, Death, Hope."

Interview Highlights

Nathaniel Davis sits on his porch a couple of days after the verdict for the murder trial of his son. (Yoon S. Byun/The Boston Globe)

On following the Davis family

Irons: "I followed, for a year, the Davis family — Nathaniel Davis and Trina Davis and their children. One of them was killed horribly in 2010. He was riding a scooter, his brother's scooter, and he was yanked off and killed in what amounted to gang violence. And I met them ... in our series last year, and they were still grieving.

"The murder trial was starting that May, and their son — their other son, who had watched his brother take his last breath — was also going to be testifying but he was also in jail, another victim, you would say, of gun violence because after his brother died he felt he needed to arm himself because he was afraid. ...

"[Nate] and his wife, Trina, thought they were doing everything that they could to protect themselves from the violence that is so prevalent in their neighborhood. ... They all went to church together. They took trips together. They were a family that believed that if they did all the right things that it would all work out for them. But sometimes, especially when you live in a neighborhood that is prone to this sort of brazen and random violence, you can't escape the gun violence. It finds you."

On following Theresa Johnson

Johnson: "Theresa Johnson is a single mother and she's a school secretary, and she did everything she could to kind of make sure her kids stayed on a straight and narrow. ... There were punishments for back talk and bad grades. Homework was a necessity. She tried to get them involved in after-school programs and, you know, activities to occupy their time, yet and still ... she has two sons in the street life. ...

Theresa Johnson gets a hug from first-grader Shaundene Funches on the last day of the year at Marshall Elementary School in Dorchester, Mass. (Bill Greene/The Boston Globe)

"Theresa has one hard and fast rule, and that's she'll never turn her back on her children. Her children kind of are the motivating factor in her life. She's got four: two boys and two girls. And to her this is something that a mother never does. A mother never turns her back on her children, but a mother also doesn't love blindly, to some extent.

"And so guns are not an option. You can't bring guns in the house. Drugs? Drugs are also not an option. You can't bring drugs in the house. However, there's a bit of don't ask, don't tell because of these hard and fast rules that she has. On some level, if her sons acknowledge and confess to some of these things and that puts her in a position where ... she has to begin to question her own kind of hard and fast philosophies as a mother.

"So, it's a tough place to be ... just kind of that concept of, will I love you to death?"

On those who work to stop the cycles of violence

Johnson: "There are a lot of people in the neighborhood who are living their lives, who are doing — who are raising families, who are going to work, who aren't involved in gangs or drug activity. ...

Jhana Senxian, head of the Coleman Street Association, serves food during a block party. (Aram Boghosian/The Boston Globe)

"The [community] garden and Jhana's efforts to revive that garden represent that ... the community workers who are trying to organize and bring together neighbors so that they can support one another. ...

"I've likened it to when you drop a pebble on a pond and you've got the ripple effects, it's where are you in the relation to the pebble as it falls in the pond in terms of how your life is touched by violence on some level. But no, by no stretch of the imagination is everyone in this neighborhood somehow affiliated or related to a gang or gang violence or guns or gun violence.

"But there are people who are working tirelessly to ensuring that this community remains safe, that young men who are involved in gangs are given opportunities so they can get off gangs, that families are sending their children to school and college and that this is a viable and thriving community, but for the fact that there are streets that plague this neighborhood and kill so many kids and destroy the reputation of this neighborhood."

Father Richard "Doc" Conway, of St. Peter Church, high-fives a man while walking the neighborhood on a Friday night. (Bill Greene/The Boston Globe)

On publishing the series the weekend after the Newtown shootings

Irons: "We were planning this series all year. We had no idea that Newtown was even happening. And they played both stories on the front page of the Globe that Sunday. ... Guns in both cases caused such devastation ... whether it is in a predominantly white suburban community as Newtown, and whether it is in a predominantly black, Cape Verdean and Latin community as Bowdoin-Geneva, the devastation cuts across all social, economic barriers and is catastrophic."

Copyright NPR 2021.

Support the news