Roxbury‘s Dudley Street neighborhood is a beautiful community of well-kept homes surrounding the thriving Dennis Street park. But as John Barros, candidate for mayor of Boston, well remembers, it wasn’t always this way.
Barros says, “This was all empty, empty lots, stolen vehicles, but no homes, right?”
Barros grew up here, saying, “My mother and father bought a house, a triple decker, down the street from us. We were raised there all five of us.”
He is the son of Cape Verdean immigrants. His father worked in the cranberry bogs when he first arrived in the late 50s. He eventually moved to Boston, met his wife, also a Cape Verdean immigrant, and raised their family.
Barros spoke Cape Verdean creole in the home, which he still speaks fluently. He didn’t learn English until grade school.
“At that point we were in Title I, that’s what they called it. We were seen as English language learners. We needed extra help,” he said.
It was the 1980s -- a tough time to be a young Black boy in Roxbury.
”It was the crack epidemic," he recalled. "And it was the increase of gang violence in Boston. We were seeing upwards of 200 murders a year.… And I lost a lot of friends.”
Barros credits family and mentors for avoiding much of the turmoil.
“My mother, she would only allow us to go to school, church and at home. So I had a little village around me,” he said.
When he was 14, Barros got involved with the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, an organization that empowers residents to lead and transform their own communities. He got leadership training, learned how to organize, and contributed to the transformation of several Roxbury neighborhoods, including this one.
“I got hooked," he said. "I was excited about trying to improve my neighborhood."
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Years later, after graduating from Dartmouth, and a stint in the business world, Barros went on to head up the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative.
After serving most recently as Mayor Marty Walsh’s chief of economic development, Barros says he’s ready to channel all his experience into improving the entire city, adding, “These are things that I’ve done, that I’ve been a part of. We can do as a city. And all parts of our city and all neighborhoods. And that’s what drives me.”