by Joey Phoenix
Cover image by Lizzy Agbedun
Lynn-based Beyond Walls, in partnership with Harbor Voices, will soon be launching Truth be Told, an initiative created to highlight the stories of Lynn area youth aged 5-21 through spoken word, photography, dance, and public art. They’re looking to raise $50,000 in support by Tuesday, September 15.
“It’s been an extremely challenging year for everyone, but perhaps none more than the youth.”
An eclectic, multi-cultural city, Lynn has a complicated history and a hopeful future. Where many cities would have taken the path towards gentrification and homogeneity in an attempt to solve some of the challenges the city has faced, Lynn has instead chosen to revitalize the downtown spaces by highlighting the stories of the citizens themselves through community programing and public art.
Beyond Walls – a group of Lynn residents, business owners, and public art/placemaking enthusiasts using grass roots efforts to create a sense of place and safety in the heart of Downtown Lynn – has been a noteworthy player in that development over the last few years.
Unfortunately, this year’s many crises have disproportionately affected the residents of Lynn, a majority-minority city with a high population of essential workers. The trickle-down effect is these workers have relied on public schools and services to help with childcare and education for their families, a solution which, with schools having gone fully remote over COVID-19 concerns, isn’t available anymore.
“The youth [of Lynn] were among the first to be affected by COVID-19,” said Josie Santos, Director of Community Engagement for Beyond Walls. “They’re at home, not having support, and figuring out how to learn virtually hasn’t been easy for them.”
“It’s been an extremely challenging year for everyone, but perhaps none more than the youth,” said Al Wilson, the organization’s founder and CEO. “The city has been challenged financially and was really ill equipped to suddenly have to move to remote learning for the fall.”
He also explained that with Lynn being a “majority minority city,” the communities in the city were also more deeply affected by the “outright racism and murder on the national stage.”
Taking all of this into consideration, Beyond Walls’ decision to highlight youth stories this year became the obvious choice.
“Their voices and experiences do matter.”
Kids from minority families are some of the most underrepresented populations nationally, and because of this, they rarely, if ever, have the opportunity to speak out on their own behalf. For Wilson, this trend is unfortunate, because he believes that kids are simply the ones best equipped to tell these stories honestly.
“Nobody’s born with hate and anger, those are learned traits. Youth voices are distinct because they haven’t experienced those feelings to the extent that adults have,” Wilson said. “There’s also something very innocent about the kids’ responses. They’re untarnished by the media and the political polarization it creates.”
In preparation for the project earlier this summer, Beyond Walls partnered with Harbor Voices to put out a call to area youth aged 5-21 asking them to send in submissions exploring their personal experience of the COVID-19 and the human and civil rights crisis in photography or drawing, accompanied with stories they’ve written about their experiences.
“Their voices and their experiences do matter. And by giving them an opportunity to express themselves, and I’m realizing that maybe we have something to learn from them,” said Philip Fagan, Chief Operating Officer of Beyond Walls.
You can find out more about the project at https://www.patronicity.com/project/truth_be_told#!/ or on the Truth Be Told Website at https://www.tbt2020.com/.
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