Letter to the Editor: We Need to Keep Our Promise to Youth of Boston’s Latin Quarter

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I am writing this letter to call on the Hyde Square Task Force, elected officials, and our entire community to come together to find a solution to the future of the Blessed Sacrament Church.

The announced decision that the church will be sold with no restrictions for luxury housing or some other use that won’t benefit the Latin Quarter will hurt both the future of our neighborhood and the legacy of a great organization that has done so much for the youth of our community.

I was born and raised in the Dominican Republic and have lived in Jamaica Plain since 1975, raising two kids as a single mother. I have owned a business here since 1980 and participated as an active volunteer for almost 40 years in the Business Association, Main Street program, Mount Pleasant Home, Spring House, and also with the Hyde Square Task Force. My two children and three siblings were educated at Blessed Sacrament School and my children were baptized in the church, which we attended every Sunday.

For these reasons I feel comfortable in expressing my thoughts about changes that are happening in this neighborhood and the announcement about the church. I’m very proud to say that my work with the Hyde Square Task Force, whose board I served on for 22 years, is my proudest volunteer work that I have done because of the difference they make in the life of youth, not only in education but to become role models in our society.

When I first heard the phrase, “Fall through the cracks,” I didn’t understand what it meant, but in time I came up with my personal understanding that kids don’t “fall through the cracks,” we as a society let them down without the support and health and education they need. It is the community’s responsibility to create a healthier and better society and help make sure they have equal opportunity in society. The difference I have seen in our kids when they first come into the Hyde Square Task Force and when they finish the program is amazing. I love looking at youth 10 years later and how they have become productive members of society, finishing college, and taking positions as leaders in our community. I don’t regret for a minute the 22 years that I spent seeking better opportunities for kids.

While I am happy to have been part of this great program, we have not yet followed through with the youth on all our promises. Six years ago the Hyde Square Task Force promised to work with the youth and community to create a cultural center in Blessed Sacrament Church. Now with the announcement that they are going to sell the church for market rate value with no restrictions, I feel it is not only disappointing for youth to learn that they are not going to get their cultural center, but also that the sale of the church without restrictions would have a negative impact on the business and residential district of Hyde-Jackson Square. It would change the personality of our neighborhood, and not for the better, and it will make what we have been seeing for the past 15 years even worse.

Given the thousands of hours that I have put in as a volunteer it is very disappointing to hear that the Task Force will sell the church with no restrictions and without talking to the community. I consider myself a good friend of the Hyde Square Task Force and I believe in their vision and mission. When I was on the board of the Task Force, I served on the Church Committee, and I understand very well the challenges that we face in finding a solution to developing the building, but I believe we can find a solution by working together. While I understand that the organization is not a development corporation, they should not sell to a private developer; they need to work with us to find a partner who will make the extra effort to build the cultural center in Boston’s Latin Quarter, because of the difference it will make in the lives of so many young people.

I strongly plead to the Hyde Square Task Force, elected officials, Mayor Walsh, and our community nonprofit organizations to put our money where our mouth is when it comes to building the dream that was promised to our youth. While I understand that we’re going through very difficult times, especially with COVID-19’s impact on the economy, I believe there is money to develop the church to be the cultural icon in our Latin Quarter neighborhood.

As others have already pointed out, there is money that has been put aside for youth in the community and for the Boston Latin Quarter. Where is this money and how do we unlock those funds? It is doable: elected officials and the youth from the Hyde Square Task Force have already done their part in searching for possible funds; it is time for all of us to come together and find the money available and make the dream a reality.

Our neighborhood, the Boston Latin Quarter is a unique neighborhood and I can see it in my personal and professional life. I can see it in my business when five or six people of different nationalities at one time are in my beauty salon speaking multiple languages and respecting each others’ culture. I’m not looking at recreating the past of JP, I’m looking at helping to shape the future of our neighborhood to maintain our diversity and live up to the principles of our Boston Latin Quarter.

I write this letter very humbly to call for an urgent meeting with the Hyde Square Task Force, community leaders, and people in power to find a way to keep the promise we made to our youth to build the cultural center at Blessed Sacrament Church, so we can make sure we are not responsible for more youth “falling through the cracks.”

Damaris Pimentel is the owner of Ultra Beauty Salon and a main organizer of the Latin Quarter Business Association.