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Presidential Scholars Get to the Heart of 'Boston Strong'

Sophomores' project examines what the iconic phrase means - and what it leaves unsaid

04/24/14
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Daniel Lundberg, right, and Andrew Boyce were among the Presidential Scholars Program sophomores who contributed (Lundberg also was co- editor) to a book about the “Boston Strong” slogan. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

By Kathleen Sullivan | Chronicle Staff

Published: Apr. 24, 2014

The Boston Marathon bombings violently and tragically marked the ending of the Presidential Scholars Program (PSP) Class of 2016’s first year at Boston College. But inspired by the resiliency and outpouring of support that followed, coupled with the students’ summer experience in service placements around Boston, the undergraduates dedicated their PSP social justice project to examining what makes Boston Strong – and what is needed to make it stronger.

This month, the PSP sophomores published The Heart of This City: Boston Strong and Becoming Stronger, a book of interviews with victims of and witnesses to the bombings, as well as with people connected to Boston-based social services agencies, who all reflect on the Boston Strong message.

Among these Presidential Scholars, the connection to the Boston Marathon is probably felt deepest by co-editor-in-chief Lucas Allen, the only Massachusetts native in the group. “Growing up, I always watched the Boston Marathon on Patriot’s Day,” said Allen, whose family home in Marlborough is a few miles from the starting line, and who was jogging around the finish line only hours before the attacks.

For Allen, it made sense to look beyond the marathonfor the meaning of Boston Strong since the marathon itself is about so much more than running. “There are so many people in the Boston Marathon running for charity, running for causes like Dana-Farber.”

“I think the book is a phenomenal catalyst for discussion, given the range of issues covered,” said Allen’s co-editor Daniel Lundberg, who finished last year’s marathon just minutes before the explosions. “It really did manage to ultimately capture the heart of this city by virtue of the amazing voices in it.”

The Heart of This City begins with a letter of support from Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, a Boston College alumnus, who writes: “Instead of calcifying into a slogan, in the hands of these students and these contributors, ‘Boston Strong’ becomes a way to think about what kind of future we want and what we have to do to make it a reality.”

The book’s first section is devoted to reflections on the marathon bombings, particularly from people who were on the scene, such as Boston Globe photographer John Tlumacki, former Boston Herald reporter Dave Wedge ’93, injured runner Dave Fortier, 1976 Boston Marathon winner Jack Fultz, and injured spectator Brittany Loring JD/MBA ’13, among others.

The remaining sections of the book focus on homelessness, health inequity, immigration and educational disparity in Boston.

One feature is an interview with Katy Erker, who ran the Boston Marathon earlier this week for charity. She said her work at Rosie’s Place has given her insight into Boston Strong. “I have had the privilege of working with guests who have experienced very real struggles. They are the most creative, resilient and resourceful people I know. They are also some the strongest people that I know.”

Susan Naimark, who was stopped at last year’s race at the 25th mile and has lived in Boston for nearly 40 years, said she was uncomfortable with the media coverage of last year’s events. “Why don’t we have the same support for [other] victims of senseless violence? The only answer I could find was that these victims were mostly poor, and mostly black and brown.”

It was a disconnect echoed by Haley House co-founder Kathe McKenna in her essay: “Our neighbors quietly noticed the massive public response to the marathon bombings and could not help but compare it to the virtually non-existent response from the same public to the suffering in their community...The tragic, unspoken conclusion is that their lives do not have the same value as the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing.”

Last summer at his service placement at the Italian Home for Children, Lundberg asked the art teacher how they had talked about the marathon with the young children.

“She said, ‘We didn’t. It never really came up because there is so much violence in these kids’ lives on a daily basis. It was just another thing,’” recalled Lundberg. “Hearing that showed me a different lens to view the events of the marathon.”

Lundberg says he is all for the media coverage and outpouring of support dedicated to the marathon victims, but adds: “This project is an important addition to the dialogue.”

Presidential Scholar Andrew Boyce, whose placement focused on working with immigrants at the Educational Development Group, said he was intrigued with the idea of applying the solidarity of the response to the marathon attacks to social justice issues like immigration and homelessness.

Boyce, who ran his first-ever marathon on April 13 in support of the Campus School, said, “I’m so much stronger for having been here [in Boston]. I can’t think of a better place to be.”

Also contributing to the book were Assistant Professor of Philosophy Aspen Brinton, Graduate School of Social Work Associate Professor of the Practice Westy Egmont, Connell School of Nursing Associate Professor Pamela Grace and Adjunct Associate Professor of Economics Tracy Regan.

“We’re very thankful to all our contributors, the Presidential Scholars Program, and the offices that helped to fund the publication’s printing,” said Lundberg. Allen expressed gratitude to PSP Director James Keenan, SJ, and Lynch School of Education Associate Professor Audrey Friedman and Visiting Lecturer Julia Whitcavitch-DeVoy.

For Allen, the message of The Heart of This City is simple: “We are members of the same city and we need to take care of one another.”

For more information on the project or to order the book, see http://www.strongmonth.org.