Northeastern assistant professor of architecture Killion Mokwete has developedprojects around the world—from his native Botswana to the U.K., Greece, Russia and beyond. His latest work is in Roxbury, less than 2 miles south of Northeastern’s Boston campus.
The newly designed Winthrop Community Garden in Roxbury is a multi-faceted art installation—driven in part by Mokwete’s students—that commemorates the Black Panther Party and its efforts on behalf of the Roxbury community. The garden, which will formally open Saturday morning, was developed in conjunction with Roxbury Path Forward Neighborhood Association and other community leaders.
“Path Forward has been advocating for preserving heritage buildings and sites in the community—and also for things like affordable housing and open spaces for kids,” says Mokwete, whose teaching and work focuses on community-based designs. “So I’ve been working with them and with students to explore ways for preserving green space and affordable housing as well as cultural sites and local heritage narratives for communities.”
In the early stages of the Roxbury project, Mokwete assigned five of his Northeastern graduate students to research the legacy of the Black Panthers in Boston. So began the journey to reclaim a piece of history.
“Through engaging with Path Forward, we found out that there used to be a house on that particular site on Winthrop Street that was used by the Black Panthers to promote food access, access to health care and other programs they were running,” Mokwete says. “Lorraine Wheeler, the leader of Path Forward, has been championing the preservation of the character of the neighborhood.”
The Boston Black Panther Party was created in 1968 to meet the needs of Black communities, introduce young people to a revolutionary mindset and enable people to speak out on issues of government and policing.
In 1970, on the fifth anniversary of Malcolm X’s assassination, the Black Panthers opened the Malcolm X Community Information Center on the site of Mokwete’s art installation. The center offered support for the Black community in Boston, including programs offering free breakfasts and clothes in addition to the Liberation School, which served as an alternative to white-dominated schools. The center offered a library of books focused on the struggles of Black people, especially in Boston.
The most important service created by the Black Panthers in Boston was the Franklin Lynch Peoples’ Free Medical Center, which offered health care that otherwise would not have been available.
The new Roxbury installation is built around a tall weathering steel gateway that features the Black Panthers logo as well as a series of pillars spelling out its 10-Point Platform and Program:
- We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our Black Community.
- We want full employment for our people.
- We want an end to the robbery by the Capitalists of our Black Community.
- We want decent housing, fit for shelter of human beings.
- We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present-day society.
- We want all Black men to be exempt from military service.
- We want an immediate end to POLICE BRUTALITY and MURDER of Black people.
- We want freedom for all Black men held in federal, state, county and city prisons and jails.
- We want all Black people when brought to trial to be tried in court by a jury of their peer group or people from their Black Communities, as defined by the Constitution of the United States.
- We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace.
As part of the students’ research, a public digital database will soon be connected via QR codes to each of the site exhibits, providing visitors with more information on the Black Panthers’ legacy in Boston.
Mokwete designed the installation in collaboration with local community members (in order to reflect their views). Parke MacDowell, a senior associate and fabrication manager at Payette, coordinated the fabrication and site installation with The Trustees.
“It wasn’t just me designing something and coming back to them saying this is what it is,” Mokwete says. “They had feedback in the process that shaped what we ended up with. Between the research, the engagement with the community and the implementation, this is hopefully a model for how local communities can take agency of telling and preserving their own stories and narratives.”