Dispatch from the Bridge block party

"This is not a pipe dream"

The crowd started chanting as seven-year-old Nahla Balla took the stage at the Bridge block party on Sunday around sundown. They went “Nahla! Nahla! Nahla!”  and she broke into a freestyle rap which went like this:

Thank god for this dope space 

and donate to save this place 

step back and turn around 

look at what’s going down,

murals and free fridge too, 

STEM Bus and all of you. 

Shout out to Save the Bridge

and I know how it is,

us kids just want to live, 

and how we supposed to live without the Bridge?

The crowd cheered and she launched into a song she wrote and it was adorable and heartwarming and I had goosebumps for a little bit as the sub bass boomed out a 10-foot column of speakers across a patio filled with people. 

The moment had a special warmth to it, the culmination of a day embracing, rallying around, and fostering a community space in the face of economic forces that endanger it. 

The Bridge, for those who don’t know, is an old factory building on the corner of Southbridge Street and Quinsigamond Avenue. It’s the big one behind the Miss Worcester Diner. For the past few years, it has become an ad hoc and defacto hub for community groups and artists and organizers and all sorts of folks. There’s a classic car workshop, a dance studio, an art gallery, a food truck, a school bus outfitted with computers and technology aimed at teaching kids science, math and technology, and a whole lot more. The dream of those organizing around the Bridge is to launch The Bridge Academy, a youth center and community space for the neighborhood, by the neighborhood. The only problem is it’s down the street from Polar Park, a development which has brought insane real estate speculation to the surrounding neighborhoods. The Bridge had gone empty and unnoticed for decades. Several years ago some people in the community decided to start using it to help their community. Now a shadowy company which may or may not be based in Florida is trying to buy it for some $750,000 and everyone’s best guess is they plan to demolish it and make a parking lot. 

Since the offer was made, Bridge organizers launched an ambitious fundraising campaign—$1 million to save the building in just a few months—and now have a developer on board with their vision to front the majority of the cost. But if the sale closes, which it will in some 70 days, it’s all for naught. The building goes to the developer and they’ll do with it what they will and the Bridge folks will have to find a new home. 

So with all that in mind, the block party at the Bridge on Sunday was as much a celebration as it was a statement. We’re here, we’re Worcester, and we care. We want community space fostered by the community. We want to protect and foster our homegrown creative energy and talent. We realize what makes Worcester a special place and we want to hold on to it and oh yeah, by the way, we’re not going quietly.

Since I started this newsletter the posts have been heavy on the “Worcester Sucks” and light on the “I Love It” This post is 100 percent “Love It.” There are things about this city I truly love and truly care about and there’s a reason why I care to learn about just how fucked up things are around here. The Bridge perfectly captures the spirit and diversity and creative energy in this city that made me fall in love with it.

I spent the whole afternoon and a good part of the night at the Bridge Sunday and the smell wafting from the jerk chicken truck was heavenly and there were kids skating on a homemade feature and playing basketball and there were bands playing and there were families and groups of friends walking around and eating food and it was just a real block party comprised of activist types and punks and hippies and fashionistas and skaters and hip hop artists and break dancers and whole families of all different races and ethnicities. I had a blast! My friends had a blast! There is a very real and special community in Worcester that this building is directly suited to foster and encourage. 

I’ve written about the Bridge and the issue of saving it extensively, both in this newsletter and in Worcester Magazine, so now I’m going to sit back and let the people who were there on Sunday, organizing and participating and making the place feel like a home, share how they feel about the Bridge. Let’s start with Dan Ford. He runs Crash Course Creations, and has been the point man on the Bridge effort from the get-go. 

“I mean, we have a ridiculous amount of support from the neighborhood and the community at large. I mean, the city has to know that the people are wanting to get engaged and they want the city to back them in that. And we’re going to do it with or without the city.”

Speaking of the city, there was a City Council hopeful there gathering signatures. They are in no uncertain terms pro-Bridge, making them different from the City Council as it stands right now, which mostly ranges from apathetic to actively hostile. Their name is Thu Nguyen and you’ll hear more from me on them later in the weeks to come. 

“I think the Bridge is a very amazing place for the kids and the community to do this. To have food and play basketball and really have a creative space. What’s happening here is we need community-led solutions, and that’s what the Bridge is. We need to invest in more spaces like this.”

What, I asked them, could the city do?

“I think the city needs to make a stand and a statement on what they’re willing to invest in, and I think they are doing that and have been doing that by not supporting something like The Bridge, right? The other things that they have been putting their time and effort in have not been community-led solutions, so I think that the City Council and City Hall really needs to shift their framework, and come out to things like this, to really understand it, to learn about it, and to see all the ways it’s successful. Because I think so often we have these preconceived notions about Black and brown communities as a deficit, and not seeing something like this, which is really beautiful and healthy.”

Right on, Thu!

John Powers is probably the person who takes City Hall to task on the issue, at least most vocally. He got involved in the Bridge through Worcide, which if you’ll remember was the D.I.Y. skatepark that the city demolished without a warning just a few months before the Polar Park project was announced. Though they will deny to anyone that the demolition and Polar Park had anything to do with each other, it seems much more likely that the opposite was the case seeing as Worcide was on the property that is now Polar Park. 

“It’s a great vibe down here. It’s beautiful out here today. I want to make these events a referendum on support for this. If you’re not down here, if you don’t want to come see what we do, that’s fine. Don’t. But there are people down here who recognize their dedication and that this is a valid goal, and a valid dream. And this is not a pipe dream. 

“So the regular course of action for community outreach, for community development, for community improvement, is to get a bunch of brainiacs in a room together, come up with a budget, call it a day. Come up with the grant money and send it off to sail. And that’s not an approach we do here. We do it backwards. We get out on the ocean and we do it. We’re pirates. Not even pirates, we’re privateers.” 

The past several months have seen the Bridge, the physical building that is, transform into a blank canvas for mural artists and graffiti writers. At the event Sunday, one such artist, Scott Boilard, was at work on a large mural of Jimi Hendrix, which will accompany similar depictions of Dave Chappelle and Jean-Michel Basquiat and other Black cultural figures once finished. 

“I think it’s great. I think every neighborhood should have something like this for people to access and learn about new opportunities, especially in a neighborhood where it’s hard to get opportunities and there might not be a lot going on. People can reach out and volunteer and try to learn something, so. I think it’s definitely worthwhile.”

As we spoke a young woman walked by and complemented the mural. It’s just full of love today, I remember her saying. Today is just full of love. 

There were a bunch of local community organizations tabling, and one that caught my eye was Anarchy Cuts, which is a bunch of hairdressers who got together and decided to do dry cuts in the middle of the block party to raise money for the Bridge. Anna Yorko was one of them and she said she decided to do it after talking to Powers about it at Ralphs lol. 

“I thought it was a really cool idea and I like being part of a community and I like being there for people and lending a hand to people who need it. I love the idea of saving a community center. When I watched the video it warmed my heart a little bit, here are all the plans they have for each floor of the building. I feel like Worcester and a whole lot of other communities are lacking a place to gather with a whole bunch of people and young artists and young entrepreneurs who need the help. I’m really excited to see what they do.”

One of the more exciting new developments at the Bridge has been a community fridge. The concept is pretty simple: if you have extra food you put it in the fridge, if you need food you take it from the fridge. It’s not charity, it works on the principle of mutual aid. You do what you can to help and if you need help you take it. 

Katy Riley, a member of the Bogastow Farm Project, was selling eggs at the block party, as well as egg farm shares. The collective sells farm shares to cover the cost of operation and then everything else gets donated back into the fridge. Shares are $5 a month, much like this newsletter. She said she got wrapped into the Bridge by the Worcester Community Fridges folks and the El Salon art gallery. 

“It’s been a lot more turnout and a lot more interest, which is really great, and ideally if it’s not here there’s enough funding to secure something elsewhere. I feel it’s very very feasible and it’s not going to end by any means,” she said. 

Emmanuel Carboo, a fashion designer under the brand Wavvz New Age, had a table set up with shirts and masks and sweatshirts with his girlfriend, Jaribel Carel, who models his brightly colored and flashy clothing. 

“We just trying to make people see like, yo, this place can be used for a lot of things, like we need this spot, like we need this. Look at this.”

He gestured out to the crowd of people behind him. 

“We’re just the living proof of how this place can really be used.”

I think that’s as good a note as any to end on. 

I’ll keep you all in the loop on the goings on at the Bridge and here’s a link to their fundraiser.

For no reason at all other than I like this picture here’s my friends Miya and Dan and Miya’s dog Spud mean muggin on a ramp at the Bridge block party.

Miya volunteered and helped the organizers with stuff. Dan didn’t. 

~/~

This post is coming later in the week than I would have liked. I mean ideally I get this up on Sunday night or Monday morning, right? That’s the trouble with doing this and working at a restaurant. I’ve been getting stupid hours since we all decided to pronounce COVID over. I’m not complaining because money is nice but it does make it hard to get these posts out. Consider subscribing! Every little $5 helps as I inch closer and closer to taking this newsletter full time. Imagine one day I’m making enough to hire another reporter and then maybe a photographer and then maybe a designer then some more reporters and bam, we have an alt weekly again? Written for the community, funded by the community? Wouldn’t that be wild?

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The big news today in our fair city is the police killing a guy on Grafton Street last night. He was 31 years old and his name was Phet Gouvonvong and the police say that he called in a bomb threat and that when they showed up he had an assault rifle and a handgun and was decked out in body armor. They said they tried talking the man down before he became agitated and made “furtive movements.” The Telegram in their reporting put it like this: “Those movements, said the district attorney, led to Gouvonvong being shot. It was shortly after midnight.” I googled “furtive” to make sure I knew what it meant and it means “attempting to avoid notice or attention” which makes the word choice unusual in this instance doesn’t it? Thing about it when police kill someone is they basically get to say what they want unless someone calls their bluff. Lest we forget this is how the Minneapolis Police Department first reported the murder of George Floyd (wooho and also ugh, by the way, when it comes to Derek Chauvin’s guilty verdict).

“At no time were any weapons of any type used by anyone involved in the incident.” And that’s what the George Floyd story would have been had there been no bystander video because journalists report what the cops say exactly how they say it pretty much all the time with no critical analysis unless something forces their hand.

I’m not at all editorializing on the man killed in Worcester last night or his intentions I’m just saying the official narrative cannot be trusted. It could be that there was a bomb and it could be that he had plans to detonate it. It’s more likely he was having a mental health crisis. Though they said he had a bomb and an assault rifle and body armor the only thing investigators have confirmed so far is that he had a handgun and “several rounds of ammunition” and they said an officer opened fire and killed the guy after “furtive movements.” We can be sure that if he shot back at the cops they would not have said “furtive movements” they would have said that he shot at the officers and they returned fire and killed him. 

Instead the district attorney went out and told reporters “several shots were fired” which is Cop Speak for “police officers fired several shots.” We just love the passive voice when cops are violent, don’t we folks? 

He didn’t comment on whether the bomb was real or not, which leads me to believe it wasn’t, because what’s a flashier story and a sexier headline and better piece of copaganda than “police officer kills guy who was going to blow up the city”? 

Saying nothing is better than saying there was no bomb, you know?

All this to say there are plenty of ways to lie especially when you have power.

In lighter news, the first episode of Highway 69 is out! It’s a silly podcast I’m doing with my friends about what it’s like to be a touring musician and stories we have from the road. The first episode centers around poop and pee lol. It’s funny I think! Maybe you will too! Here’s the logo again which I love. 

Give René Flemming money she did a great job. She’s a tattoo artist in Worcester and a nutcase and her Instagram handle is @renemvrie and here’s a link to her page. 

Here’s the podcast’s Instagram page and here’s a linktree to all the places where it’s listed. 

Been on a Gil Scott-Heron kick lately. This song was released in 1970 and it’s 2021 and can you tell me where the lie is still to this day?