Sunday, January 13, 2008

Neighborhood activists organize b-ball tourney for unity
By George P. Hassett

When their friends were dying of drug overdoses, suicides and violence, Danny and Mark McLaughlin were frustrated. Now, just a few years later, they are working to address the pain and suffering they see in their city.

The McLaughlin’s, along with their brother Matthew and other neighborhood friends, started Save Our Somerville (S.O.S.) two years ago as a way to address the feelings of hopelessness among young people in the city. They say the group is meant to “speak for those who can not speak for themselves.”

“We started from (the deaths). We were pissed about losing our friends and seeing changes in the city we have no control of. We come from the same frustrations a lot of teenagers are going through in the city, so people know they can talk to us,” said Danny McLaughlin.

Last weekend almost 100 people showed up at Lexington Park, for the second annual 3-on-3 basketball tournament sponsored by S.O.S. Mark McLaughlin said activities such as the tournament are part of S.O.S.’s plan to offer neighborhood kids and young adults positive activities. He said S.O.S. is trying to transform the anger and pain kids in the city feel into positive pursuits such as art and political activism.

“We felt the same kind of anger that the kids who were doing graffiti in the park felt. But we wanted to take that anger and bring it to City Hall,” said Mark McLaughlin.

S.O.S. member Jasen Sousa donated all the prizes for Sunday’s tournament winners because he wanted to offer the younger teens in the neighborhood something positive, he said. Sousa is an author who runs his own publishing company J-Rock Publishing. He said he is working with S.O.S. on “The Somerville Renaissance” a book in which teens and young adults of the city will “tell their own stories in their own words.” Sousa said he and the McLaughlin’s are “linked together by positivity.”

Mark McLaughlin said he is in a unique position to reach neighborhood kids since they know he is genuine and he is coming from the same neighborhood.

“We have a lot of respect in the neighborhood, we’ve earned our stripes here. The kids know we’re for real and that we want to help. The politicians can say they care but they can’t care as much as we do, we’re the ones losing our friends,” he said.

He said most of the city’s major problems can be traced back to widespread drug use.

“Somerville has culture. It’s not like New York. It’s not like Boston. There is no place else in the world like Somerville,” said Mark McLaughlin. “But unfortunately, part of our culture has been drugs, violence and death. There is a lot of heroin in this city and that is what is driving the break-ins and most of the crime.”

S.O.S.’s next project is a plan to add four large panels to Lexington Park featuring artwork depicting the neighborhood’s history. Then, said Danny McLaughlin, it is off to other parts of the city to spread S.O.S.’s message of peace and unity.

“The biggest thing we miss in this city is the sense of community. We want to unite every aspect of Somerville,” he said.

The beginning of that unity may be painful, just as S.O.S came together because of a string of tragic events, Mark McLaughlin said.

“At the heart of everything is the loss. It’s sad but tragedy can bring communities together,” he said.

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