My first week in Boston, I went to Newbury Street in Back Bay. I’d heard from friends it was a destination for those seeking high-end eateries and shopping, or those (like me) who wanted to people watch and laugh at dogs in strollers. It looked the part of a bougie, trendy place to shop: streets lined with big trees, brownstones, and men in suits opening and closing the doors for retail establishments with huge windows displaying slender mannequins clad in the latest fashions. In this commercial center, I didn’t expect to find support for Black Lives Matter. After all, when most people go shopping they’re concerned with finding a new pair of shoes or a suit that fits, not working to end violence against Black people.
But two places of worship on Newbury Street have large Black Lives Matter banners and flags. In between Marc Jacobs and Valentino lies The Church of the Covenant, whose Gothic Revival exterior features tall stone walls, high, arched windows, and an impressive steeple with multiple spires. Outside their doors is a sign with their name and the times of their services. Taped directly to that is a yellow and black BLM poster. Underneath the sign is a large white banner with black, capital letters that says: BLACK LIVES MATTER.
Right after Chanel and Tiffany & Co is another Gothic Revival building, but this one is more squat and humble from the outside, though you can see some of its iconic stained glass windows from the street. It’s a combined temple and church; the building houses both the Emmanuel Episcopal Church of Boston and the Central Reform Temple of Boston. Directly in front of its main doors is a large BLM flag with white text and a black background. It inspired me to know that two groups of people with separate faiths came together and agreed to hang a BLM banner in front of their place of worship.
These three congregations are using the privilege of their prime real estate to make a political statement of solidarity about the importance of the BLM movement, as well as give the movement more visibility. I can also attest to how their support is a conversation starter.
As I stood on the street taking a picture of The Church of the Covenant’s BLM signs, three Black women in their 20s walked by. My crouched position drew attention to the subject of my photograph. One woman thrust her fist in the air and said, “Damn right they do.” The other two voiced affirmations. Another one of the women put her fist in the air and said, “Here’s to Usaamah Abdullah Rahim, Angelo West, and Remis Andrews”—Black men killed by Boston police officers in the last two years. As the women walked away, I heard them talking about their plans to record every interaction they saw between the Boston police and people of color. I watched people holding shopping bags stop talking to each other in order to listen to the women’s conversation.
I believe that these places of worship in a heavily trafficked area hanging Black Lives Matter banners and flags is an incredible use of public space. Shoppers and passersby can't walk down Newbury Street without being reminded of the importance of Black lives. The more voices and listeners we have of the BLM movement, the more effective and wide-reaching it will be.