Residents of Roxbury: Sean

By Riley Wenckus

As Jack and I were admiring this existential street art with the words, “Where are u now”, we almost missed the chance to ask a resident of Roxbury how they felt about the work. We ran into Sean, an outgoing 32 year old man that has lived in Roxbury for the last six years. While he declined to give us his last name, the information we learned about his life was enlightening and gave us such a broader view of Roxbury residents. Sean was walking his dog, a mutt named Chapo, when we asked him if he would like to talk to us about Roxbury street art and culture. Thanks to Chapo, we were easily able to strike up a conversation as it was hard to miss the dog that was almost to his waist. As Sean tightened his grip on the leash, he said he’s seen Roxbury go through a “transformation”... where old homes used to be, towering apartments are now being built. He says his rent is going up for the first time since moving in. Sean explained, "back in 2011, homes were cheap and there were still a few fore closures taking up space before they got demoed." He went on to say that family owned shops that have been handed down for generations are slowly being replaced by chic coffee shops and even prospects of a yoga studio. He said that when he sees this sign, he tries to think of an answer to the question “where are u now” but doesn’t know. Sean described modern Roxbury as an “in between place”, where some people are moving in with the kind of wealth that many established residents of Roxbury don’t have access to. It was very interesting to see the mix of demographics as I walked Roxbury, as outward appearances tipped off the differences between those who frequent the new coffee shops and those that are not new to Roxbury. This sign, while cute and friendly on the outside, took on a whole new meaning for Sean as the demographics of his neighborhood remain in flux.

After asking Sean about his relationship with Roxbury, he said it would mean nothing if he didn’t have the graffiti that adorns the side of most shops and even some natural landmarks like large rocks. To Sean, the street art is as integral to the aesthetic of Roxbury as the very homes and shops within it. He said he passes the “where are u now” street art on a daily basis because he walks Chapo down the same route. He has lived five blocks away from this convenience store for years, and he said it's "nice to see some things never change". To him, the art reminds him where he is but also where he’s going. He said he would like to one day move somewhere that isn’t gentrified, and he said he feels alienated in his own home. He works at an auto repair shop less than a mile from this sign, and he says the type of cars that come in have changed as the years have passed. When I asked how he felt about that, the only word he responded with was, "unsettling". The cars have changed from fixer uppers to new mass produced cars. My talk with Sean showed how important the accessibility of the art in Roxbury is to the residents who often don’t have time to actively seek out art due to strenuous hours working or other priorities. The lack of a museum at the caliber and breadth of the MFA has moved much of the art of Roxbury from white walls to the streets, where residents can interact with the art on a very personal level. Residents have art as a solace to let it define the place where they live while the definition of Roxbury remains ever changing.