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Kimberlee Smith, 15, of Dorchester, wrote during a night when 50 community activists shared support.
Kimberlee Smith, 15, of Dorchester, wrote during a night when 50 community activists shared support. (William Moore for the Boston Globe)

For one night, activists help themselves

They spend their days on the front lines of the violence and difficult truths of Boston neighborhoods, getting funding for HIV prevention and treatment, caring for the families of victims of shootings and violence, or trying to be role models for the youth.

But on Saturday night , 50 community activists took some time for themselves.

The ``Peace is Coming, for Us by Us, Meet and Greet " was designed to create a support network for activists who share the emotional intensity of their jobs and the responsibility and passion for community service.

When the night started around 7 p.m. at the Jorge Hernandez Cultural Center in the South End, activists held hands and breathed deeply, calming themselves and concentrating on doing what their daily lives usually do not allow -- relaxing.

Ruth Henry , the youth arts coordinator at the center, read a poem reflecting the ``mix of sadness, frustration, joy, pride, and hope" she feels working with young people:

Sitting back, relaxing, it's Saturday a.m.
and the work of the week disappears through my pen,
Monday when I came in, my heart was low and heavy
With another life lost, when he was only 20 . . .

The activists came from a wide spectrum of fields of community work. Some, such as 46-year-old Irvienne Goldson, work within the health community. Others were youngsters themselves, such as 15-year-old Kimberlee Smith of Dorchester , who works in a city program designed to steer people her age away from violence.

``I think we all needed to take this break," said Cindy Diggs , organizer of Peace Boston, which uses hip-hop music to send a message against violence. ``This has been an incredible year for those of us who have lost so many young people."

``But we have so many encouraging young people that we just get up every day and are willing to do four and five events per day to make sure that the young people are safe and are having a good time and know that we are very proud of them," she said.

James Hills , 34, said he works to prevent violence and health risks among young people, and came to the dinner and party because he needed to relax.

``Everybody's been stressing me about either going to counseling, or taking care of myself or resting, and I just thought it would be good," Hills said.

Henry said it was often difficult for youth workers to relax because the violence of shootings and problems with community health directly affect the young people they work with.

After work I stopped off to have a beer and calm my nerves, But it was absurd, what I heard, cause the story just get worse Another sister mourning brother, killed in the same spot, And I'm thinking about the daughter she got, like I got . . .

One of the organizers of the event , Courtney Grey, 43 , said he hoped the event could help community activists foster relationships with each other .

Mark Bolden of Jamaica Plain is helping organize the New England Association of Black Psychologists and said he came to the event to help support himself and those around him.

``These are the radiant souls who are just excited to be around people," Bolden said. ``People who do community work, they work off inspiration and they work to inspire others."

``This is necessary," he said. ``This is healing work."

The rain comes down sudden, soaks me on my bike, I get home, I get dry, and I call it a night, Wake up to my pen and scribble these pages, Let the work of the week slide away in slow stages . . .

Joseph Porcelli , a community service officer for the Neighborhood Crime Watch Unit of the Boston Police Department, which helped sponsor the event, said it was his dream to have many activists supporting each other.

``The beautiful thing about bringing people together is if you leave space for it, beautiful things happen," he said. ``We use the word nourish, we use the word inspire, we use the word propel, we use the word connect, we use the word relax."

After the dinner, Henry sat on the stoop outside the cultural center and spoke with other community organizers. On her shirt she wore a pin dedicated to a young man she worked with who died in November. She said her work is both invigorating and saddening.

It's a youth worker story,

Just a regular week, Pray for peace in the streets, Make sure the weekend is sweet.

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