Let's take a walk down the block. Bowdoin Street in Dorchester is the center of the Bowdoin-Geneva section of the neighborhood. Most of its residents are Black and Latino; there's also a large Cape Verdean population.

On a typical day, you'll catch folks like Francisco DePina, who goes by Cisco, hanging around, chopping it up with his neighbors, greeting them in Creole. He's a college readiness director for Boston Uncornered, a nonprofit that works to end gang violence by getting young people to college.

“You go after the ones that nobody wants to work with, nobody wants to deal with because they're saying they're criminals, this and that,” he said about this mission.

Boston Uncornered’s office is on Bowdoin Street, right around the corner from Cisco's house. Back in the day, Cisco was one of the people Uncornered was trying to reach. He says as a teen, he was a troublemaker, and not many people had faith he'd amount to more. He did try to turn things around, getting his first job at Pete's Pizza, where he worked for ten years.

But it wasn't long before the block gave him some darker memories. His cousin was killed on that street.

“And that kind of brought me back. You know, I left the job. And went back on that corner,” he said. “Revenge. They killed my cousin, good friend and I wanted payback. So when I went back on the corner looking for payback."

Cisco keeps it real about his life on the streets and says it's likely he would have stayed there if someone from Uncornered hadn't stepped in. It's the kind of intervention that's helping other young people in the neighborhood, like Kendrick Hood, who served three and a half years in prison before attending Bunker Hill Community College and getting into the workforce.

"I wanted better for myself," Hood said getting involved in the program.

Another student, Ruben DaSilva, came to Uncornered as a teenager who was trying to keep himself out of trouble. Now he's working there. He explained how Uncornered is willing to help young people who may have gotten caught up but want to get back on the right path.

“It's like education or sitting down with a CPA… Or say if you need a lawyer for certain things to get your life together,” DaSilva said about the program

Essentially, Uncornered is a safe space, especially when the block isn't. Last year, Boston police identified 20 shootings in the Bowdoin-Geneva section of Dorchester alone. One of the victims was a grandmother named Delois Brown, who was shot and killed while sitting on her front porch. Cisco was among the people who responded to the crisis.

“She literally was on that porch and on that same chair for years. So anyone who's been on Bowdoin, anywhere near Bowdoin, knew Ms. Brown,” he said. “So it was a hard one for everybody. In times like that, the only thing I could do is make sure that I'm out there… and whatever support they need, to give it to them.”

So far, homicides are down this year, but like many inner cities, this part of Boston gets hot in more ways than one, as crime tends to spike in the summer. That's when Cisco says his work ramps up. The police play a role in that, too, obviously. But Cisco says that relationship is complicated.

“We have the one or two [officers] that come in, really one that supports the community and knows all the young men's names… Those type of police officers that we need in our community don't last long enough here, because what they do is they grab them and send them somewhere else and then they bring in officers who don't know nothing about the community or the people within the community,” he said.

"That's all we ask, is that you believe in our community and you believe in our people and let us do the work."
-Francisco DePina, Boston Uncornered

And that's just one thing Cisco wishes was different about his neighborhood. Looking around, there's heavy traffic. A few buildings are in need of an upgrade and there's not a lot of green space compared to some nearby communities.

“So many new things, right? So many upgrades,” he said. “They have a place they can go escape. Now, where I'm from, we don't escape. What are they doing for us here? Where's our parks at? Where's our upgraded playground now for our kids?”

Cisco says that residents find joy through sports here — basketball and football, even if they’ don’t have courts to play on. I asked him if he ever gets frustrated that organizations like Uncornered have to fill gaps in the community.

“Yeah, I get frustrated a lot of times because we don't have enough. There's so much out there to do, but we don't have enough. And there are people who have the resources. But in order for them to give us the resources we need, you have to be able to believe,” he said. “That's all we ask, is that you believe in our community and you believe in our people and let us do the work.”

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