Take a drive through Rochester neighborhoods and you’re likely to see small shrines scattered along the sidewalks. They can be found in any neighborhood, but mostly in the poorest areas. Each shrine wordlessly states that the life that violently ended here mattered. He (mostly) or she had friends and family who loved them; their deaths are a loss to the community.
Last June 21 year-old Madison Boorom was killed early on a Monday afternoon on Samuel McCree Way, around the corner from an elementary school that was still in session and less than a block from the Daniel Prude Peace Garden. According to Madison’s obituary, “she loved animals and rescued several cats and dogs over the years. A caring person, Madison enjoyed her work caring for patients as a Health Care Aide with All Metro. She liked to sing, dance, do her hair and nails, and wash her car. She cherished time spent with family and friends.” She was with several friends when she was shot.
The Flower City Noire Collective (http://flowercitynoirecollective.org) chose the site of Madison’s death, a vacant lot on Samuel McCree Way, to create a neighborhood garden, not to obscure Madison’s memory, but to bring a new focus to a neighborhood plagued with violence. Madison’s shrine remains, but the vacant lot it occupies has been transformed into a garden designed to feed both body and soul. Through the organizing of The Flower City Noire Collective and the energetic labor of volunteers and neighbors, vegetables, fruits and flowers are slowly taking root to be enjoyed freely by all who visit.
RAICA contributed towards construction materials and two of us helped prepare the lot for the gardens. Older neighbors sat in lawn chairs while younger residents and children enthusiastically helped. A hose from a neighbor's house provided water. The entire long weekend had the feel of celebration, truly a respite from the ongoing threat of violence on our city streets.
Urban gardens are transforming spaces throughout Rochester. In addition to providing a source for nutritious food in areas that often lack access to fresh fruits and vegetables, neighborhood gardens build bonds through social interaction and provide an opportunity for exercise. Green spaces help cool neighborhoods that often lack trees, create pollinator corridors and improve drainage from heavy rain events. A recent study showed that well-maintained green spaces can even reduce violence in poor neighborhoods. Spending time in gardens is known to reduce stress and the negative health impacts that accompany it.
Madison’s life mattered. Her shrine now anchors a corner of a lot that promotes peace, invites hope and acknowledges that the lives of the children and adults that live in the Jefferson Avenue neighborhoods matter.