Our Riverside is a community history and design program at the Cambridge Community Center, a neighborhood institution with a significant archival collection and a nearly 100 year history of particularly serving and supporting black and African American residents of the neighborhood and the city at large. Our Riverside exists to do two things: first, to keep control of the narrative of the Riverside neighborhood with the citizens of the Riverside neighborhood, and second, to develop historical understanding and communication skills for youth and adults, students and families and elders.
This is important because...
- Riverside and the Cambridge Community Center represent a significant community in Cambridge’s black history, which is underrepresented both in the permanent historical record (at city archives) and in the existing scholarship and public narrative of the city. This program will not just seek to remedy this historical underrepresentation but will focus further on redressing inequalities by building the community’s skills to record and tell their own stories.
Research in the CCC archives shows that in 1978, Center staff wrote a grant to the NEH so that they could start a program just like Our Riverside, based on this exact argument.
- Historical understanding is a key cognitive skill for civic discourse and is increasingly overlooked as school curricula focus on the STEM or STEAM models of education. It begins, like the scientific method, with asking questions and finding out what the evidence suggests. Historical understanding emphasizes “perspective taking” – the skill of stepping into someone else’s shoes and recognizing the limits of one’s own understanding (empathy); builds complex causal thinking; and gives students the critical thinking tools for making their own conclusions. Asking questions with an open mind and developing opinions based on interpretation of complex evidence are key skills for citizens.
Think about a social media feed, how many perspectives and opinions are constantly clashing with each other in front of your eyes. How can you make sense of this? It’s natural that this would make you want simple explanations and as little conflict as possible in the different voices you encounter. Historical understanding is a process that teaches thinking about texts in exactly this way: and our brains on social media need it.
- Design thinking is a natural compliment to this process, refining the interpretation and communication process to produce clear ideas, compelling narratives and accessible materials.
- When people learn and are told historical stories of real people making real change, they are inspired to work for change themselves. People respond to details, to personal stories, objects and images, not to ideas or big narratives. The Cambridge Community Center collection and the research of Our Riverside youth is a huge opportunity to make use of these kinds of tangible, relatable materials.
Our Riverside pursues its mission by:
- Offering summertime programming for youth that teaches them to: interpret historical materials about the Riverside Neighborhood, from the CCC collection and others in the City; to conduct fieldwork in the neighborhood with interviews and observations that will deepen the record of the past and the present in the neighborhood; to develop design and communication skills and create materials and media that will share their questions and ideas with the public, including other youth.
- Developing a relationship with the Cambridge Public Library to encourage the public display and presentation of materials related to the Cambridge Community Center and Riverside neighborhood.
- Creating exhibitions, permanent installations at the CCC, and public programs that bring residents of other Cambridge neighborhoods into both the story of Riverside and into the process of building historical understanding.