Rachel Rodrigues, Dorchester

Rachel showed up young and eager, like so many college interns who come to the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute, wanting to understand how the organization supports family and friends after a homicide. Then something unusual happened: the internship ended, and she kept coming back. She would show up in Dorchester after her day job was done, then work for hours.

There was something about the community at the Peace Institute. She had never felt anything like it. Here, in her own words, is how Rachel became Director of Programs at the Peace Institute:

“Truth lives here. Raw truth. The good, the bad, the wonderful, the spiritual. You’re gonna feel it.

I remember when I first started interning, I came in, and it was just like: this is the essence of community. We would be here til midnight, one o’clock in the morning sometimes, making buttons, making funeral programs. Because back then, you didn’t have printers that folded and stapled everything for you. So there was a crew of us—staff and volunteers and literally family, like Tina’s kids, Mario’s little sister, other people’s friends.

It was something that I had never really experienced before—everybody coming together. We had a job to do, and we would be here until it got done.

We would have an assembly line of hundreds of funeral programs—one person is putting them together in the order they’re supposed to go in, the next person is folding them. And we have very high standards of quality here, according to (Peace Institute president) Tina Chéry, so if you did not fold that right, you would be folding that again! We were very meticulous. Because you’re dealing with somebody’s loved one, who’s dead, and they’re trusting us to put together something so important. So we all had that shared understanding that we need to make it perfect.

They’re not just four page programs. They’re, like, 14 page programs. Because we really work with families to show who that person is. Not just: Okay, this person was born, this is where they lived, here’s all the relatives they’re leaving. It’s really like: Who are they? What is the impact that they had in this world? Because they sure nuff did have one. They had a real lot of impact on a whole lot of people—on communities of people.

So very long, story-like obituaries. And with poems from family members. Photos upon photos. I mean, people are full of life! And then some resources in the back, too, about what to say, what not to say.

So somebody would be folding corner to corner, edge to edge. Next person, putting the staples. And then the next person glued purple ribbons into every single program. Purple has become a symbol of peace—in Boston and beyond. So we would put the purple ribbons in, and then mourners were encouraged to either leave it in there as a bookmark in the program, or to take it off and tie it on their car antennae, or tie it somewhere as a symbol of peace.

After the person hot glued the ribbon in was the final fold. Then you had a counter who was packaging them up. You do 10 for immediate family and for the person officiating. Then usually people are ordering them in the hundreds, so you break them down by 25.

We all had expertise in all the areas by the end.

The Peace Institute that I’ve come to know over the years, you get a lot of college students, especially young white women, come in, looking to do a paper, looking to research families whose loved ones were murdered, looking to understand what is gang violence. You know, all those questions. Of course that was the perception of me walking in. People give so much of their time and energy, giving of their life, and their personal story, and somebody takes and puts it in a research paper and then people never see them again.

But even after I graduated, I kept coming back. I used to work at a bridal shoe store out in Natick. My hours over there were 10-6. And when I got out of work, I used to come here and help out however I could. After a while people realized I wasn’t going anywhere.

It was just the community. And the love that I felt, too. You know, the kind of thing where somebody drops you off, they’re waiting until you get into your house. And that is very much a cultural thing that is here, that I didn’t experience where I’m from. I learned that, and I loved it, and I wasn’t leaving it.

When I was 14, one of my relatives was killed. He was killed in a drunk driving accident. What I experienced is very different from what people in communities like Dorchester experience every day. But I felt some similarities.

One, from just being a young person who’d experienced trauma like that. And then it being a violent death. And then having to deal with the criminal justice system and all that crap after.

That experience changed me, so I already kind of was like a raw, young individual, looking for an experience like this, I would say. And when I came here, I was like: oh, this is a place that could hold me, and hold what I’m holding, you know?

And just like everybody else who comes through here: Something happens to you, you automatically want to help someone else. You just do.  Pain understands pain, and you feel like you have the capacity to just, like, be there.”

Rachel was interviewed and photographed by Gabbie Follett at the Peace Institute, located at 15 Christopher Street in Dorchester. The interview was then transcribed and edited for length, clarity and flow by Cara Solomon, founder of Everyday Boston, in partnership with Gabbie. Cara wrote the intro text.

NOTE: The Louis D. Brown Peace Institute was founded in 1994 by Tina Chéry, whose son Louis was killed in a gang shootout on his way to a Teens Against Gang Violence meeting. He was an extraordinary young man; you can read about his life here.

Everyday Boston is a proud partner of the Peace Institute; conversations with staff inspired this project’s vision, and continue to strengthen it. As the Peace Institute celebrates the 15th annual Survivors of Homicide Victims Awareness Month, we encourage you to get involved in their work in whatever way makes sense for you.