Rozzie & Me: Glenn and Janice Williams
The Rozzie & Me blog series is guest-written by RVMS Marketing Committee Volunteer Kelly Ransom. Kelly will be interviewing residents, business-owners, and folks from all walks-of-life who make Roslindale a special place to live and work.
You may recognize his voice as ‘The Voice of Roslindale.’ You may recognize her beautiful art that is displayed in galleries all over the city. Without Janice and Glenn Williams, Roslindale may not be as full of art as it is today! This month, we are chatting with Glenn and Janice about the impact they have had on the Farmers Market, how they have both dedicated their lives to art, and the incredible growth they have seen in Roslindale since the 1970s.
Kelly: Where are you from originally and where do you live now?
Janice: I grew up in Jamaica Plain in Forest Hills, and now I live in Roslindale.
Glenn: I grew up in Roslindale, and I've lived in the same house that I grew up in for my whole life.
K: How has Roslindale changed over time and how has it remained the same?
G: Roslindale, at one time, was a very vibrant community. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, we had lots of stores in Roslindale Square. We had a theater, a department store, a men's clothing store, a women's clothing store, and two grocery stores. It was a groovy place. Then it went through some big changes during the mid-70s when bussing started. People left the community and moved to Dedham so that they didn't have to deal with the public school system which was atrocious at the time.
It took a long time for Roslindale to get to where it is today. City Councilor Tom Menino (before he was Mayor) was pushing a program called Main Streets which would help the business district. There were all these great places in Roslindale but there were a couple of fires and people didn't rebuild afterwards. A lot of businesses left. Everybody put up grates on their windows because there was a lot of crime in the community. Roslindale Village Main Street worked on getting the business district back on its feet.
Eventually, small businesses started taking the grates down. People worked very hard at redeveloping the business district and slowly but surely they filled up a lot of the empty storefronts and here we are today.
Now, Roslindale is a destination. People are coming to Roslindale to raise their families, make their purchases, have fun, and enjoy themselves.
J: When I came here twenty-two years ago, I was brought here by Mr. Williams. During that time, I was living in Quincy, and I liked Quincy. When he brought me here, I was like "There's nothing here!" All the businesses were closed. Then, before I knew it, I was involved with doing public relations for Roslindale Village Main Street. I was on the Marketing Committee and then, all of a sudden, I was the Executive Director. Roslindale Village Main Street has done amazing things in Roslindale.
K: You have both done a lot of work with RVMS!
G: I was a member of the Promotions Committee at Roslindale Village Main Street. We were doing different events and activities around the community. Eventually, I was elected to the Board of Directors. I served on the Board for many years and, eventually, became President of the Board for a few terms. It was during that time that we made our biggest swings.
J: One of the things that I enjoyed doing was bringing art to the kids through RVMS. When we would have events like the Tree Lighting or the Egg Hunt, the Roslindale Arts Alliance would always be the ones who were providing a table of arts activities. I'm really proud of that and I'm glad to see that it still continues. People love it. They love the opportunity to be creative and have something for their kids to do.
K: Tell me about the Farmers Market.
G: We started the Farmers Market in an alley. Then, we moved it over to the Commuter Rail parking lot. Janice was very fundamental in making that happen. We knew we needed to start bringing more people out. Terry Kitchen showed up one day with his guitar, no electricity, and played a couple of sets. We had one farmer. Then, we went through a process where we wanted to expand and use the public space at Adams Park. We fought really hard to move it over there. Once we did, we started gaining some success. Now, we get 1,500 people on a Saturday morning and not all of them are coming down just to buy grapes. People are coming down to hang out with their neighbors, catch up with people, have picnics, listen to live music, and be entertained by performers like Davey the Clown.
J: Jaime Pullen and I received a $2,000 grant from the Massachusetts Agricultural Department and we spent that money on purchasing flyers and doing marketing. She mobilized somebody on every street in Roslindale to hand out flyers so that every house had one. The flyers had little tear-off things that could be brought to the market and exchanged for a little something. It really brought the people in.
K: What are some other programs you’ve been involved with in Roslindale?
G: Before Main Streets, I was working with the Healthy Roslindale Coalition which was a neighborhood crime watch group. We started a youth group that was called 'The Rossie Reps'. Before that, I was a part of an organization called the 'Roslindale Association of Youth.' It was a drop-in center for kids. At the time, Kevin White was Mayor and he had a great program called 'Summerthing.' I became the coordinator here in Roslindale for the 'Summerthing' program. We had mobile vans that would go around and would host arts and crafts activities, dance activities, and in the parks we had concerts.
I've always been involved in getting more culture into the community and working hard to bring people out of their homes to be together in the neighborhood. That's one of the driving forces for me because when I grew up here, we were the only family of color. My sisters and I lived outside of the housing development and it always felt like people were wondering what we were doing living here. My mother was very involved in the community and worked with neighbors and politicians. She got to know them all.
Over time, we started working with an organization called the Roslindale Arts Alliance. We did a lot of educational things. We opened the storefront where the old RVMS office was next to Sebastian’s. We held classes and gallery openings there. We noticed that J.P. had this amazing event called Open Studios so we said "Let's give it a shot." The first year nothing really happened. The second year nothing really happened. During the third year, we had 35 artists sign up for Roslindale Open Studios and it was pretty good.
J: Since then, we have grown to 100 artists in 40 locations. We stepped back a bit to deal with family stuff, but members of the committee took it over, and it is still a major flourishing event in Roslindale. About four years ago, we decided to start Roslindale Porchfest because we weren't busy enough!
K: Tell me about your paths to becoming artists.
J: I've always done arts and crafts. I was a quilter for a long time, and I was a little frustrated that I couldn't be as creative as I wanted to be while working with fabric. I started working with paper and that's how my art evolved. I work with paper in a variety of ways. I create my own designs with paper, collages, and decoupage. I'm also a published writer. I do a lot of writing. That's my passion believe it or not. When I had my first kid, I really got into creating art. My art has always been kind of relegated to the background at times because I've worked and I've had children. I'm really enjoying retirement!
G: I've always been a musician. That started really early in my life. My estranged father was a very successful jazz musician. I don't really remember him. He left when I was three.
I went to Sacred Heart School. My sisters and I were the first kids of color at the school. It was kind of difficult in 1960s. I was the kid that got in trouble all the time because I was defending myself. I was expected to be the example for all of the kids of color at the school. The nuns were pushing my mother to tell me to behave myself because they thought that if I acted like that, then everyone would think all of the black kids acted like that.
One day in the fourth grade, I was sent down to the auditorium to set up the chairs for an assembly as punishment because I was being disruptive. I got into the activity room which had a piano, an upright bass, and all these other groovy things to play with. I started plunking away on the bass and just playing around. Sister Cornelius walked in and I thought I was a goner because I was playing with something I definitely should not have been playing with. She said "I'm gonna teach you how to play that thing." For the next six years, she gave me private lessons on the upright bass.
When I was nine, I watched The Beatles on Ed Sullivan and after that I wanted to play rock and roll. I played for many years with many different bands playing in lots of clubs. I didn't get into visual arts until I met Janice 35 years ago. I paint differently than Janice does. I have to mull over something. I have to think about what I want to do. I have to kind of be struck by lightning. It's all pretty abstract work. It's now become something that I love and I wanted to pass that love on to kids when we started the Arts Association. I started teaching at the Community Center. Now, I'm the head visual arts teacher at the Sacred Heart School where I went to school.
K: Do you have a memory or story about Roslindale that you would like to share?
J: One of our fondest memories is the day we drove up South Street and saw the line outside of Delfino Restaurant. When things started first popping in Roslindale it was so exciting. We kept advocating for more restaurants in Roslindale. Slowly and slowly we got more restaurants. Delfino came in and the day I saw a line for people waiting to get in there it was precious. It felt like it was finally working.
G: One of the things that that happened in Roslindale that made me want to stay happened in 1975. I'm not sure of exactly when it was when -- but it was during busing. There was a major demonstration going on, and they were marching up from Healy Field to Roslindale High School. There was a lot of violence going on around the city. I was in the middle of the Square, and I knew what was going on. I knew I wasn't going to be part of it, but I also wasn't going to hide at home.
One guy who I knew and three other guys who I didn't know saw me. That's when I realized I might have made a mistake. They came up to me, and they told me that I didn't want to be hanging around there because these people were a bunch of jerks looking for trouble. I didn't want to leave because I didn't want to be told where I could and could not go. Those four guys stayed with me the whole time to make sure I didn't get hurt. That kindness put this feeling in me that this was my home and that it was okay for me to be here. They stayed with me and made sure that I was safe and made me feel like it was my real home. That initial sense of community is what has instilled in me the appreciation of the Roslindale we enjoy today.