Mass Humanities Announces Second Round of Grants

Special to the Gazette

Mass Humanities announced it has awarded $713,876 in Expand Massachusetts Stories (EMS) grants to 42 cultural nonprofit organizations across the Commonwealth including grants to three projects in Mission Hill/Roxbury totaling $58,600. The funded projects will surface new narratives about the people and ideas that shape Massachusetts.

Rooted in Mass Humanities’ mission to create opportunities for the people of Massachusetts to transform their lives and build a more equitable Commonwealth, the new EMS initiative kicked off last year with support to projects across the state that included audio tours, documentary films, oral histories, and public events. The new grant program will strive to promote an equitable and inclusive society that recognizes all people’s perspectives, especially those that have been marginalized and underrepresented.

Funded projects in Mission Hill/Roxbury include:

• An $18,600 grant to The Flavor Continues for The Torchbearers: Massachusetts’s Street and Club Dance Community Stories, a series of interviews that looks deeply into the lives of the pioneers and cultural bearers of the various street and club dance communities in Massachusetts. The project will Expand Mass Stories by finding, exploring, and sharing education about the history, culture, and experiences of the pioneers and tradition bearers of the street and club dance communities in Massachusetts through an oral history lens. This will contribute to a more inclusive understanding of Massachusetts by exploring the underground scenes of a Black Cultural Art forms molded by other identities of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ individuals. The general public will experience history of the street and club dance communities in Massachusetts and its true, authentic history, which is extremely hidden. Participants will also learn about one another’s history and different versions of the same story, as well as experience a sense of importance for the legacy they have created.

• A $20,000 grant to the UU Urban Ministry for The Roxbury Stories Project that will ask youth in the UU Urban Ministry afterschool program to interview elders from their community and record these stories to be shared with the neighborhood and beyond. The project will Expand Mass Stories by finding untold 20th century stories of Roxbury, the heart of Boston’s historic African American community and home to a growing immigrant and Muslim community. The Roxbury Stories Project is intended to facilitate youth finding everyday histories of elders living in the Roxbury community over the past 75 years. These stories will honor the experience of living in Roxbury during major 20th century events such as the Civil Rights Movement, White Flight from Boston, and the resilience and perseverance of the Black community of Roxbury. Elders have an opportunity to reflect their own histories and young people to better understand their city and what came before them. Young people will learn about the richness of this community, and to dismantle some of the harmful stereotypes that have persisted about Roxbury as a community of danger and deficits.

• A $20,000 grant to Emerson College for The Elma Lewis Living Stories Project, a mostly digital archive of words, images, audio recordings, films, or artistic creations from community members who answer the call, “What Miss Elma Lewis taught me.”  The project will Expand Mass Stories by bringing to light the work of one of Boston’s most important Black female luminaries in the arts, education, and civil rights, Emerson alumna Elma Ina Lewis, Class of 1943. If you walk down the streets in Boston’s Roxbury, Dorchester, or Mattapan neighborhoods or the surrounding areas, it’s likely you will meet someone who will passionately share a story about “what Miss Elma Lewis taught me.” They may tell you how their lives have been deeply impacted by the seven decades of Miss Lewis’ work. They will tell you about her unwavering dedication to supporting the education, creativity, and intellectual development of youth through dance, music, poetry, and the visual arts in schools, prisons, theaters, and public parks.

Visit a full list of grantees

This latest round of funding will continue to focus on projects that surface and share the histories and experiences of traditionally overlooked communities. The majority of funded projects include leadership roles for people who identify as BIPOC, a sign of progress towards one of the central goals for this new grant program.

“At this critical juncture in the history of our state, we see these projects as the sparks for a much needed reimagining of our past and a new vision for our future,” said Brian Boyles, Executive Director of Mass Humanities. “We believe Massachusetts can only truly thrive when all residents participate in creating, learning and sharing the stories of Massachusetts.”

A non-profit based in Northampton, Mass Humanities provides grants to more than two-hundred organizations across the state each year. The EMS initiative provides up to $20,000 to nonprofit organizations.

The grants are made possible through Mass Humanities’ partnership with Mass Cultural Council, the state’s cultural agency, as well as a two-year, $700,000 partnership with the Barr Foundation that was announced in August.

“Since the adoption of the Agency’s Racial Equity Plan one year ago, Mass Cultural Council has prioritized making decisions that ensure our investments are made equitably across the cultural sector,” said Michael J. Bobbitt, Executive Director of Mass Cultural Council. “We are so pleased that our partners at Mass Humanities are joining us down this path and celebrate the important voices and stories that today’s EMS recipients will soon share with all of us in Massachusetts.”

Support from the Barr Foundation will contribute to Mass Humanities’ efforts to share the stories of the impacted communities with decision makers and audiences across Massachusetts.

“I extend my congratulations the recipients of the Expand Massachusetts Stories initiative,” said SueEllen Kroll, Senior Program Officer for Arts & Creativity at the Barr Foundation. “We at Barr are proud to support the creation, collection, and sharing of community stories that contribute to a more inclusive narrative and understanding of the Commonwealth’s history, culture, and people.”

In addition, Mass Humanities strived to fund projects led by members of the communities where the stories originate, and projects based in smaller organizations. Of the 42 grants, 62% have people who identify as BIPOC among their project leadership; and 60% of the organizations funded have operating budget under $500,000 and 48% have operating budgets under $350,000.

“To make lasting change, we need to respect and support the storytellers and storytelling spaces where traditions and narratives take root,” said Boyles. “We hope that these important voices and community-based organizations can lead the way in reckoning with our history.”

Organizations interested in learning about future grants should follow Mass Humanities on social media @masshumanities and visit their website.

Mass Humanities, a non-profit based in Northampton, conducts and supports programs that use history, literature, philosophy, and the other humanities disciplines to enhance and improve civic life throughout Massachusetts. Since its founding in 1974, the organization has provided millions of dollars in support of thousands of humanities projects across the Commonwealth. Established as the state-based affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), Mass Humanities is an independent programming and grant-making organization that receives support from the NEH and the Massachusetts Cultural Council as well as private sources. For more information, visit

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