From NeighborWorks America: Drive-in brings community together


For many people, the drive-in is a symbol of the past. But with COVID-19 and the call for social distancing, it’s become a symbol of the present, and residents in Roxbury couldn’t be happier about it.

“This has ever happened in Roxbury,” says Erica Davis, director of Massachusetts’ Madison Park Development Corporation‘s community center. Cars line up during weekdays and weekends alike.

The drive-in theater, with a 40-foot screen and sound that’s delivered via car radio, opened late this summer. Grove Hall Neighborhood Development Corporation received initial funding from the city of Boston, and reached out to two NeighborWorks organizations, Madison Park and Nuestra Communidad Development Corporation, and others to open the Nubian Summer Drive-In in the Roxbury neighborhood. It was a bit of fundraising stone soup with organizations pitching in for the screen, the camera, security and more. Nuestra provided the land, part of an 8-acre site, a former bus yard that they are now developing into mixed income housing and a public arts park. Madison Park donated $15,000, part of which came from a Comprehensive Community Development/Racial Equity grant from NeighborWorks.

With COVID, “there weren’t enough activities for people of all ages,” says Davis. The drive-in gave residents options. Movies are offered at no cost and the lot fits 80 cars comfortably. Grove Hall asked different organizations to sponsor nights to bring their communities together. Madison Park night featured “The Great Debaters,” a biographical movie about a debate team at a historically black college. The organization also showed a short clip of the CEO welcoming residents and reminding them of other Madison Park services, like the food pantry. The lot was nearly full. Other events have included films like “Us,” Sunday football games, the Miami Heat-Los Angeles Lakers basketball playoffs, and the last presidential debate.

There are food options for participants, including snack bags from organizations, Davis says. District 7 Tavern sponsors a beer garden nearby, where food is also available to go, on Nuestra’s property.  David Price, executive director of Nuestra CDC, says the goal even before COVID was to have “placemaking activities that will draw people to have fun on a regular basis. That’s the big picture.” His organization has partnered with others for arts programming to bring people to the area, which in turn help businesses thrive.

The drive-in events are marketed through fliers and social media. Word-of-mouth takes care of the rest.  “Once they attend, they want to keep coming back,” Davis says. “They’re saying they can’t believe this is in the community and they’re asking how long it will last. They want to be involved in the planning sessions.” Requests include virtual concerts and a Zoom meeting where government officials can address members of the community. It’s harder to keep the drive-in open as the weather turns cold, but there are still some warm weekends to come.

“People are finally able to do something as a group,” says Kay Mathew, resource development manager at Madison Park. “It’s just incredible.”

Nuestra and Madison Park have partnered for other projects in the past. This is the first time Madison Park has formerly partnered with Grove Hall.

Read the article as it originally appeared on the NeighborWorks America website here.