Annual ‘Sweet Soul Supper’ Feeds the Work of Margaret Fuller House, Area Four and Beyond
Transcendentalist, feminist and Cambridge citizen Sarah Margaret Fuller, (1810-1850) was born in the section of Cambridge that we know today by two names: the ‘Port’ if you grew up here and ‘Area Four’ if you are from other parts of Cambridge. Fuller would have been proud of the annual celebration honoring the work carried on at her historic birthplace; the celebration itself was a vivid example of community partners coming together to meet a host of social needs.
‘A Sweet Soul Supper’ is the Margaret Fuller House’s biggest fundraiser of the year. Even before development pressures around Area Four were being felt so acutely the event has been on the fast track to becoming an annual Cambridge ‘good will pilgrimage with a pedigree.’ The team at the Margaret Fuller House has been drawing a virtual ‘who’s who’ of Cambridge politicians and community relations folk to show up from biotech, banks and academia, for a chance to rub shoulders with Area Four/‘Port neighborhood residents and to show their support for the work of the Margaret Fuller House for a few years running now.
If this year’s event was any indication, the Supper’s social pedigree will only get better. Landowners who abut the Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House from both sides, in Tech Square and Central Square will no doubt be looking for additional ways to support and associate with this treasured neighborhood resource as development interests in surrounding neighborhoods need to seek approval from Area Four residents
One of the best investments a neighborhood facing development pressures can have is a visible and effective multi service non-profit which is already in tune with the needs of community residents. (Who better to articulate those needs, so that the community gets a say in what happens and that developers pay attention to adding projects which actually reflects the resident’s needs and aspirations?)
As an event A Sweet Soul Supper is on the road to achieve the kind of fund raising cachet for Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House to which non-profits twice it’s size aspire–which is heartening to see. Like snagging the brass ring from the merry-go-round, achieving citywide recognition for work done in a single neighborhood is a kind of ‘earned luck’ (–an achievement made possible only through diligent, sustained effort and strategic planning-with a element of good fortune thrown in.)
The former settlement house* may still be a small, multi-purpose community resource center with a relatively tiny budget, but it has come to be simultaneously recognized as a force of good in the city and adored by the residents in its own immediate neighborhood--largely because of its ability to address Port/Area Four’s quality-of-life needs on an intimate, neighborhood scale.
To earn that kind of dual adoration/ endorsement, the leadership at the Margaret Fuller House must be doing something right. Everyone I spoke to-- from neighborhood residents to bank presidents –had nothing but good things to say about the 110 year old organization.
This year’s Sweet Soul Supper celebration (June 28, at MIT’s Walker Memorial) proved to be a combination of fun, entertainment and a show of slightly irreverent ‘elegance with a purpose.’ The evening kicked off its happy feet with the sounds of the Second Line Social and Pleasure Society Brass Band (www.slsaps.org), the New Orleans –style street band of Harvard Square’s Honk! Festival fame, http://www.harvardsquare.com/Home/Honk-Festival-Parade-to-Oktoberfest.aspx whose happy, brassy tunes and fun-loving lyrics reached out from the front steps of the Walker Memorial into the summer evening to welcome guests as they arrived.
Inside, the hors d’oeuvres flowed from the trays of handsome young wait staff, as VIP guests mulled over the cool stuff on display for silent auction. In the bar area, John Anderson (double bass), Rob Flax (amplified violin), Gene Kelly(keyboards), and Steve Langone (percussion) kept a jazzy musical conversation going as Nine Mile Radius. (Video Links) Shapely beauties in satin mini-dresses and stiletto heels rocked the house alongside seasoned community activists, a few smartly attired babies, and dashiki-ed grandpas and grandmas wearing sensible shoes.
Area Four native son Selvin Chambers (formerly of Cambridge Youth Programs and more recently of The Food Project in Boston), acted as gracious MC for the evening’s festivities. JG & the Megatones supplied danceable Old (& New) School Reggae and R&B to keep this diverse crowd moving to beats all evening. (Having ‘Supper’ in your event headline means you’d better not be fooling around when it comes to the food.) The menu for Sweet Soul Supper was appropriately soulful: rice n’ peas, vegetarian delights, fried plantains, seared tilapia and barbequed beef short ribs – cooked up by people who are clearly on loving terms with their stove.
Later in the evening, Cambridge Mayor Henrietta Davis stood by as Paul Parravano, of the Office of Government and Community Relations welcomed the community to M.I.T., seconds after he presented a $10,000. check to a surprised MFNH Executive Director, Barbara Kibler.
Standing underneath a series of multicolored banners which stretched high into the dome of the hall later that evening, development wiz Liz Looker explained that these quilted works of art are lovingly put together by community volunteers at Margaret Fuller House to commemorate the Sweet Soul Supper event. Each year, a new banner is created; seven banners now grace the rafters of the Walker Memorial during the Sweet Soul Supper--and man, do they look good!
For this journalist, the banners provided a tactile canopy to an atmosphere already made festive by the rich cluster of community associations which spilled from the hall into the beautiful summer evening on the edge of the Charles River.
*settlement house: an institution in an inner-city area providing educational, recreational, and other social services to the community