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Northeastern recognizes Roxbury resident as community ‘superhero’

Elaine Hall-Corbin, second from the right, receives a Community Engagement Award at the City and Community Affairs' fifth annual Pancakes and Partnerships Breakfast in the East Village. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

“I live at Northeastern Crossing,” says Elaine Hall-Corbin, a lifelong resident of Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood. She’s exaggerating, of course, but not by much. As she puts it, “All I’d need is a bed, a blanket, and a pillow.”

Northeastern Crossing—a venue dedicated to fostering connections between city residents and students, faculty, and staff—opened in fall 2015. Hall-Corbin, the founder of Humanistic Guide, a small arts and culture publication for the Roxbury community, attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony and never looked back, becoming a mainstay at the Tremont Street space.

Over the past year-and-a-half, she’s participated in scores of programs held at Northeastern Crossing, including yoga classes, healthy eating seminars, and ink and pen drawing workshops. She’s covered some of the programs for Humanistic Guide, too, from a panel discussion on the history of jazz in Roxbury to an “edutainment” performance by Castle of our Skins, a local group that uses music to celebrate black history.

“I’m trying to keep alive the history and culture of my community,” says Hall-Corbin, 66, who has applied for grants from a number of Boston-based foundations in an effort to expand the scope of her work. “As a person of color who was born and raised in Roxbury, I felt like something needed to be done to cover art and cultural programs in the voice of a community member.”

Community superheroes

In recognition of her longstanding commitment to civic leadership, Hall-Corbin received a Community Engagement Award at the Department of City and Community Affairs’ fifth annual Pancakes and Partnership Breakfast on Tuesday morning in the event space on the 17th floor of East Village. She was one of a handful of city residents, neighborhood organizations, and Northeastern community members to receive an award at the event, which served to celebrate the “superheroes” who are committed to creating mutually beneficial university-community partnerships.

City and Community Affairs staff members were dressed in superhero garb, donning Superman-style capes in honor of the award recipients’ herculean efforts to do good in their communities. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

City and Community Affairs staff members were dressed in superhero garb, donning Superman-style capes in honor of the award recipients’ herculean efforts to do good in their communities. Balloons were tied to each of the dining tables, emblazoned with images of Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, and other well-known superheroes. And thematic music—including “My Hero,” by the Foo Fighters—played in the background as the award winners chowed down on pancakes and eggs.

Balloons were tied to each of the dining tables, emblazoned with images of Spiderman, the Incredible Hulk, and other well-known superheroes. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Marisa Luse, Northeastern Crossing’s campus engagement coordinator and special assistant to the director of neighborhood partnerships and programs, nominated Hall-Corbin for her award. “Elaine is the true epitome of civic leadership and community engagement in Roxbury and beyond,” says Luse. “She has become a Northeastern Crossing champion and a City and Community Affairs spokesperson who believes in the work that helps to break down silos and create opportunities for collaboration.”

‘Voices of Sisterhood’

Hall-Corbin created Humanistic Guide in 1997, after drawing inspiration from an arts and culture workshop in her community. She produced a hardcover version of Humanistic Guide for nine years, suspended publication to work as a community organizer for the Neighborhood Development Corporation of Grove Hall, and then moved online in November 2016. “There’s nothing else like this in Roxbury,” she explains.

Two Northeastern students—Michaela Anang, SSH’17, and Ivy Pepin, SSH’19—helped Hall-Corbin launch the first online issue. As a member of Northeastern’s Civic Engagement Program, Pepin jumped at the opportunity to dedicate her time to such a worthy cause. “Something that makes her project particularly special is her ability to view current Roxbury events through a historical lens, as she had grown up in the area and soaked up its culture all her life,” says Pepin, a third-year English major whose partnership with Hall-Corbin afforded her the opportunity to receive valuable editing experience. “She’s always making connections to her own childhood and upbringing, and her publication manages to tie past and present beautifully.”

I’m trying to keep alive the history and culture of my community.

Elaine Hall-Corbin lifelong resident of Boston's Roxbury neighborhood

Hall-Corbin describes Anang and Pepin using superlatives like “spectacular.” “I didn’t know what I was doing,” she says, referring to the difficulties of moving her publication online, “and they helped me put everything in order.”

Humanistic Guide’s next issue will be released later this week, featuring an interview with the movers and shakers behind Northeastern Crossing. Hall-Corbin is also busy planning the next installment of her women’s empowerment workshop, called “Voices of Sisterhood,” where female community members convene to harness the power of visual art and creative writing to tell their stories. One of the most recent workshops focused on the theme of stereotyping.

“I try to use art and writing to get people to talk about what’s going on in their lives,” says Hall-Corbin, who is uniquely suited to run this workshop, having recently earned her bachelor’s degree in human services from Springfield College. “They need to have respect and concern and understanding for not only themselves but also their community.”