Pape “Pops” Loum stood outside his modest gray Windsor Street home on Monday between a mob of young men and women, whom he calls his children.
For a passerby, Loum’s home is just like any other in Area Four, but for these young adults, it’s a nurturing place, where they find acceptance and are able to foster knowledge.
“He just taught me about being a man and what that means, making your own decisions and that is a lifelong lesson,“Trinidad Ramkissoon, 20, said Monday in between chatting with neighborhood friends. “I think that’s applicable to any situation that you can take with you moving forward.“
For kids who grew up in Area Four, all roads lead to “Pops.” Ramkissoon was just one of many who grew up visiting the house, where Loum would teach them about technology, including computers, and give them chores. The goal, Loum said, is to keep children off the streets.
“This is a temple of learning, a safe house and a welcoming home for not just my children here, but for all of their brothers and their sisters who have the hunger for learning and actualizing the dream that preceding generations had,” Loum said seconds before greeting and hugging a young man walking on Windsor Street.
Loum, who is originally from West Africa, started working with children in the early 1980s at Camp Mah-Kee-Nac in Lenox where he served as a soccer coach and a translator for young kids from Canada.
He was working with Just-A-Start Corporation, a nonprofit in Cambridge whose mission is to create opportunity and strengthen the community, when he moved to Cambridge in 1989. But it was in Boston, where he lived for 10 years, that he first realized there was a need to help the community, he said.
“Mothers would ask to be accompanied to go and find kids at 2 and 3 o’clock in the morning,” Loum said. “So, that’s how I knew that the need existed in the community and I had to make myself available in the community.“ Loum, an intellectual and philosopher at heart, started shopping for computers at Salvation Army and checking books out of the public library as soon as he realized that kids growing up in Area Four, a lower-income section of Cambridge, were hungry to learn.
“They were bright and they had questions, and intelligent conversations that they started, led to suggesting some feelings of exploration that they might be interested in,” Loum said. “They have a challenge of an environment that is not an easy one.”
“I used to go to the Salvation Army down the street on Mass. Ave. and pick up some XT computers, and I would bring them here,” he added. “I would get some books from the library that would explain and describe what the different parts were so that they could not only know what these things were, but that they could learn to fix them and find value in all the discarded computers.“Cultivating the learning center
But Loum still has a dream to be fulfilled. He hopes to turn his humble house at 155-157 Windsor St. into a designated learning center for all children. He said he wants the young adults of Area Four, whom he watched over as they were growing up, to do it. Loum wants to start a movement, he said.
“I feel blessed to have them, and hopefully to have been a part of something positive in their lives that they can benefit from and return to the community from which they got it, as I’m a part of it,” Loum said.
However, Loum is much more than a teacher for the young men and women who grew up walking in and out of his home. He’s their father, they say.
“He’s just inspirational,” said Tasheena Betts-Scott, 26. “He’s all about the community. He has always encouraged everybody to do better, and he’s a great cook.“
For Erin Higgins, 30, Loum played an instrumental role when she was at a crossroads in her life.
“I used to be a cop here in Cambridge, and I resigned. But I wasn’t really sure about my decision, and he helped me come to terms with my decision,” Higgins said. “He made me realize that if it wasn’t the job that I wanted to do for the rest of my life, to follow my dreams and just be happy.“
Higgins met Loum when she was just 12 years old and when her father died in 2008, Loum was a “good fit-in,” she said. Ramkissoon, who is an actor, called Loum one of his heroes, along with Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Mahatma Gandhi.
“Just growing up and witnessing a person building a house and not waiting for someone to give it to him or feeling like someone else has the power, but understanding that he had the power,” Ramkissoon said. “It helped me realize that I had the power (too). … So, in a way we got to grow together and that’s really cool.“
Ramkissoon said Loum gave meaning to the famous Spanish phrase: “Mi casa es su casa,” which means my house is your house.
“There have been times that I was bored around the neighborhood and I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t want necessarily to be around anybody, but he always opened up his doors and he really gave meaning to that,” Ramkissoon said. “There’re a lot of sayings and phrases, but unless someone gives meaning to that, it doesn’t mean anything.“
And Loum’s daughter, Ami Loum, added, “Not only does he do it for me, but he does it for everybody. He’s everybody’s dad.“
Loum’s biggest reward, he said, is watching the many children he helped raise become successful and graduate from college. He said they welcomed him into their lives and gave him the opportunity to be their father.
“This is not something I did, something I accomplished,” he said. “No, this is something that they gave me.”
“I’m looking forward to seeing them climb the highest mountains, and they will,” Loum added. “They have the good fortune of being born and raised between MIT and Harvard. It is a wonderful exercise to humbly remind them that they can attend and they can succeed.“
Contact Chronicle reporter Sara Feijo at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @s_fjo.
This past Saturday, hundreds of people from Area 4 and across the city of Cambridge came to celebrate neighborhood strength at a block party in our backyard.
The half-day event featured musical performances and face painting, basketball playing and water dunking—all of it thanks to a new community group called the Kensley Project, and the many people who support it.
The Kensley Project formed earlier this summer to honor the memory of Kensley David, a 22-year-old father shot and killed on Windsor Street in July. In the aftermath of that tragedy, several of his friends committed to strengthening the quality of life for residents of Area 4/The Port—and they’ve been adding members to the group ever since.
We’ll bring you some of their voices in later posts, but for now, enjoy some photographs of the block party below. Thanks to all who organized it, supported it, attended it, and cleaned up after it—and see you next Saturday, Sept. 6, for Area 4 Pride Day!
To learn more about the Kensley Project, email firstname.lastname@example.org.