Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Spreading Holiday Cheer (To Rubes)

If you haven’t heard of the Free the World Association, you’ve probably heard the pitch. Representatives of the group approach pedestrians in Downtown Crossing to solicit donations for their after-school programs, which are supposedly aimed at eradicating racism in our fair city. They wield clipboards and a laminated informational sheet littered with grammatical errors and bizarre philosophical bedfellows (the Quakers and Marcus Garvey are listed as inspirations). After giving you a quick look at the sheet, which you’re not allowed to take with you, they ask you for a donation. And if you want a receipt, you’re shit out of luck.

One of the FWA canvassers, who’s been working the Crossing for two years and goes by the name “Thomas Brown,” told me the fundraising was to purchase things like notebooks and pencils for the kids at their center, which, according to the group’s literature, is situated at 9 Temple Place. Brown was quick to mention that although the center is not currently operational, it will be open again soon.

“The more money you give, the quicker we can get it rolling again,” he told me.

According to the city Assessing Office, however, 9 Temple Place doesn’t actually exist. Gerald Fallon-Griffon, a clerk at the office, said 9 Temple Place was eliminated for the construction of 141 Tremont Street, which is primarily a dorm building for Suffolk University. He even produced a little map with the numbers 1 through 9 crossed out where the side of 141 Tremont is now.

“Do you guys work with the public schools?" I asked Brown. “Yeah, we work with the schools,” he said. But following an inquiry to the Boston Public Schools, I was redirected to Boston Centers for Youth and Families. “We don’t know who these people are," said spokesperson Sandy Holden. Holden also pointed out that even though Boston‘s after-school programs are decentralized, if an organization was working with them, the BCYF would know about it.

One of FWA’s trainees, with Brown present, also assured me that the Free the World Association is a nonprofit. This claim, too, is bogus. According to the secretary of state’s office, with which all Massachusetts nonprofits must register, there is no organization registered under the name “Free the World Association” or anything even resembling it.

Finally, later attempts to reach Brown via phone were unsuccessful, as the number he gave me actually belongs to a local tile and ceramics contractor who told me he’s not affiliated with the group.

While unwitting rubes in for the holiday shopping season fall prey to the FWA, employees of the Corner Mall and surrounding stores aren’t having it. An employee of Champs Sports (who requested anonymity) claimed, "I’m new to this store, but management told me that they were running some kind of scam about racism or something when I got here. I’d love to see them gone. They harass our customers."

This article originally published in The Weekly Dig on December 6, 2006.