Dear Community,

Can we go to ground together?

Soil is a site of possibility, a living archive, a material that speaks, in its own time. Heeding scholar Vanessa Agard-Jones’ insistence on “going to ground,” this open call invites you to enter your earth as a communal gesture in openhearted labor and black placemaking, even if only for a time.

Join us as we conspire (etymologically, to breathe together) toward reconstructing Zipporah Potter Atkins’ 16x14 two-story home, bought by Atkins in 1670 while living in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Atkins sold her house in 1690, and was its sole deedholder for the two decades she lived there. Today, Atkins’ deed is the remaining primary record evidencing her life.

In her first short story, Zora Neale Hurston’s central character John Redding muses, “Then a soft wind like love passes over and warms me, and a summer rain comes down like understanding and softens me, and I push a blade of grass or a flower, or maybe a pine tree—that’s the ground thinking.”

As we come together to celebrate and speculatively engage with Atkins’ life, we invite you to source soil from your own “site of thinking,” a place where soil has personal or shared meaning. 

What does your ground mean to you?

We invite your intention and intimacy as we hone our ecological attention. Your soil collections will live on in the bricks that comprise the foundation of Atkins’ home, on what is now part of the Rose Kennedy Greenway that runs along the Boston Harbor.

The Boston Harbor was critical to the ecology and infrastructure of the Transatlantic slave trade. In the 1980s, the City of Boston displaced 10,000 primarily Black, Brown, and Immigrant residents to build the John F. Fitzgerald Expressway, which caved amid financial and construction constraints. The second conversion project known as “The Big Dig,” was a failed megaproject and the nation’s most expensive highway project. In 2008, the City converted the Expressway into a mile-and-a-half-long public park. Our collaboration sits on the site of both Atkins’ home and among the lived experiences of thousands of residents who built lives there.

Like repair, soil moves slowly.

In the wake of archival and state’s failure(s) to attend to Black life, we look to Black scholarship and practices to account for our livelihoods. We invite you to dig with us toward community-engaged performances flush with Black aliveness, as we deepen our understanding of Zipporah Potter Atkins’ life in spaces of impossibility and imagine what’s possible through our shared attention.

To participate, we offer the following process:

  • Find a ‘site’ that is significant to you: your home, a relatives home, a historical site, garden or otherwise.
  • Dig and gather as much or as little as you desire, in a vessel fitting for you.
  • Place the soil in the mailing package provided, and address the package to Zipporah Potter Atkins.
  • Add a note about your site of soil, or any thoughts you want to share with us. (Feel free to include ephemera with your soil sample (notes, photographs, doodles etc.)
  • Mail your soil in the package provided by the Greenway at your nearest USPS. You may also drop off your package at the Greenway soil drop off boxes. 

Thank you for your commitment and curiosity, to practicing towards a possible and insistent commons.


LaRissa Rogers & Zipporah’s Co-conspirators

An Open Call for Soil Poster. Graphic Design by Chen Luo.

An Open Call for Soil Poster. Graphic Design by Chen Luo. Language by LaRissa Rogers, edited by MaKshya Tolbert.

Open Call for Soil: Going to Ground , 2024 
Installed at 1 City Hall Square, Boston, MA 02201 // 185 kneeland st, Boston, MA 02111
Curated by Audrey Lopez//Graphic design by Chen Lou // Photos by Lee-Daniel Tran// An Open Call to Soil language written by LaRissa Rogers & edited by MaKshya Tolbert.

The Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy, in partnership with artist LaRissa Rogers, announces Going to Ground, a new sculpture coming to downtown Boston in August 2024. The sculpture responds to and invites viewers to engage with the history of Zipporah Potter Atkins, the first known Black woman to own a home in Boston in 1670. Her home was sited on land now cared for by The Greenway at Cross and Hanover Streets in the North End. This history was brought to light in 2010 by Dr. Vivian Johnson, Professor Emerita of Boston University,after a 6-year period of archival research.

Going to Ground directly borrows from Vanessa Agard Jones' 2022 Loophole of Retreat lecture. Vanessa Agard Jones advocates for the liberatory practice of going to ground, emphasizing its relevance for those prioritizing survivance, sovereignty, and freedom, echoing Sylvia Wynter's call for a reconstructed understanding of human existence. The project is in conversation with Agard-Jones’ proposal to shift our focus towards the fertile and generative potential of groundedness through spaces for both emotion and thought. Soil has the capacity to hold histories of trauma, and also produce life.

In the sculpture, the home becomes a liminal structure, where the awning of the home is adorned with a scarification pattern. The structure itself acts as a sundial. As the sun moves throughout the day, the shadow of scarification is casted on the landscape. The home and foundation of the home will be made of soil. Soil from the Greenway where Atkins’ home was located, and an ‘open call for soil’ to comprise bricks to build the foundation of her home. 

The soil from the 'Open Call for Soil' can be dropped off at the mailboxes located at  1 City Hall Square, Boston, MA 02201 and 185 kneeland st, Boston, MA 02111, or mailed to Zipporah, in care of the Rose Kennedy Greenway. To participate and receive a pre-paid mailer for soil, please fill out this  form*

An Open Call for Soil Poster. Graphic Design by Chen Luo.

An Open Call for Soil Poster. Graphic Design by Chen Luo. Language by LaRissa Rogers, edited by MaKshya Tolbert.

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