Downtown Lowell Event Celebrates All that Mill City Has to Offer

Four students pose for a photo outdoors while the sun shines through trees behind them Image by Henry Marte
Students were invited to JFK Plaza for 'September in the City,' a celebration of Lowell's diverse tapestry of events, artistry and cuisine.

By Ed Brennen

Despite growing up just 20 miles from Lowell in Harvard, Massachusetts, senior Spanish major Jamie Aciukweicz had never spent much time in the city.

Now that he lives, works and goes to school in Lowell, he realizes what he’d been missing.

“It’s such a melting pot, with people from all over the world in this one city,” Aciukweicz said while taking in the scene at the “September in the City” festival held recently at JFK Plaza in downtown Lowell.

Co-sponsored by UMass Lowell, Middlesex Community College (MCC), the city of Lowell, the Greater Lowell Chamber of Commerce and the Lowell Public Schools, September in the City launched this year to highlight the multicultural tapestry of events, artistry and food that help define the city.

Video by Alfonzo Velasquez
Sights and sounds from September in the City.

As Boston-based Cuban roots band Los Sugar Kings had people dancing on one side of the circular plaza, UML students, faculty and staff mingled with community members, elected officials and business owners on a perfect early-September afternoon.

Chancellor Julie Chen, who has made community engagement one of her top priorities, welcomed guests by noting that Lowell is embedded in so many facets of the university — starting with its name.

“We are an integral part of this community, and we want our students, faculty and staff to benefit from all that this community has to offer,” Chen said. “And for those who are not part of the university, we want UMass Lowell to be part of your community. We have great sports, arts, music and lectures. We encourage all of you to participate, because those are meant to be things that we all share together.”

A woman wearing glasses holds a microphone and speaks outdoors Image by Henry Marte
Chancellor Julie Chen greets guests to the "September in the City" festival at JFK Plaza.

MCC President Phil Sisson added that Lowell is a “world class” college town where you can go from pre-kindergarten to Ph.D.

“We educate people locally, and those people feed the local economy,” he said. “We are symbiotic in our relationship, and we need to continue that.”

City Manager Tom Golden ’93, ’01 highlighted the opportunity for his alma mater, the city and MCC to work together to make Lowell “the city of education.”

Two students pose for a photo while holding up shirts that say I love Lowell Image by Ed Brennen
Students picked up free "I love Lowell" T-shirts at "September in the City."

Attendees enjoyed free food and beverages, along with “I Love Lowell” T-shirts and other giveaways. There were also raffles for gift certificates from local restaurants, UML gift baskets and, most notably, Chen’s three designated chancellor parking spaces across campus, which she was “happy to donate.”

After a busy start to the fall semester, seniors Nora Tracy and Jillian Brown welcomed the chance to get off campus for a few hours with friends.

“It’s so nice out, and we wanted to enjoy the fresh air after the first week of classes,” said Tracy, a nursing major from Marshfield, Massachusetts, who enjoys coming downtown for dinner on weekends. “There’s really good food from all different cultures.”

Brown, a public health major from Lynn, Massachusetts, said Lowell’s diversity reminds her of her hometown.

Two women play cornhole outdoors Image by Ed Brennen
"September in the City" guests enjoyed outdoor games like cornhole at JFK Plaza.

“It has the same type of feel. There’s so much going on,” she said.

For Peng Gao, a postdoctoral researcher in plastics engineering from China, September in the City was a chance to meet people from the community that he’s called home for more than a year.

“It’s a good opportunity to get more involved in the atmosphere of the entire university,” Gao said while waiting in line for a bowl of chili in the shadow of City Hall. “This is a very diverse city. For me, as an Asian, I feel very welcome here. I love the atmosphere.”

Saira Latif, an associate professor of finance in the Manning School of Business, used to live in Lowell and encourages her students to take advantage of the city while they can.

A man in sunglasses and hat plays guitar and sings into a mic outside Image by Ed Brennen
Boston-based roots band Los Sugar Kings provided the festive soundtrack for "September in the City."

“It’s a very vibrant city with so much to offer,” she said. “There’s new restaurants opening all the time, and there are things happening year-round.”

Although he’s a senior, this is Aciukweicz’s first year living in Lowell. A transfer student from Davidson College in North Carolina, he spent his entire junior year studying abroad in Spain and Mexico.

“I feel like a freshman in terms of being disoriented,” said Aciukweicz, who works as a bartender at Panela, a Colombian restaurant just a few blocks from University Crossing. “Working here all summer, I’ve been getting to know the city. It feels completely new.”

Aciukweicz said events like September in the City are a good way to highlight the benefits of a college town while building a strong town-gown relationship between the city and university.

“It’s not enough to just say, ‘Lowell is a diverse city; come to UMass Lowell.’ The university needs to benefit the community with that relationship,” he said. “Through UMass Lowell, you’ll be able to meet some people from all over the world, get co-ops and internships in the community, and give back to the community.”

River Hawks can continue exploring free events in the city throughout September (and beyond), including the annual Lowell Kinetic Sculpture Race on Saturday, Sept. 17, and a walking tour of the city’s Underground Railroad sites on Saturday, Sept. 24.