by Dr. Atyia Martin
Mayor Walsh and Pam Eddinger of Bunker Hill Community College listen to feedback from residents. Photograph by Emily Bozentka
“Boston has a problem with racism.” —Mayor Martin J. Walsh
It’s not often that an elected official will speak so bluntly about the state of their city, but that’s exactly what Mayor Walsh said at the request of an attendee to a room of over 700 Bostonians on Saturday, November 19th. For many of us, this idea is not new. Boston is a majority-people of color city, and many of us have conversations on a regular basis. However, this is the first citywide conversation of this scale with the full leadership and support from the Mayor. It is important that we begin to have these conversations together in an effort to build a shared understanding of the history that brought us here, the way racism works, and how we work towards racial equity. The event, Boston Talks About Racism, was the kick off event to frame racism and announce an ongoing series of conversations that we will partner with communities and organizations across the city in 2017.
In addition to the conversation with the Mayor, we heard from civic leaders, activists, and academics on the legacy of racism both specific to Boston and nationally. Some of the most powerful additions came unsurprisingly from two youth activists from Teen Empowerment, Kendra Gerald and Dante Omorogbe, who shared their experiences of growing up in Boston as young people of color. The second half of the event gave attendees the opportunity to provide feedback and address the Mayor directly with questions, suggestions and concerns centering around elements of restorative justice, storytelling, community healing, and support for small businesses. This is only the most recent example of a community-oriented process that has engaged over 5,000 Bostonians to date.
Kendra Gerald and Dante Omorogbe from Teen Empowerment each received standing ovations for sharing their experiences as youth of color in Boston. Photographs by Emily Bozentka.
These conversations are part of Boston’s larger strategy for resilience and racial equity. As a member of 100 Resilient Cities, we define urban resilience as the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses, and systems within a city to survive, adapt, and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience. In Boston, we have identified the biggest threat to our resilience as systemic racism and inequality. Racism prevents our residents from achieving their full potential and hinders our ability to work together toward our collective goals. In order to give everyone in the city the opportunities and support they need to thrive, we must confront the history of racism in our city and establish a collective dialogue among all residents. Through these conversations, we aim to advance racial equity and elevate all Boston residents collectively, regardless of race.
As we move forward in the conversations across the city, we want to make sure that residents get the most out of them. In that spirit, we encouraged residents to provide feedback of the event, make suggestions for future conversations, and ask questions about our work. We have aggregated the feedback and suggestions we received from almost 150 residents, both in person and on Twitter, and will incorporate it into upcoming conversations. The most common feedback we received was that people who attended were appreciative that the City was hosting this conversation and thought it was a great start. They also wanted to know what they can do to get involved.
Many attendees suggested specific goals or policies they would like to see for Boston, and even more suggested topics, processes, and formats for future conversations. We also received helpful constructive criticism. Attendees pointed out that there could have been greater diversity among speakers, a greater emphasis on intersectionality, the inclusion of data and research to root these discussion in facts, and a stronger effort to make sure these conversations are visible and accessible, and to include folks not already in the room. We hear you loud and clear.
As we take what we are learning from our feedback to further refine these conversations for 2017, we ask you to stay involved. Learn more about our work and sign up for updates at boston.gov/resilience or connect with us on Twitter: @BOSResilience. You can watch the entirety of the event here and share with other who could not make it in person. Download and read The Blueprint, a document we released the morning of this conversation that describes how our office is approaching resilience and racial equity.
As you read about the work we have done thus far and the work that needs to be done in the near future, if you are in Boston, think about how you, your organization, your company, and/or your community can participate in this effort. This has been a community-driven process and it must remain that way if these initiatives are to take root. Your continued collaboration will help us create a more equitable and resilient Boston. We are happy to be a part of the Government Alliance on Race and Equity, a national network of local government working to advance racial equity and improve outcomes for all communities.
The Mayor’s Office of Resilience and Racial Equity works to ensure all of us have access and support to thrive from childhood to retirement in our daily lives and during major emergencies. We maintain a unique focus on social and economic resilience in a City affected by historic and persistent divisions of race and class. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.