Hundreds of Boston residents queued outside the Emerson/Cutler Majestic Theatre to have a frank conversation about racism with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh on Saturday, November 19.
The event, which was facilitated by the Mayor’s Office of Resilience and Racial Equity and 100 Resilient Cities, and co-sponsored by Emerson College and the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, aimed at engaging the community at the grassroots level to start productive talks on race and identity.
“This isn’t a bold aspiration,” Walsh said. “This is the time where our nation is in great transition. We have no idea where the leaning is going to take us, but I can tell you in Boston we are not going to go backwards; we are going forward.”
The dialogue came 10 days after Donald Trump was elected president. Trump’s campaign fueled deep divisions, racial and otherwise. However, the Boston Globe reported that Walsh had begun planning the series of dialogues prior to the announcement of President-elect Trump’s candidacy.
Walsh received applause from the crowd when he quoted Martin Luther King Jr., who had paraphrased Dante Alighieri’s quote, “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality.”
Walsh added that he is proud of the progress the city has made in the last three years, and this is a new chapter in the history of Boston.
“We have disparities in race, education, health, and in wealth,” Walsh said. “The main tension in America is between the ideals and our realities. We are here to break the tension. We are here to share our experiences; we are here to talk to each other in a spirit of openness. We need to do that if we really want to start healing. This is not about judging one another; this is about learning from one another.”
Two youths, Kendra and Dante, who are volunteers with the Center for Teen Empowerment, received a standing ovation after they shared their personal experiences and thoughts about the racial disparities in society today.
Kendra, 16, described herself as the daughter of a black man of Afro-Caribbean descent and a white woman who is part Native American. She said her mother struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, so her father has full custody of her and her sister.
“Many people are surprised that a black man in America can take on the responsibility to actually raise his children,” she said. “People’s perceptions of black people are that we are either involved with gangs, incarcerated, or are uneducated. Because of these perceptions, sometimes we as black people have the same perception about ourselves. It impacts who we think we can be and what we think we can achieve. So part of the challenge that we face is to change those perceptions and for ourselves and learn to take pride in who we are and where we come from.”
After the scheduled talks, the floor was opened to public for questions and suggestions. As people shared their experiences and expectations from this endeavor, they were supported by their fellow attendees in the forms of cheers, claps, and whistles.
Andrew Vega, principal of the Phineas Bates Elementary School, received an encouraging response when he said, “Something that I hope comes from these dialogues is that those with privilege understand that with equity, they are not losing anything. We have a lot of work to do. I worked in a school that used to have segregated classrooms; I can tell you that now that we don’t have those anymore, we are better for it.”
After the event ended, attendees were handed a blueprint that served as a preview of the principles and framework for Boston’s Resilience Strategy.