The city of Boston has elected a new mayor and perhaps the most challenging part of Michelle Wu's job will be to translate her robust campaign promises into action. That isn’t new to 2021 but this year, those promises are competing more ferociously than ever with one another. It is nearly impossible to argue that quality education is more important than safe streets or stable housing or access to health care or putting an end to the systematized racism that pervades our institutions, policies and programs.
All of these issues converge with my generation’s first global pandemic. It’s not a matter of what comes first, but how they all get answered to now.
And yet, even with critical life issues on the line — housing, schools, policing, racial equity — it is apparent that many of us in this city do not feel seen or heard. Just 143,500 people turned out to vote, about a third of registered voters, according to the city's unofficial election results. This is not acceptable. A year ago, nearly 300,000 Bostonians, over 68% of registered voters, cast a ballot in the presidential election. While the outcome of that election was critical for the future of America, Bostonians' participation was symbolic.
[Wu] must ensure that our apathy doesn’t grow even if it means our advocacy and discontent are voiced more loudly than ever.
Now Mayor-elect Wu must illustrate with her leadership that the citizens of this city matter. She must ensure that our apathy doesn’t grow even if it means our advocacy and discontent are voiced more loudly than ever.
Her agenda must include plans to mobilize and motivate, in particular, our Black and brown neighborhoods, to vote. She must genuinely illustrate that education inequities, police reform, housing affordability, the racial wealth gap, substance abuse and mental health supports are all deserving of immediate focus.
How can the mayor sleep in a city where someone’s child lives in a tent next to the highway? She cannot ignore the 54,000 children in Boston Public Schools who have no guarantee of graduating with the skills that allow them to compete for jobs — especially if they are Black or brown.
My previous job in the Boston Public Schools, as chief of staff and managing director of external affairs, was an intense privilege. On the best days, it was invigorating, and yet, on the worst, whether I left the house in the morning was up for serious deliberation. What never changed was that heroic school leaders, teachers, paraprofessionals, custodians, children and caretakers all deserved the day to end better than it started.
The graduates of Boston Public Schools should not struggle to find their way into living-wage employment or fear that they will not be able to afford housing. They certainly shouldn’t have to battle the statistical chance that their trajectory into the prison pipeline will begin in school. These most precious citizens should not worry that the neighborhood in which their family lives determines the quality of their health care or the safety of their streets.
Now, in my role as president of the New Commonwealth Racial Equity and Social Justice Fund, I am in a position of privilege again. I remain a public servant to the myriad of non-profit organizations that are on the ground, serving these same communities that Mayor-elect Wu is accountable to. We have the benefit of knowing that in Boston and across the commonwealth, the work to disrupt systemic racism in its many stages is active and being done by real leaders, many of whom are Black and brown, just like the communities they serve.
These most precious citizens should not worry that the neighborhood in which their family lives determines the quality of their health care or the safety of their streets.
We're asking a lot of our mayor — but it is nothing more than what we all deserve and that she pledged to deliver. This work will not get done easily — nor can she do it alone. She must include the very people who are affected most directly by the failures in each area of concern: school leaders, parents, members of the recovery community, clergy, young people. Just as we turned immediately to the scientists and medical experts to give us guidance on COVID-19, Mayor Wu will need to call on the experts already in the trenches. We stand ready to point her to the existing, powerful and present leaders.
Remain steadfast and public about your commitments, Madame Mayor, and lead as if you are campaigning for the next four years. We are here to drive the change that is necessary in order for Boston to live into the promise of being ready to meet this moment. I agree that we must become a Boston for everyone: a place that doesn’t push people out but welcomes all who call our city home.