Since 2018, Boston City Council President Andrea Campbell has been working to find a way to more effectively serve an increasingly diverse constituency with an eye toward greater sensitivity to racial dynamics in a city, at times, not well known for racial sensitivities.
For Campbell, the fruit of that labor recently came in the form of a $75,000 professional development grant awarded to the Boston City Council courtesy of the Shah Family Foundation and the Boston Foundation. Councilor Campbell earmarked the funds for training to enhance the work of council staffs when dealing with the sometimes complex issues around race and equity.
The funds will facilitate training designed to support efforts to both understand and bridge the racial divide, furthered by the incomparable Dr. Atyia Martin, who developed the city”s race, equity and resilience agenda commissioned by Mayor Marty Walsh. At a time when racial dynamics, miscues, misrepresentations and downright hate seem to consume the country, Councilor Campbell and the foundations that supported this worthy effort should be applauded. It is a first of its kind for the City Council.
Even with the historic election of six women of color currently on the council, the issues of race and the range of inequities are often daunting. But today’s City Council is definitely up to the task. The current members are challenging the status quo, and turning the concept of strong mayor/weak council on its head — not a bad thing. Councilor Campbell says she hopes the newly introduced professional development opportunity will give staff the tools for greater understanding and problem-solving in an ever-changing, majority-minority city.
The women on the council especially have done yeoman’s work. Former BPS teacher Annissa Essaibi George has tackled homelessness and addiction, is a clear and persistent voice on education priorities, and recently was the first to call out the need for drinking establishments to take responsibility following the kidnapping of two women and the death of one. That challenge has morphed into a much needed citywide dialogue.
Councillors Kim Janey and Lydia Edwards boldly offered another formula, different from the mayor’s, to spur affordable housing and ease gentrification. Good ideas that challenge the system only make it stronger.
Besides a champion for climate change and equity for women and people of color, Michelle Wu has been a fervent critic of transportation service and against the recent MBTA rate hike for what she says has been wholly inadequate service. Even new Councilor Althea Garrison has taken up that mantle, publicly criticizing what the city contributes to a transportation system that does not seem to work for everyone.
It’s an exciting time for the women on the council, who recently saw one of their own — Ayanna Pressley — elected to Congress. Everyone is stepping up their game and that’s a good thing for the city. Waiting in the wings, eager to flex their muscles during this campaign season are a new crop of city councilor hopefuls — all strong and accomplished women activists in their own right. They include game-changers like Alejandra St. Guillen, former immigration chief for the city and former executive director of Oiste, a statewide Latino political and civic organization; Priscilla Flint-Banks, economic equity activist, founder of the Black Economic Justice Institute, radio commentator and minister; Julia Mejia, education and parent advocate; and Mimi Turchinetz and Alkia Powell.
An victory of seven women elected to the council will be another history-making turn, and represent a majority voting bloc. But more importantly than making history will be an even stronger City Council that builds inroads to better service to the people of Boston.
Joyce Ferriabough Bolling is a media and political strategist and communications specialist.
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