Boston’s Mayor Walsh talks about racism, turning dialogue to action

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh led the second annual race dialogue with Jorge Quiroga at Northeastern University on Dec. 16. Walsh hosted a question and answer session, followed by breakout sessions for attendees. (Image courtesy of Don Harney for the Mayor’s Office.)

The second annual Boston Talks About Racism dialogue took place at Northeastern University on Dec. 16, 2017. Framed as a forum on the implementation on the city’s resilience plan, it addressed Boston’s ability to recover from disruptions, with racial inequity among Boston residents as the centerpiece.

Hundreds of participants from different Boston neighborhoods filled Blackman Auditorium to join Walsh and his team in discussing racism where they live and work. Emotions ran high for many of the participants when they talked about their experiences.

The event featured a video showing black, Latino and Asian employees of the city, highlighting the administration’s commitment to equity.

“In Boston Public Schools, we are focusing on equity in everything we do.  Last year, we strengthened national leadership in hiring teachers and leaders of color. Sixty percent of our new personals are we hired are black. And for the first time in the history, all three exam schools are led by people of color,” said Superintendent Tommy Chang in the video.

Joseph Aoun, president of Northeastern University, said Boston is his first home. As an immigrant from Beirut, Aoun believes that being an immigrant in Boston is better than being anywhere else in the United States. Since his Northeastern presidency began in 2006, he has worked with the city to bring diverse students from all over the world. The opportunities in education, wellness, business, as well as cultures, push the city forward.

“There are a lot are being done, and we are not the only institution that is working hard, but we might be the one that is doing the most,” said Aoun.

Moderator Jorge Quiroga, WCVB reporter, brought up the controversy of racism on perception and reality. As a journalist who worked years in Boston, Quiroga witnessed the worst period of racism in Boston during the busing era of the 1960s to 1970s, as well as the best time, when people came together after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Boston has working to address racism in schools, at the workplace, and anywhere else in the city.

“We can’t be afraid to have a conversation about race and racism in Boston and be afraid to acknowledge the fact that we have racism in our city,’’ said Walsh. “We have racist acts in our city, and we have to confront those.”

During the question and answer session with Walsh, residents of different neighborhoods expressed their concerns, ranging from affordable housing to racism in workplace and education. The 45-minute-long discussion allowed residents who experienced racism to connect with officials, who could follow up on problems.

The participants later divided into small groups to discuss specific racism-related topics with trained facilitators, including immigration, housing discrimination and displacement, economic inclusion and returning citizens. These breakout sessions discussed racism in specific areas, allowing attendees to express concerns and explore how Boston is working to ameliorate them. The forum allowed residents to bring concerns directly to city government, so officials could know what was going and what needs to improve.

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