June 25, 2024

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An Open Letter to Boston’s Black Leadership

kevin peterson

An Open Letter to Boston’s Black Leadership


Dear Leader:

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino’s decision to not seek re-election presents a profoundly unique and opportunistic occasion for the city’s black community. Not since the mayoral candidacy of Mel King in 1983 has the black community been strategically positioned to substantively sway the policy direction of the city.

Because Boston’s black community—which includes African-Americans, and blacks from the Caribbean and Africa–is burdened by disproportionate suffering, misery and social dislocation it has the most to gain in the election outcome for mayor.

Consider the alarming realities confronting black Boston:

·      A 2012 Boston Foundation report states that the highest concentration of children in poverty across the state live in Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan

·      According to a 2011 Urban League of Massachusetts State of Black Boston Report, black unemployment rates are the highest of any groups in Boston and black median household income ($33,420) is $30,000 lower than that of the white median household income ($63,980).  A persistent racial gap between blacks and whites in terms of median income remains regardless of the type of family structure or the education attained by blacks.

·      The same report states that black homeownership remains relatively low when compared to white homeownership, and the black community has experienced a very high number and concentration of foreclosures. Almost two-thirds (63.1 percent) of all black homeowners pay more than 30 percent of their household income for mortgage costs.

·      Boston police records report that while the Boston homicide rate has dropped during the Menino administration (as it has across the nation, notably in New York City), the victims of murder in the city’s streets are overwhelming poor and black.

Two distinct leadership approaches must immediately emerge from within the black community in order to respond to the multiple crises confronted by poor and vulnerable citizens of the city who happen to be black.

First, Boston’s black leadership class–including elected and appointed officials, activists, clergy, non-profit directors, policy advocates, business leaders and its media–must publically articulate the unfortunate suffering transpiring in its communities.  These leaders must feel compelled to summon the moral and political courage necessary to inject into the mayor’s race meaningful discussion, debate and dialogue about the persistent racial disparity that exist in the city.  Ironically, many black leaders in Boston are acutely aware of existing racial inequality because they live in proximity to it.  Yet, in the three decades since King’s run for mayor, black leadership has failed to proffer comprehensive and ameliorating policy responses that effectively alleviate structural and race-based disparity.

Second, Boston’s black leadership must quickly formulate consensus about policy priorities for the next mayor.  These policies must be pragmatic, specific and ready to be implemented at the outset of the next mayor’s first term.  These policies ought to also be associated with a commitment from the next mayor that their administration reflect the diversity of the city, including blacks, Asians and Latinos.

Infant mortality, neighborhood segregation and uneven educational attainment remain as monumental impediments that prevent blacks from competing on an even playing field in Boston.  Black leaders can offer solutions to these problems through planning, coordination and consensus.  They must also engage mayoral candidates to take sober assessment of the many challenges confronting black people in Boston and urge them to pledge their commitment to these issues upon being elected.

Menino, the so-called urban mechanic, presided masterfully over a city that grew and prospered during his tenure.  In demonstrably clear ways, Boston has emerged as a world-class city because of Menino’s tireless efforts.

Unfortunately, the residue of racism persist.  Against this backdrop, black leadership must responsibly act in the interest of closing the painful gap that exist between blacks and whites in Boston.  If they fail to capture the unique opportunities that the present mayoral election provides, significant numbers of black families and individuals will continue to suffer on the margins and in the shadows of the city.


kevin peterson

Kevin C. Peterson
Director, New Democracy Coalition
Democracy Activist 

About The Author

The Blackstonian Community News Service - Black Boston 411 24/7. @Blackstonian on twitter. Like our page on Facebook.

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  1. Rodney Singleton


    I read with great interest Kevin Peterson’s piece in the April 4, 2013 edition of the Bay State Banner, “Black Leadership positioned to sway Hub mayor’s race.”

    It served as [a] wake-up call and painful reminder of the plight and struggle people of color in the city of Boston still endure and the hope that compelling change is now within reach, should we choose to seize it.

    To be sure, the capacity and will for real change has tested constituent[s] and elected leadership alike. Of these tests, none has been more challenging than realizing equal access to a quality education and a city-wide workforce and business presence that reflects the diversity of our city.

    Given recent school assignment plans that do little more than shuffle kids around rather than focusing on school quality, one is left asking: How are we being accountable to our children and the future of our city?

    And that accountability applies equally to a city-wide workforce and business presence that’s diverse and representative. Lack of inclusion is ever-present in protests at work sites, such as Ferdinand’s in Dudley and 225 Centre St. in JP, and are constant reminders we have much work to do.

    In particular, how do constituent[s] and elected leadership reconcile no goal for Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) utilization at Ferdinand’s and a goal of 25 percent MBE utilization at 225 Centre St. that is far from being met, and where project MBE sourcing criteria at 225 Centre has left the project with not one business of color from the city of Boston, on a nearly $53 million dollar project? That’s unconscionable!

    At 225 Centre St., we’ve worked very hard to hold developers and contractors accountable to our communities, but developers and contractors have excused themselves from the process of being accountable, in solidarity to each other and the interests of their projects.

    People of color in Boston can defiantly sway the race for mayor, as well as advocate for their candidate of choice for any vacancies left after the political chips fall where they may.

    But to do that, we need to: provide access to excellent educational and vocational choices near home that measurably close the achievement/skill gap, giving rise to the opportunities for meaningful careers that pay living wages to our young, underemployed and unemployed. Closing the gap would also allow them to play a contributing role in their families and our communities.

    But we must have the political will to hold each other accountable to a vision of development for our future that is not based on the premise that we will fail at education and fail to be inclusive!

    Rodney Singleton
    Chairman, Jackson Square Citizens Advisory Committee

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