Activists urged Boston city councilors Thursday night to ensure that a new commission takes concrete steps to help black males make economic and educational gains.
“If you didn’t know already, it’s tough being a black man in Boston,” Horace Small, a longtime community advocate, said during a hearing of the City Council’s Committee on Government Operations at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School in Roxbury.
The hearing was held to discuss the yet-to-be formed Commission on the Status of Black Men and Boys in Boston, which the council voted to create in February.
Small voiced the views of many speakers at the hearing when he stressed the importance of “making sure this commission actually matters, that it has teeth,” rather than being a group “where people come together and blow smoke.”
He called for the commission to meet with business and government entities and release an action plan within three years.
Councilor Tito Jackson, vice chairman of the operations committee and the author of the ordinance creating the commission, acknowledged during the hearing that some members of the public may take issue with the panel’s work.
“I know that saying black makes some people uncomfortable,” Jackson said. “This is a population that needs to be focused on.”
Jackson and other speakers identified a range of issues the commission will tackle, including high dropout rates and high levels of incarceration among young black men, as well as their access to jobs, skills training, and business ownership.
“We’re in a crisis,” said Charles J. Ogletree Jr., a Harvard Law School professor, adding that “black people want to work” and businesses must provide opportunities.
The ordinance calls for 14 members to be appointed to the commission, but that number could grow, Jackson said. The commission members will be appointed by Mayor Martin J. Walsh and serve three-year terms without compensation, according to the ordinance.
But Jackson said Thursday that the language of the document could be changed to give the council some input regarding appointments. He said it was unclear when the members would be selected.