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Mayor Walsh launches fund to address racial inequity

City officials hope to raise tens of millions of dollars for the cause

Emerson College president Lee Pelton will chair the new fund's steering committee.
Emerson College president Lee Pelton will chair the new fund's steering committee.Nic Antaya for The Boston Globe

Mayor Martin J. Walsh plans to unveil a new city-led initiative on Thursday aimed at raising tens of millions of dollars to address racial inequities in Boston amid a national uprising against police violence and systemic discrimination.

The new initiative would be similar to the city-led Boston Resiliency Fund, which has raised more than $32 million for COVID-19 relief efforts, but could become even larger. It will be called the Boston Racial Equity Fund, and Walsh aides said the money will support nonprofits focused on racial equity work through economic development, public health, youth jobs, and education and training.

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John Barros, Walsh’s economic development chief, described the new fund as but one of many efforts to solve a centuries-old problem. “These funds are important but by no means are they the only answer,” he said.

Some details had still not been finalized ahead of the expected announcement at a news conference Thursday afternoon. The mayor’s office expects the majority of an 8- to 10-member steering committee overseeing the fund would be people of color. It would be chaired by Emerson College president Lee Pelton, who recently penned a widely read letter to students about prejudice he’s endured as a Black man in America.

Pelton referred questions about the equity fund to the mayor’s office.

The Walsh administration’s effort comes as members of the city’s Black community have been organizing their own efforts to address longstanding systemic racism. Barros expects the city committee to overlap with a separate effort by a group of prominent Black executives to raise money for racial justice initiatives across the state, and he anticipates the two organizations will coordinate their efforts.

“We want to make sure there’s more than just coordination,” Barros said. “We want to make sure there’s an overlap of governance.”

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The protests that followed the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis have prompted civic and business leaders across the country to establish initiatives aimed at addressing the severe racial divide in the economy.

Earlier this week, the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts posed an ambitious challenge to the state’s business community: contribute $1 billion over 10 years to address the racial inequities inherent in society and the economy.

Segun Idowu, executive director of that group, said government officials such as Walsh and corporations are right to consult with communities of color as they launch these efforts to address inequality.

“If they’re not informed by conversations with Black and indigenous people, they are going to fall on deaf ears,” Idowu said.

Mo Cowan, now head of global government affairs and policy at General Electric, is part of the group of Black executives planning the statewide fund. Cowan said he welcomed the attention from Walsh and supporters in the business community, and doesn’t view them as rivals for donor dollars.



“Black and brown people need allies from across the spectrum,” Cowan said. “We need those who are part of the existing power structure who want to lean in and make available the power structure for the common good. That’s what we’re seeing now.”

The Boston Resiliency Fund has doled out more than $20 million to more than 200 organizations across the city since its creation in March, many of them assisting communities of color.

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The sponsors of the Resiliency Fund exceeded their initial $10 million fund-raising goal in less than two days. Barros said he expects the city will set a similar goal for the Racial Equity Fund to start, but he would like it to eventually surpass the Resiliency Fund and last much longer.

Among those involved is Jack Connors, the ad mogul-turned-philanthropist who helped launch the Resiliency Fund three months ago.

“We ought to take advantage of the moment,” said Connors, referring to the outrage over Floyd’s death.

The city’s power structure is shifting: The majority of City Council seats are held by women and people of color, for example. Connors said he welcomes the change, and wants to help facilitate it.

“We can either lift the ladder up and say, ‘No, we’re fine, we don’t need any more people to be powerful and successful,’ or we could keep the ladder down and say, ‘Come on, let’s help you up here,’” Connors said.


Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.