Karilyn Crockett, an MIT lecturer who has previously worked in the administration of Mayor Martin J. Walsh, will head the city’s new equity Cabinet-level office, which is being created to combat racial injustice and support marginalized communities in the city.
“For far too long, Boston City Hall has been an agent of racism, exclusion, and old crony gatekeeping of the city’s prosperity and power,” said Crockett, a Dorchester native, at a Monday afternoon City Hall news conference where she was introduced as the city’s new equity chief.
At the news conference, Walsh said it was important for the city’s new equity chief to understand the community and city government and for that person to “hit the ground running.” He called Crockett a “brilliant innovator and changemaker.”
Under Crockett, the city’s new equity office will be charged with “leading the administration’s efforts across departments to embed equity into all city work, and actively work to dismantle racism by putting an intentional focus on supporting communities of color and marginalized groups across all departments, and building equitable governmental structures to sustain this work,” Walsh’s office said in a statement.
“This is an extremely important appointment,” the mayor said at the news conference.
Crockett is an assistant professor of urban history, public policy, and planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, according to the school’s website, and previously worked as director of economic policy and research and director of small business development for the city of Boston.
“What good is it to hear that you live in a prosperous and thriving city, if the racial wealth gap prevents you from passing on wealth and prosperity to your children and their children?” Crockett asked on Monday.
Crockett said that her grandmother was among the plaintiffs in a 1972 class-action lawsuit that “paved the way for Boston’s tumultuous attempt at school desegregation.” She said Black parents and their children pushed for racial reconciliation and healing at that time, while City Hall leaders “stood in the way of this historic and visionary work.”
”Today, we find ourselves facing yet another set of storms,” she said. “The twin crises of the coronavirus pandemic and America’s unfinished racial reconciliation have us all feeling raw, vulnerable, and exposed. The question is what will we do?”
She referred to the current moment as both frightening and promising, and said that equity is about delivering a corrective fix and righting wrongs.
”Do we have the will and the courage to dream new dreams for populations long denied what we actually deserve?” she asked. “I believe we do.”
For people of color, racial justice and economic inclusion are not new concerns, she said, but what is new is “government’s willingness to listen and include itself in conversations.“
”So Mr. Mayor, welcome to the conversation,” she said. “The struggle and the table set by the residents who elected you is ready.”
The new office will focus on dismantling systemic barriers to achieve racial, gender, health, and socio-economic equality, developing a city workforce that is representative of the city, and staffing and coordinating the newly created Boston Racial Equity Fund, among other initiatives according to Walsh’s office. The equity chief posts pays $160,000 annually, according to Walsh’s office.
Crockett holds multiple graduate degrees, including a PhD from Yale University. Her research examines “large-scale land use changes in twentieth century American cities,” as well as “the social and geographic implications of structural poverty,” according to Walsh’s office.
Additionally, Crockett cofounded Multicultural Youth Tour of What’s Now (MYTOWN), a Boston education nonprofit that hired public high school students to research their local and family histories to produce youth-led walking tours, authorities said. Her book “People before Highways: Boston Activists, Urban Planners, and a New Movement for City Making” was published in 2018. According to the publisher, the book “offers ground-level analysis of the social, political, and environmental significance of a local anti-highway protest and its lasting national implications.”
On Monday, Walsh called the book groundbreaking and said it changed Boston’s understanding of urban renewal.
“She’s a leading scholar of equity and urban planning here in Boston,” said Walsh.
Tanisha M. Sullivan, president of the NAACP’s Boston branch, said that organization is “very optimistic” about the appointment.
“Dr. Crockett is brilliant and truly represents the best of Boston,” Sullivan said in a statement. “Her grasp of the issues that have allowed systemic racism to fester for far too long coupled with her deep, unparalleled and unwavering commitment to justice make her the perfect person to lead the city as it takes on the challenge of deepening its racial equity work to create a more just, inclusive city.”
Last week, the announcement of the new office came a day after Walsh’s operating budget passed the City Council by an 8-5 margin in a much scrutinized vote that included vociferous opposition from several councilors who said the spending plan fell woefully short of the moment and the movement to dismantle structural racism.
On Monday, Walsh denounced vandalism at the homes of multiple city councilors and indicated the damage was allegedly linked to the way councilors voted on the budget.
“That is just unacceptable in the city of Boston,” said Walsh.
City Council President Kim Janey also addressed the matter in a series of tweets, saying, “Over the weekend a number of my colleagues on the City Council were targeted at their homes. As President, let me be clear: Vandalism is unacceptable!!!”
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