“Shut it all down.” I never thought I would hear myself saying these words about the city I love, but I knew it was the only way we could save lives.
The coronavirus pandemic is like no other challenge we have faced. We had to be decisive, and we had to act together as a city.
In a matter of weeks, we restructured daily life in a city of 700,000 people. We rallied a citywide coalition to keep our kids fed and engaged while schools were closed. We built a 1,000-bed field hospital in five days to manage hospital overflow and care for sick homeless residents. We zeroed in on health equity, bringing testing and treatment to the communities that needed them most. And we flattened the curve, achieving one of the lowest transmission rates in the country.
Our fight against this virus also required us to confront an economic crisis. So we drew on city and federal dollars to get immediate help to low-income residents and struggling small businesses through newly created relief funds.
We were able to expand this work thanks to the generosity of so many Bostonians who wanted to help. We created the Boston Resiliency Fund to get these donations to the grass-roots organizations that are feeding, clothing, housing, and caring for the most vulnerable residents in our city.
So far we’ve raised more than $32 million and dispersed more than $22 million to nearly 300 community nonprofits, including many grass-roots initiatives led by and for people of color.
Families in trauma need direct and immediate relief. We had to be fast and flexible, and we had to provide the support that people need to survive and recover.
That’s how we brought COVID-19 testing to community health centers across the city. That’s how we served over 2 million meals to children, families, and seniors in need. That’s how we covered rent payments for hundreds of families and helped thousands of small businesses stay afloat.
This work has strengthened our city. Our approach to recovery has been driven by the conviction that we don’t want to go back to business as usual when this crisis is over. We want to create a new, better normal where a person’s race doesn’t determine their health outcomes or their vulnerability in the face of an economic downturn.
When George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police in May, it drove home the fact that for many Americans, systemic racism is a daily matter of life and death, and we must use every resource at our disposal to put an end to it.
Our city has responded with the same urgency we brought to the pandemic. We declared racism a public health crisis and moved 20 percent of the Boston Police overtime budget into public health, youth services, mental health, and other community resources. We strengthened the BPD’s use-of-force policies, created a task force to conduct a deeper review of police policies and oversight, and banned the use of facial recognition technology. To ensure that these are just the first steps on a road to permanent, systemic change, I restructured my administration, naming Karilyn Crockett as our chief of equity to drive this work forward.
My team and I are in constant communication with community partners, including local organizations led by people of color who have been doing outstanding racial equity work in Boston’s neighborhoods for many years. We know that they have the expertise that this moment calls for. We want to support them and follow their lead.
That’s why we created the Racial Equity Fund to advance justice in our city. It came out of conversations with leaders and activists in Boston’s Black community, and we are pledging to work collaboratively and supportively with similar efforts led by Black business leaders. Our city’s ability to create community partnerships is a strength, not a weakness. This work is complex and requires many different approaches and investments.
What we’ve accomplished as a city in the last few months is unprecedented. In sharp contrast with other parts of the country, we’ve worked together, across whatever differences exist among us, in order to help people in need and protect one another. We have a long way to go in these fights, but I could not be more proud of the way Boston has come together to face them.
City government’s power is, indeed, rooted in our connection to community.
Our response has drawn on the deep wells of strength and compassion in our community and is making us more connected than ever. I invite anyone who wants to lend a hand to join us.
Martin J. Walsh is the mayor of Boston.