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To be Black, Bostonian, and proud

There’s a myth that Boston is a white city, but it’s 25 percent Black, twice the percentage of the Black population of America.

Jae'da Turner, founder of Black Owned Boston, cultivates Black economic empowerment and pride in the community.
Jae'da Turner, founder of Black Owned Boston, cultivates Black economic empowerment and pride in the community.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

People used to say Jae’da Turner was stuck in Boston.

Because Black folk from outside of the city often see it as a place to pass through but not plant roots. Those people are not from here.

Turner isn’t trapped. She’s at home.

“Having to defend Boston is a real sport,” Turner says. “As a student at Northeastern, people coming from New York, California, and all across the country, I think they honestly love to hate Boston. It’s like a little club. It’s not cool if you say you’re from Boston.”

The thing is, for as progressive as Boston pretends to be, its Black history is too often hidden in the city’s narrative. And Boston is so segregated, the Black folk who are here go overlooked. But whitewashing a city’s story doesn’t change its truth: A quarter of the city’s population is Black — that’s nearly double the percentage of the Black population of the country.

Episode 5: To Be Black, Bostonian, and Proud is a beautiful resistance
A Beautiful Resistance: Black joy and Black lives, as celebrated by culture columnist Jeneé Osterheldt. Join us on Instagram @abeautifulresistance. (Video by Caitlin Healy/Globe Staff, Photo by Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff, Commentary & concept by Jeneé Osterheldt/Globe Staff)

And that’s the Boston Turner fights to celebrate. Growing up in Dorchester and Mattapan, she saw Black people owning triple-deckers and houses passed down through the generations. As a child, parent-teacher conferences were held at the historic Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury, the oldest descendant of the African Baptist Church. The Boston she knows is Black, proud, and beautiful. She’s committed to continuing that legacy.

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“One, I’m not going to let you disrespect the place where I’m from,” said Turner, 29. “Two, I strengthened my pride in college and coming out, still being here, this is where I want to be. I am staking my claim, my roots, here. I’m investing my time in the community here.”

Over a year-and-a-half ago, she founded Black Owned Bos., a platform amplifying Black-owned businesses. She hosts pop-up markets at places like the Seaport, and this weekend, she’ll be at Legacy Place in Dedham. She grew up walking up and down Blue Hill Avenue, going to Black-owned businesses, and she wants to make sure everyone has access and opportunity for community engagement and economic empowerment. Visibility.

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“It blows my mind when people say Black people aren’t here,” she said. “You can see the storefronts in Vietnamese, and then in Spanish. You see signs for Cape Verdean restaurants. I see so much culture here, Nigerians, Afro-Caribbeans, and you make those connections. I am a Black American and those are connections I have to Black culture here just being around it in Boston and experiencing it authentically.”

Dart Adams believes the reason so many people believe the lie that Black people aren’t in Boston is because for so long, Boston prided itself on having liberal energy while erasing and displacing the Black community.

“They never highlighted my Boston unless someone got shot and killed,” said Adams, 45, an author and hip-hop historian. “You are told at every turn people don’t think Black people live in Boston, the city don’t care about Black people in Boston, and Black people outside of Boston hate Boston.”

Raised in Roxbury and Back Bay, depending on what era of gentrification moved the neighborhood line, he’s seen firsthand the way a city will sell the soul right out of a neighborhood. Even now, he mourns for The Harriet Tubman House, the community center of his childhood being destroyed and rebuilt as condominiums.

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“Being Black in Boston is to be unheralded and erased,” Adams said. “When you grow up in the heart of Boston, you have the South End which bleeds into Lower Roxbury, which bleeds into Dorchester, which bleeds into Jamaica Plain, and that whole region was mostly Black and Latino and Asian kids –– mostly Chinese kids –– that live with you. That’s your experience. So this idea of Boston being white was something we saw in media and on television. That was not our experience.”

Adams, whose father is Honduran, was raised in a household where the mantra was, “We are Black but we speak Spanish.” To him, this kind of diversity of Blackness, in his house and in his neighborhood, was the norm.

He came of age hearing stories of his elders playing basketball with Martin Luther King Jr. As he sat in the chair of George’s Barbershop, now known as A-1, Adams would listen to stories of Sammy Davis Jr. being a soda jerk in Boston and Miles Davis playing at Wally’s. Adams can point out where the original NAACP Boston branch building, the first chartered branch of the organization, stands in Roxbury. There is no sign to mark that space, or many of the historic places of Black Boston.

But Adams was raised to know his story. No matter how rich, white, and shiny his neighborhood gets, they can’t build over his memory or the power of place. He sees it as his duty to pass the story on and he’s known to give impromptu tours of his Boston. As a child, Adams looked up to Mel King, iconic civic leader, who wrote the book on Black Boston, “Chain of Change.” They were neighbors.

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Adams is of the New Edition era. He got the first newsletter of The Source before it was a magazine. He remembers when Ed O.G. and Da Bulldogs made a hip-hop classic. And who can forget Guru? For Boston’s Black past, present, and future, he will always represent.

“I thought I had to become famous and become a rapper the way Harlem and LA rappers did for their cities,” Adams said. “That didn’t happen. Writing sparked something in me. Everybody’s going to hate, hate, hate on Boston. Why would I run from that? How’s anything going to change? I think it’s in my best interest to educate them about my city.”

Dart Adams in front of the Harriet Tubman Memorial at Harriet Tubman Square.
Dart Adams in front of the Harriet Tubman Memorial at Harriet Tubman Square. Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe

Education is a lifestyle in Boston, both in the streets and as the city’s role as the hub of American academia. Sofia Meadows, an organizer with For the People Boston, was raised in it.

“What grounds me is the fact that I have been surrounded by educators all my life,” said Meadows, 21, a college junior majoring in political science and government with a minor in education and Afro-American studies. “Having a mom that’s a Boston Public School teacher exposed me to so many loving people at a young age. I was always around students, always around teachers, I played soccer, and because of that I also know the role white supremacy has in these infrastructures. Harvard and Northeastern and all of these institutions are here. So why are teachers struggling for books and pencils? You have to help your community.”

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There’s what you learn in school, she said, and the way you school yourself. She took it upon herself to dig into the stories of Malcolm X in Boston, the Black feminist work of Combahee River Collective, and how W.E.B. Du Bois became the first Black person to earn a PhD from Harvard University in 1895.

And at Boston Latin School, she learned other things. Like what it means to be tokenized.

“Having been the poster Black child by the time I graduated, being called the N-word, being told I was only going to college because of sports, it was deteriorating. I had to remove myself for a little bit,” she said.

She went to Ithaca College in New York. She dug into Harriet Tubman’s work there and the way the Black folk in upstate New York work together as a small-but-mighty community. She got the tools she needed and transferred to University of Massachusetts Amherst.

“It reaffirmed why I need to plant my seeds here,” Meadows said of her time at Ithaca. “Boston is so small, we should be a pilot city for change, for dismantling supremacy. Boston is entrenched with fake, woke liberalism. And we have to keep the city accountable. As a Bostonian, I feel like I have the right to say that. These colonizers can’t tell me nothing.”

It’s that resistance, that unapologetic pride and truth-telling, that makes Meadows a proud, Black Bostonian.

“I think we really are good at speaking our mind regardless of the fact that we have been told we have to speak or look a certain way,” she said of Black Bostonians. “We are loud. We don’t care what has been projected on us. Don’t mess with us. We are intentional about speaking our truth. I love that.”

Black Boston, I love that about you, too.

Coming next: Land is a beautiful resistance. Sign up to be notified of the next episode. Find the A Beautiful Resistance Playlist, Episode 5, curated by Dart Adams, below, and also on Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube Music. See more at Globe.com/ABeautifulResistance.


Jeneé Osterheldt can be reached at jenee.osterheldt@globe.com and on Twitter @sincerelyjenee.