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Black male leaders call for revival of city commission

Former city councilor Tito Jackson and Acting Mayor Kim Janey took questions during a press conference at City Hall in Boston.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Nearly two dozen civic and community leaders gathered in a shaded section of City Hall Plaza Tuesday afternoon to call for the revival of a group designated to study the plight of Boston’s Black men and boys that fizzled seven years ago.

“This day shall not be held in vain because I’m standing behind and in front of some Black men of power,” Corey Thompson said. “Today, we have direction. We have a way to go.”

The press conference, which was coorganized by Ron Bell, a member of the Black Male Committee, focused on many hurdles Black men and boys face, such as voter suppression, incarceration, housing, and economic development.

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Former city councilor Tito Jackson led a similar initiative in 2014. The Boston City Council voted 13-0 for its inception that same year, but the commission dissolved after former mayor Martin J. Walsh vetoed Jackson’s proposal, writing that the body would “duplicate and complicate efforts that [Walsh’s] administration is already engaged in.” He also cited a violation of the city charter.

“We are here to be heard, our votes are here to be felt, and our impact is also here to be felt,” Jackson said Tuesday.

City Councilor Julia Mejia reintroduced the idea in a new ordinance filed June 16. Unlike Jackson’s proposal seven years ago, Mejia said she seeks to create two separate groups to address the challenges Black and Latino men encounter independently.

“The work and the issues [that Black and Latino men and boys face] are not the same,” Mejia said in an interview. “My hope is that . . . all of the issues impacting these men will bubble up to the top.”

City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo, who is cosponsoring the council measure, said in an interview that he also hopes the two commissions address issues that aren’t usually considered topics for men of color, such as LGBTQ and gender issues.

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“I want to make sure we create sort of a safe space that they would want to utilize to this effect and . . . in such a way where it actually creates the result that we’re seeking,” Arroyo said.

Acting Mayor Kim Janey, who also attended Tuesday’s press conference, said her administration has been making key investments to help build wealth in the Black community, such as opportunities for home ownership for residents.

“We could talk all day about the stats, but it’s more important that we do the work,” Janey said.

The ordinance must undergo a hearing and vote from City Council before heading to Janey’s desk for a signature.

Bishop William Dickerson of Greater Love Tabernacle Baptist Church, who gave an opening prayer at the press conference, said in an interview before the event that the lack of care placed in helping Black men grow is a travesty.

“If we put more in the front end, we won’t have to put as much in the back end,” Dickerson said.

Calls for the special committee’s revival come after the death of George Floyd last year and during a global pandemic that has disproportionately affected men of color. Bell said both have only brought the trauma Black men and boys have long faced to the public’s forefront.

“We will no longer be treated like we’re invisible. That’s the whole goal,” said Bell, who also runs the Dunk the Vote initiative aimed at increasing voter participation. “We want people to know that we’re here, we’re not going anywhere.”

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Tiana Woodard is a Report for America corps member covering Black neighborhoods. She can be reached at tiana.woodard@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @tianarochon.