In the final days of campaigning for a historic mayoral election, more than a dozen faith leaders and politicians delivered a simple message Sunday to Black Boston residents: Vote!
Around a hundred people gathered outside the Charles AME Church Sunday afternoon for the Souls to the Polls event with bullhorns and signs encouraging voters to “Be The Change.” Some embraced candidates like City Councilor Julia Mejia, council candidate Ruthzee Louijeune, and Michelle Wu, one of two women vying to become mayor. A handful wore pins emblazoned with the phrase, “Black Votes Matter.”
Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley pressed the Black community to flood the polls and demand change.
“What we struggle with is shared power,” said Pressley. “Organized power is realized power. So when you pray, move your feet.”
The rally built on churches’ longstanding position as hubs of political activity in communities of color. And the voice of “spiritual stewards,” as Pressley called them, galvanized the crowd.
The Rev. Liz Walker led the invocation: “We’re called to this moment in time .. to move as a community and as individuals,” she said. “This world needs to get on the right path.” Heads bowed and eyes closed, people responded with fervent amens.
The Rev. Miniard Culpepper of the Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church evoked Martin Luther King Jr. at the microphone and said the Black vote could reshape the future of Boston.
“It will make a difference in the results not just on Nov. 2, but from here until eternity,” he said.
Just 25 percent of registered Boston voters — or 108,000 people — turned out for the Sept. 14 preliminary election. A Globe analysis of the city’s 25 precincts with the most Black residents found that Acting Mayor Kim Janey dominated those precincts. Wu took third with 14 percent of the vote, with opponent Anissa Essaibi George trailing behind in the single digits.
Key issues, like housing equity, police reform, and racial justice, hinge on the results of the election. Several local politicians said religious institutions play a vital role in Black voting patterns, especially with early voting underway.
“There’s an inextricable link between church and civic participation,” said David Halbert, a candidate for Boston City Councilor-at-Large, who is Black. “These are institutions that people have trust in. Churches are more than places people go on Sundays.”
Ron Bell, 58, said he attended Sunday to support representatives ready to enact transformative reform. He distributed “Dunk the Vote” pamphlets introducing voters to candidates of color and shook hands with Mejia and Halbert, both of whom he works for as a field organizer.
“Things have to change for Black boys and for Black men,” said Bell. “We’ve been ignored. We seem to be invisible. But we are not. I’m here to elevate and change the face of Boston — the people who get the privilege to represent us.”
India Beriy, who sold her homemade pound cakes and sweet potato pies at the event, wore a black “VOTE” mask. People need to use their voices, she said, in an election like none other she has seen before.
“We have two females on the ballot for mayor for the first time,” she said. “I’ve never seen it in all my life. I’m hoping the general election gets people out there because this — this matters.”
The speeches gave way to a short march to the Thelma D. Burns Building. Marchers sang “We Shall Overcome” and gospel tunes behind a banner for the Transformative Justice Coalition, brandished with the face of late senator and civil rights icon John Lewis.
There, a handful of demonstrators voted early in the Burns Building. Others watched Pressley tout Wu as “an investment in Boston’s future” or pumped political signs. Two former candidates and members of the D7 Alliance — Dr. Brandy Brooks and Marisa Luse — distributed candy to children.
And the youngest participant, an 18-month-old, was pushed around in a toy car with a “Michelle Wu for Mayor” sticker. His father, Jose Lopez, said public education, affordable housing, and jobs for residents of color are of paramount importance.
“Today, we are sending a signal that our community is alive and it is vibrant,” said Lopez, a resident of Ward 12.
Sharon Reid Worrell fiercely campaigned for her son, Brian Worrell, a Dorchester native and District 4 candidate. In a multicolored jacket, she yelled out his name to passing cars.
“This is a reminder — a call — to vote, vote, vote,” she said. “If you don’t vote, you don’t count.”
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