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Get-out-the-vote effort to Boston’s Black community: ‘You have power’ in mayor’s race

Joseph Robinson got the okay to place this sign in front of a woman’s fence as part of a get-out-the-vote effort in Boston's Black community Sunday.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Volunteers fanned out across Roxbury and Hyde Park Sunday as part of an ongoing effort to help ensure voices — and votes — of Boston’s Black community play a pivotal role in a historic mayoral election Tuesday.

Boston is poised to choose the first woman and first person of color to serve as mayor — Michelle Wu or Annissa Essaibi George — and decide the outcome on three ballot questions that address establishing a popularly elected School Committee, changes to the city’s budgeting process, and whether to support a controversial electrical substation slated for East Boston.

Ensuring that Boston’s Black voters are part of those decisions is essential for the city, said Cheryl Clyburn Crawford, MassVOTE’s executive director, in an interview Sunday.

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“It’s critical that they come out and show their strength — you have power,” she said. “Everybody has the exact same power: one vote. And if you don’t use yours, we end up with a very few people determining how we live. You can have a say in that.”

The get-out-the-vote effort is driven by a coalition of groups including MassVOTE, the Boston branch of the NAACP, local churches, and community leaders such as state Representative Russell Holmes of Mattapan.

Holmes said many of the city’s Black voters cast ballots for other mayoral candidates in a September preliminary election. Now those voters are trying to decide where their support should go.

“All of us are simply saying, we believe we are going to make the decision, and make the difference between Michelle and Annissa,” Holmes said. “And we want to make sure that we show up [and] make sure our voice is heard.”

About 50 volunteers gathered around noontime at the Washington Park Mall parking lot in Roxbury, where organizers had set up a staging area for the day’s voter outreach.

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Among the volunteers were Holmes and Clyburn Crawford, who helped unpack election handouts and yard signs that read “Just Vote!”

The handouts included information for voters, including contested races, ballot questions, and policy positions of mayoral and city council candidates.

Volunteers were on hand who could speak non-English languages, including Haitian Creole and Spanish, Clyburn Crawford said.

Joseph Robinson, a 63-year-old who grew up in Jamaica Plain and worked for decades as a Boston public school teacher, was among the volunteers. He said Black voters must be engaged and must participate in the election.

Issues impacting the city — like the rising cost of housing — especially affect Black residents, he said.

“We’re telling people when we’re knocking on doors [that] this is important to, not only us, but to you,” Robinson said.

Robinson was among a small group of volunteers who piled into a black SUV to go knock on doors in Roxbury.

In some cases, those overtures were met with a dismissive wave at the front door or from behind a window. But in others, residents talked at length, or at least, showed support for the efforts to encourage voting.

At one home on Dale Street, Robinson caught the eye of a woman mowing her lawn and held up one of the black-and-white yard signs the group was posting around the neighborhood. He asked if she wanted one. She agreed, and he planted the sign out by her front fence.

During another stop, Robinson was turning to leave after tucking an election packet into the front door of a home when the resident, Haate Browne, appeared in the doorway. The two spoke for several minutes as Robinson explained the volunteers’ mission.

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Browne, 35, said in an interview afterward that she voted for Acting Mayor Kim Janey in the city’s preliminary election in September. When Janey didn’t make the cut, Browne was disappointed.

Browne still wants to show that Janey continues to have strong support in Boston, and intends to vote again for her as a write-in candidate. Janey has been an effective leader in the months since she took over from former Mayor Martin J. Walsh, Browne said.

“I wanted to see what else she could do,” Browne said.

Browne said she is concerned about education issues in Boston and wants to see improvements in the city’s school system. She also wants a long-term solution for the tent encampment that has grown in the area of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard.

She believes that there is strong interest in the upcoming election within the Black community.

“Everybody I’ve talked to is going to vote,” Browne said. “I don’t know anyone who isn’t.”


John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.