As a girl growing up in Roxbury, I could not have imagined that I would be the first woman, and person of color, to lead our city. When I moved into the mayor’s office in March, I brought with me the life experience of a Black woman and a lens of equity. I also brought two framed prints that I hung on the wall. One is an iconic Boston magazine cover, with a heart-shaped collection of running shoes memorializing the strength and resilience of our city after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. The headline reads, “We will finish this race.” The second frame holds a photo illustration of Vice President Kamala Harris walking alongside the shadow of civil rights trailblazer Ruby Bridges, with the caption, “The first, but not the last.”
These prints inspired me and offered daily reminders of my two-part mission to provide comfort and stability for a city in crisis and to make equity the urgent work of our city government.
I was sworn in as the 55th mayor of Boston amid the coronavirus pandemic and a reckoning with racial injustice. Communities of color had been ravaged by COVID-19 and were dealing with more than their share of lost jobs, businesses, and homes. I set out to make Boston’s public health recovery the foundation of our reopening and renewal.
City departments worked together and with partners to distribute vaccines citywide. We targeted the hardest-hit neighborhoods to build trust and distribute information through churches, parks, YMCAs, and senior centers. Residents rolled up their sleeves and made Boston one of the most vaccinated big cities in America.
We also made housing stability part of Boston’s public health response. Boston was one of the first cities to establish an eviction moratorium, and we directed millions of dollars of rental relief and foreclosure prevention funds to renters, landlords, and homeowners that helped 12,500 Boston families remain in their homes.
For those who are unhoused due to the effects of mental illness or substance use disorder, we implemented a public health approach that is transitioning vulnerable residents out of dangerous encampments and into housing, shelter, and treatment — without arrests.
As main streets struggled, we invested millions in small business relief and expanded outdoor dining and retail. New marketing campaigns put diverse Boston entrepreneurs in the spotlight and celebrated neighborhood shops and restaurants.
Reopening our city meant returning children safely to their classrooms. As the Delta variant emerged, my administration implemented a comprehensive plan that included vaccinations and an indoor mask mandate. Boston Public Schools welcomed students and teachers back with the highest first-day attendance, ever. We must strengthen test-and-stay protocols to help keep schools open. Outside of school, free swimming lessons are making our children safer, particularly Black children who are about eight times more likely to drown in swimming pools than their white peers.
Amid these challenges, we introduced a Joy Agenda as a strategy for collective healing from the trauma and loss caused by the pandemic. Neighbors came together for fitness walks, creating public murals, and dance parties that brought comfort and joy into our public spaces.
Centuries of systemic inequity can’t be undone in eight months, but meaningful efforts to advance equity are already taking shape. Thoughtful public safety solutions are improving mental health crisis response and increasing accountability and transparency. While major crime reached its lowest level in five years, recent violence underscores the need to address trauma and continue work to create a safer future for all of our residents.
To address the city’s infamous racial wealth gap, we quadrupled the amount of down payment assistance for first-time homebuyers to $40,000, putting more families on track to building generational wealth.
We prioritized climate justice and stood against development plans that failed to deliver for communities of color. We made fare-free public transit a reality with the 28 bus pilot program connecting Mattapan, Dorchester, and Roxbury and funded a green jobs training program to help young people prepare for careers that will also protect our city from the effects of climate change.
Communities of color in Boston received overdue recognition through the declaration of Indigenous Peoples Day, the observance of Juneteenth, and the designation of the Colonial-era slave quarters at the Shirley-Eustis House in Roxbury as a historic landmark.
From managing a public health crisis to confronting institutional racism, we achieved historic milestones together. I am honored to pass the baton and congratulate Michelle Wu on becoming the first woman and person of color elected mayor of Boston. I know Mayor Wu will continue to lift up those who have been left out of power and work to make our city more equitable, just, and resilient. Today, the framed words in the mayor’s office became reality. “The first, but not the last.”
I am grateful to the people of Boston for the opportunity to serve and lead the city I love. Thank you.
Kim Janey was the 55th mayor of Boston.