Health and wellness is Shavel’le Olivier’s love language.
As executive director of the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition, Olivier leads efforts to make fresh, healthy food and safe, recreational activity available to everyone. While running the local nonprofit, she also strives to engage youth in Boston’s bureaucratic process with the consulting agency Consult LeLa.
Black News Hour asked Olivier about her passions and upcoming projects.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
BG: What led you to the work that you do today?
SO: My twin sister and I moved in with my dad in Mattapan when we were 12, and I did a job interview with the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition when I was about 17 and was hired. I was introduced to politics, community engagement, biking, transportation, and what it means to be an advocate. I became the executive director in 2019.
In 2011, MFFC’s Vigorous Youth [team] created Mattapan on Wheels [Bike-a-Thon]. But little did I know this event would expose me to the transportation world. I worked at a transportation advocacy organization called LivableStreets Alliance, and I’d go to these different meetings where organizations were making decisions about transportation. It was really a learning curve to [learn] the lingo they use, and it felt like they were having a hard time connecting with communities of color. They were always [trying to figure out why they] can’t connect [to people like] me, and I wondered why. So I created T-Talks, a way for BIPOC communities, as well as Mattapan, Dorchester, and Roxbury residents, to learn and talk about these issues.
Chavella Lee-Pacheco and I started helping the City of Boston with communication. After a year of doing that, Chavella and I said, ‘Let’s start [Consult LeLa].’ That’s how I got here.
BG: How have these roles changed you?
SO: My advisory board at MFFC became a family who helped me. They mentored me and took the time to teach me the history of the Mattapan community. Without these experiences, I wouldn’t be where I am.
BG: What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘Mattapan’?
SO: Love. Mattapan has this negative stereotype and every time you look on the news, it’s nothing positive. We can’t control structural racism, it was just placed upon us. Another word is togetherness. Mattapan residents do care about what’s happening in the neighborhood. They may not have the lingo that those with decision-making power have, but they do have the experiential knowledge about their own community.
BG: What upcoming events should people keep on their radar?
SO: The Mattapan Square Farmer’s Market will be at the corner of Fairway [Street] and Cummins Highway every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. until Oct. 29. We’re [also] hosting our annual Mattapan on Wheels event on July 23.
We’ve also partnered with SPARK Boston to host a social at Kay’s Oasis on July 28.
BG: What’s a fun fact people might not know about you?
SO: I biked 400 miles to Canada.