Mayor Michelle Wu highlighted Black city leaders at City Hall’s annual Black History Month kickoff celebration Friday and acknowledged the work the city must do to reverse policies that have harmed Black residents.
“I have the chance to be surrounded by Black excellence, Black joy, Black brilliance, Black persistence, every single day here working for the city of Boston,” Wu said.
Several city councilors and cabinet members along with dozens of community residents joined Wu in the lobby of City Hall to commemorate and honor Black resilience in Boston. The celebration featured spirited spoken word poetry and vocal performances on Black joy and identity by local artists Amanda Shea, Maya McNeill, and Jermaine Tulloch that echoed throughout the open mezzanine.
Two-thirds of the mayor’s cabinet members are people of color, Wu noted in her Jan. 25 State of the City address, making her administration the most diverse in Boston’s history — something highlighted by Boston’s chief of economic development, Segun Idowu.
“When you look at who makes up the cabinet, there are Black folks running operations, running community engagement, running communications, running the Police Department, running emergency management, running transportation, running the economy, running development,” said Idowu. “That has never been true for this city in all of its history.”
Wu added that she would work to implement solutions to reverse policies historically discriminating against Black residents, telling the audience the city must work to acknowledge its role in deepening disparities and creating systems that don’t work for everyone.
“It can feel daunting, how much is in front of us to do,” Wu said.
Dr. Emmett Price III, a scholar of Black Music & Culture and dean of Berklee’s Africana Studies division, delivered keynote remarks, emphasizing love and learning as pillars of justice.
“Black brilliance is what happens when you take your education and you mix it with your real embodied experience,” Price said. “You wonder, ‘how do you socialize young people in order to deal with the hatred and vitriol of racism and prejudice?’ You don’t run from it. You teach them about it.”
Wu recognized George “Chip” Greenidge, executive director of Greatest MINDS, a BIPOC-run nonprofit that mentors Boston youth, with a certificate of recognition and gratitude for his work with young people of color.
Greenidge began as an organizer when he was 19, visiting high schools to encourage students to attend historically Black colleges. Decades later, he continues to advocate for better educational quality and access for Boston minority students.
“We as young Black professionals felt that we can push for a relationship [with City Hall],” Greenidge recalled of his early days organizing. “We demanded more access to boards and things like that in the community. And that’s what government is about — listening and hearing and making sure that this building feels safe to have these conversations.”
The event centered on the 2023 nationwide theme “Black Resistance,” highlighting Black Americans’ resistance to oppression and continued pursuit of racial equality, something Idowu said Black people do in their everyday lives.
“When you use the word ‘resistance,’ some people get scared,” Idowu said. “But I just want to say to all of the Black employees who can hear the sound of my voice that the mere act of you waking up in the morning ... is an act of resistance. I want you to know that every day, you are the living embodiment of resistance.”
Recognizing the role of the past in shaping the present and understanding how the government has historically marginalized Black communities is vital to informing the mission of the city administration, Wu said.
“We look to build a Boston that is not just looking ahead, charging forward as urgently as we can, but also addressing where we’ve been, acknowledging and being real about our role,” she said.
Maya McNeill’s name was misspelled in a previous version of this story.
Sonel Cutler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @cutler_sonel.