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Nearly 90, Belafonte still seeking social justice for all

Harry Belafonte and his New York-based social justice group Sankofa released a short film titled “Against the Wall” to draw attention to police violence.
Harry Belafonte and his New York-based social justice group Sankofa released a short film titled “Against the Wall” to draw attention to police violence.(Chris Morris for The Boston Globe)

To John Drew, Harry Belafonte is a kindred spirit, at least when it comes to addressing the problems faced by low-income residents. The chief executive of Boston’s antipoverty agency, Action for Boston Community Development , grew up in public housing in Charlestown, and he’s built a career trying to help people who are struggling financially.

Belafonte, of course, is an entertainer who became a renowned civil rights icon. He’s still actively involved in the movement, even as he approaches his 90th birthday. Earlier this month, for example, Belafonte and his New York-based social justice group Sankofa released a short film titled “Against the Wall” to draw attention to police violence.

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One of the next items on his agenda: a trip to Boston, to speak at ABCD’s annual Community Heroes Celebration Nov. 4 at the Boston Marriott Copley Place hotel. Drew said he expects the speech will involve social justice issues. “I’m hoping he’ll take the opportunity to do something really far-reaching, with this crowd, to address civil rights,” he said, “given there’s a heightened awareness in the country of the need for changes.”

Nearly 1,000 people are expected to attend what will be ABCD’s biggest event of the year, a fund-raiser for a program it runs to help teens prepare to enter the workforce.

ABCD will also add two notable members to its Hall of Fame: New England Council chief executive Jim Brett and departing Boston state Representative Gloria Fox. And R&B group En Vogue will provide the night’s entertainment.

The event was pulled together by a group of Boston business leaders, led by Eversource Energy senior vice president Penni McLean-Conner.

“The celebration reflects that we have wide support,” Drew said. “It’s not just because they like us. It’s because we’re on the ground, every day. People come to us for food, housing, heat, [or to just] get a hug.” — JON CHESTO

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A homecoming event

Robin Reibel used to be a fixture in local media as the longtime spokeswoman for Filene’s, but then Macy’s bought the Boston department store chain, and we haven’t seen much of her since. Well, Reibel is back in Boston, working for Conventures , the events planning company started by her good friend Dusty Rhodes. Reibel had taken a job at Macy’s New York headquarters in 2009 doing media relations. But she kept her home in Sharon, and got an apartment in Manhattan for work. Reibel took an Amtrak train to work every Monday morning and returned home on Friday nights. After seven years, the commute finally became too much. “All the conductors know me by name,” she said. “It was time to come back and do something local.”

At Conventures, she’ll serve as public relations senior counsel. The company handles signature events such as Sail Boston, Harborfest, and First Night. Reibel has great memories of her earlier times in Boston. She helped bring back the annual tree-lighting ceremony at Filene’s, a tradition Macy’s continues in Downtown Crossing. And she’ll never forget the two times actress Elizabeth Taylor came to Filene’s to promote her fragrance, White Diamonds. “I have met many celebrities, but I was definitely starstruck by her,” recalled Reibel. — SHIRLEY LEUNG

‘Powerful story of transformation’

A manslaughter conviction and prison time are usually not considered positive job qualifications. For 46-year-old John Valverde, they helped clinch the position.

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He’s the new chief executive of YouthBuild USA, a Somerville nonprofit that runs programs nationwide aimed at helping unemployed, low-income, and out-of-school young people gain education, employment, and job skills.

He’s also a former felon. In 1991, Valverde shot to death a serial sex abuser who had raped his girlfriend, and for that killing he spent 16 years behind bars. At the time of his sentencing, Valverde was a 21-year-old college student living in Queens, N.Y., with no previous criminal record. He wasn’t released until 2008.

YouthBuild said he “brings a powerful story of personal transformation that embodies YouthBuild’s mission and a proven track record of service working with vulnerable and underserved populations.”

Valverde, who will begin his new job in January, is currently an executive vice president at Osborne Association, a New York group that helps incarcerated and formerly incarcerated men, women, and their families through substance-abuse treatment, workforce development, financial literacy, and other programs. Of his criminal background, Valverde had this to say: “No one should be defined by the worst thing they’ve ever done, and everyone should be given the opportunity to be defined by who they are today and who they strive to be in the future.”

He will succeed Dorothy Stoneman, who founded the organization in 1978.
— SACHA PFEIFFER

A Better City’s power play

Richard Dimino’s group, A Better City , is known for focusing on transportation and development issues in Boston. But the group looked far from home for its first foray into the power business. Dimino and his staff wanted to bring together members to buy enough electricity to pay for a large renewable energy project. The result: MIT, Boston Medical Center, and Post Office Square Redevelopment Corp. teamed up for deals that will finance a 650-acre, 60-megawatt solar farm in North Carolina to be run by Virginia-based Dominion . Of 41 projects that A Better City members evaluated, 11 were in New England, but all of them were ruled out, many because of costs. In Boston Medical Center’s case, the hospital should at least break even by committing to a 25-year solar-power purchase deal, according to BMC vice president Robert Biggio.

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Nixon Peabody partner Ruth Silman, whose firm negotiated the deals, said it’s unusual for unaffiliated institutions such as MIT and BMC to band together to buy renewable energy in this way. But Dimino said he hopes to pull off a similar deal with other members of his organization.
— JON CHESTO


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