When Mayor Martin J. Walsh unveiled Thursday his much anticipated initiative intended to tackle what some see as the city’s systematic racism, “Resilient Boston,” he had help from someone who knew the struggle well — and recently.
Meggie Noel spoke about learning the meaning of resilience at Boston Latin School, where she and a classmate spoke out in 2016 about racism at the prestigious school, prompting months-long investigations into the institution.
“All the issues that we were facing in our school system as students of color are simply manifestations and symptoms of a larger issue — and the root of the issue is racism within our society, within our city, within our communities,” said Noel, who now attends Spelman College. “This resilience strategy launch is us as a city opening our throat to sing. It is beginning destroying the system and rebuilding it.”
The launch fell in the midst of a mayoral race that has focused on racial and socioeconomic inequities. City Councilor Tito Jackson — whose mayoral candidacy Noel has endorsed, according to his campaign — has criticized Walsh for failing to correct persistent disparities across the city.
Walsh, meanwhile, has sought to make confronting race a cornerstone of his legacy; he held the first of a series of dialogues on race last fall. This week, his administration is rolling out “Imagine Boston 2030,” a comprehensive development plan that intersects with this racial equity strategy.
But Walsh insists that the proposal is not aimed at promoting himself, telling attendees, “This plan is not about me. . . . This plan is about the future of our city.”
The legacy of 1970s busing still looms large, Walsh said, and this plan is an effort to confront it.
“Busing in Boston was a symptom. The disease wasn’t cured,” he said. “Ignoring what the problems are doesn’t help us. It’s not how recovery happens.”
Boston has experienced rapid growth in recent years, but disparities across racial lines persist. Median household incomes for white Bostonians are more than double those of their black, Latino, and Asian counterparts, according to the “Resilient Boston” report. People of color have a harder time accessing jobs and transportation, and disproportionately bear the burden of natural disasters like major snowstorms, the report concluded.
The new strategy marks the culmination of nearly two years of work by the Mayor’s Office of Resilience and Racial Equity and 100 Resilient Cities, a Rockefeller Foundation initiative with partner cities across the globe. Boston joined the 100RC network — which includes New York City, Oakland, Rio De Janeiro, and Dakar — in 2014, and hired Atyia Martin as the city’s first chief resilience officer.
Martin said she and her team consulted with more than 11,000 stakeholders in the process of coming up with a blueprint in the fall and a final plan by this week.
The resulting 150-page report aims to apply an “equity lens” to city governance, speakers said. It outlines short-, medium-, and long-term action plans around four visions: reckoning with the city’s history of racism, promoting “an inclusive and collaborative city government,” creating equity in economic opportunities, and developing infrastructure to protect Bostonians from climate change and other natural threats.
“We have a long history of policies and practices that led us here. . . . It’s important for us to acknowledge that,” Martin said. “Racism is something that is created, and it is something that can be eradicated by us.”
Among other initiatives, the plan pledges to hold training for city staff, promote small business lending in historically underserved neighborhoods, augment the city’s affordable housing stock, establish dual-enrollment programs between high schools and area universities, and conduct a citywide #IAmBoston storytelling campaign.
“Boston is a leader in our network — there’s no question about that. And the actions — ones already taken, and those developed through the strategy — will have a deep impact on other cities in our network and beyond,” Michael Berkowitz, the president of 100 Resilient Cities, said at the event.
State Senator Linda Dorcena Forry, who attended the launch, said she is impressed with the strategy and hopes other Massachusetts cities will consider adopting similar ones.
But Jackson was unimpressed by his opponent’s proposal. In a statement, he called the plan “an empty election year promise,” and outlined a list of what he called “the mayor’s dismal record of failures on racial equity.”
“We are tired of yet another report filled with empty promises,” he said. “It’s time to bring this city together fairly, sincerely, and equitably, and as mayor that is exactly what I will finally do.”
Martin closed the event Thursday by challenging attendees to play an active role in bringing the proposals to fruition — emphasizing that the onus lay on residents and city officials now to make racial equity more than words in a glossy report.
“Who are you in this resilient strategy?” she said. “What is your role in helping achieve that goal?”Claire Parker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Reach her on Twitter @ClaireParkerDC.