In this chat room, Boston’s black millennials build a community
If you are under 35, black, and moving to Boston, there is a digital welcome wagon: Boston’s Young, Black and Social, a chat room on Groupme.
On any given day, a new person joins the frank and friendly conversation of over 2,500 members. Some are looking for housing recommendations. Others want to meet for drinks.
Lists of black doctors, therapists, and hairstylists are in the chat. An entertainment calendar keeps everyone plugged into the latest concerts, club nights, panels, and seminars. Convos span everything from R. Kelly to Elizabeth Warren.
The chat room is filled with just as many natives as newcomers, but they all seem to be looking for the same thing: community.
Farrah Belizaire, 29, created Young, Black and Social two years ago as a space for black millennials in Boston. But she’s been building these connections since 2012.
Through her company LiteWork Events, Belizaire organizes brunches, day parties, panel discussions, and networking gatherings. What started as a LiteWork mailing list of about 100 people has grown to over 5,000.
As manager of diversity and inclusion at Boston University School of Medicine, Graduate Medical Sciences, she understands the importance of equity and culture. Growing up in Brockton, in a community filled with Haitian Americans, black Americans, Cape Verdeans, and people of color from all over the African diaspora, Belizaire says togetherness was celebrated.
“To be honest, in a lot of ways, I empathize with the experience of a transplant in Boston,” she says. “I didn’t really know what Boston felt like until I came to BU [as a student in 2007]. Even though it’s only 25 miles from Brockton, it was a cultural shock. I was never so aware of my cultural identity until I was in such a predominantly white institution.”
Joining BU’s black student union and the country’s oldest black sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, helped her build bonds and find her way. By the time she graduated from BU with a bachelor’s degree in health science in 2011, Belizaire had a campus community.
But she wanted something more.
Boston was still missing the day parties, bottomless brunches, and bustling scenes that cities like Washington, D.C., Atlanta, and New York offer young black people.
The most obvious reason: Boston is white. Only a quarter of the city’s population is black. According to the Globe Spotlight Team’s 2017 series on race, US Census figures show that trend expanding beyond the city. The greater metro region is 73 percent white and only 7 percent black, making the Boston area the whitest of the 10 largest metro areas in the country.
There’s also the city’s racist reputation. A national survey commissioned by the Globe in 2017 found that among eight major cities, black people ranked Boston as least welcoming to people of color. More than half — 54 percent — rated Boston as unwelcoming.
Belizaire says she is committed to hospitality, and to making sure black people here are seen and have access to each other.
She started small. Her first event was an after-work mixer at Teranga restaurant in 2012. She sent out an e-mail to about 100 people. Thirty showed up. It didn’t disappoint her. It made her want to keep pushing to create unifying experiences.
Month after month, she threw events around the city. People started to look for them — and tell others, too.
When Danielle Taylor moved to Boston from North Carolina a year ago, the engineer had never been in such a homogenous place. A friend invited her to the Young, Black and Social chat.
“Growing up in a predominantly black area and going to two HBCUs, to move here and be in the minority was a transition,” says Taylor, 28, a D.C.-area native. “I knew there wasn’t a lot of us here, but we are here. Farrah, her events, and this Groupme played a role in helping me find my community.”
Ronald Daniel was born and raised in Boston. But he moved to the Deep South to attend Oakwood University, a historically black college in Huntsville, Ala.
When he returned in 2017, Boston felt like a new place.
“My friends were either not around or moving on to different stages of life, getting married and having kids,” says Daniel, 32. “I needed a new circle of friends.”
A friend added him to Young, Black and Social. Now he’s one of the most active members and one of the chat’s administrators.
“What I have noticed about Farrah is she is trying to unite the different segments of black people in Boston,” Daniel says. “Whether you are African, African-American, or Caribbean, this space is to build bonds with each other socially and professionally.”
“A lot of black people in Boston are the only person in their department or on the floor. That is not my experience, but I imagine it is lonely for people when they don’t have family here,’’ Daniel says. “What LiteWork does is help people find those people who will have your back and that you confide in. And that chat is the community space.”
Belizaire has brought people together to see “Black Panther,” go the Huntington Theater for “Invisible Man,” and take road trips to Martha’s Vineyard.
“I don’t feel Boston does a good job at celebrating its cultural richness,” she says. “The world sees it as a sports town with the Red Sox, Bruins, Patriots, and Celtics. They see it as this old historic city, a traditional city with a yuppie identity of a certain class. There is an opportunity to tap into these other microcosms of the community, to run a narrative counter to the racist stereotype.”
She doesn’t compete with other event organizations and promoters. She works with them.
Christine Williams and her best friend, Manoucheca Lord, started The Milli Blog in 2017 as a way to provide professional resources to other black millennials. Earlier this year, they hosted a live podcast with LiteWork in Cambridge.
“We attended some of Farrah’s events last summer and things took off from there,” says Williams. “We are behind other cities as far as bringing black millennials together and Farrah understands what it means to be engaged.’’
“A lot of times, the stories are not being told about the people who represent this diverse makeup of Boston. With so few spaces connecting us, they aren’t being seen. But they are here and they are proud to be from Boston,” Belizaire says.
“But I don’t think it should take so much work. We shouldn’t feel like we have to do so much heavy lifting to find the people who are already here.”
Yet day after day, she does the work. She brings Boston’s hidden treasures together and finds places for black diamonds to shine.