Published in the Bay State Banner, November 22, 2016
Photo provided by Mayor’s Office
The Cutler Majestic Theatre was at full capacity on Saturday morning with students, educators, elected officials, community organizers and other Boston residents who were ready to have a difficult but necessary talk.
Mayor Martin Walsh, in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities, the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and Emerson College, hosted a public discussion on the state of racism in Boston and the steps the city can take to become more “socially cohesive and resilient.”
“This is the right conversation in the right time to have it, in the right city,” said the mayor, who described seeing sadness and frustration among the people of Boston the day after the presidential election results.
The event’s keynote speakers included James Rooney, president of the Boston Chamber of Commerce; Otis Rolley, 100 Resilient Cities regional director for Africa and North America; Debby Irving, author of “Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race”; Ceasar McDowell, MIT professor of community development; and two teen empowerment organizers, Kendra Gerald and Dante Omorogbe.
Before an audience of 600 people, each speaker spoke to what had been for many years in Boston the elephant in the room.
“As a city, we’re hanging on to a whole lot of messed up crap,” said Rooney, referring to Boston’s history of redlining, segregation, hostility and school desegregation. He announced that the Chamber of Commerce will be engaged in action-oriented reflection over the next year, in partnership with the mayor’s office, on issues of small business, diversity, workforce development and economic mobility.
“Racism may seem to some an issue that exists in relative isolation from the rest of the city’s problems,” said Rolley. “It does not.”
Irving, who spent years working on racial equity work, shared her own previous misconceptions, which undermined her best intentions. As a white woman, “I had a limited understanding of racism,” she said. “I thought it was just about people not liking each other and I was so wrong.” She spoke to the audience about the importance of acknowledging the normalization of whiteness, the whitewashing of history and the myth of meritocracy.