. . . who rides public transit, speaks Spanish, and makes the best sweet potato pie ever! When’s the last time you could say that?”
Kim Janey, the former president of Boston City Council was sworn in as the city’s 55th mayor, marking a historic event. Sworn in by Kimberly Budd, the first Black woman to lead Massachusetts’ high court, and the first Black Massachusetts congresswoman, Ayanna Pressley, Janey is the first African American, the first person of color, and the first woman in the 199 years since the inauguration of the position.
“I come to this day with a life experience that is different from the men who came before me,” said Mayor Janey after being sworn in.
A fourth-generation Bostonian with a family history in the Civil Rights Movement, Janey’s road to politics was as hard fought as city residents who have been challenging the white power structure for equity and the end to de facto and de jure discrimination.
A child of teen parents, and a teen parent herself, Janey and her family struggled to make ends meet throughout her formidable years. Even when she became a young mother, she worked to balance her role as a parent and carve out a career. It was through parenthood that she began to find her political voice. While working on a number of campaigns focusing on equity in education, Janey became acclimated into politics by advocating for better policies protecting the needs of both students and parents.
After over two decades in the nonprofit world, Janey pivoted to electoral politics. In 2017, she won a seat on the city council in a tough 13-candidate race. As the first woman to represent District 7, she continued her commitment to equity in education, but also included addressing issues such as affordable housing as her Roxbury and South End neighborhoods of her youth experienced rapid changes in gentrification.
Becoming mayor was unexpected, and might be perhaps temporary. Janey is serving as an interim in order to replace the position left vacant by Marty Wash who was just confirmed as the United States Secretary of Labor in the Biden Administration. The mayoral race will be held on November 2, 2021.
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While Mayor Janey has yet to indicate if she will run in the fall, the slate of candidates who have already announced their bid for the position show a diverse pool: Michelle Wu, Andrea Campbell, Annissa Essaibi-George, State Rep. Jon Santiago and John Barros—all represent people of color and women.
Right now, Mayor Janey says she will focus on Boston’s recovery from the pandemic by maintaining the roll out of vaccines, ensuring the city deals with nation’s racial reckoning in a post-George Floyd climate, and helping seniors and the poor in an economic crises deepened by the pandemic. Right now, Latinos are the hardest hit in the city. While making up roughly 19 percent of the city’s residents, they are reported to be 30 percent of the COVID-19 cases. Blacks follow in high cases. They are approximately 25 percent of the population, but currently are reported to be 24 percent of coronavirus infections.
What Mayor Janey calls “two pandemics”—one in healthcare and the other in wealth disparity—is an issue dampening the quality of life for residents before COVID-19 .
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In 2017, the Boston Globe published a report on race and wealth from a 2015 study at Duke University titled, The Color of Wealth. The series explored the question around Boston’s reputation for being a racist city, and if it was merited. Unfortunately, the stories uncovered that the notoriety was longstanding, institutionalized and well-deserved.
In the study, the net worth of whites stood at $247,500, while US Blacks were worth $8, Caribbean Blacks, who were mostly of Haitian descent reported a net worth of $12,000, Puerto Ricans were at $3,020, while Domincans were marked as $0.
The gap was not only alarming, but deeply troubling. African Americans who helped shape Boston from Colonial America on, failed to own anything substantial, if anything at all. Pairing the report with the high cost of living in-and-around, Boston the results showed a gulf of wealth that would remain fixed if institutional changes were not made, and fast.
Subsequently, the Globe launched a series tackling race through conversations. Other initiatives throughout the city reduce the wealth gap ensued to address what Black and Brown communities cited for years—Boston’s racism was damn near impenetrable. Then came COVID-19.
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Around the same time, Chinese-Americans returned from their annual pilgrimage to China to celebrate Lunar New Year. Within weeks announcing that a novel coronavirus sprang from Wuhan, and traveled with Chinese diasporans, cities across the US gradually shuttered. In Boston, the city’s historic Chinatown, the only one left in New England, was abandoned overnight. Partially spawned by then President Donald Trump who racialized the virus by calling it “kung flu” at a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the quick emergence of anti-Asian sentiments added to a city already steeped in generations of social and cultural issues.
As the country grappled with the fears of a global pandemic, on May 25, 2020, Minnesota resident George Floyd took his last breath as a police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes. Just like the rest of the country, Boston’s already tense relations regarding race exploded. Thousands of people participated in multiple demonstrations to protest the ongoing police brutality often directed towards Black people in the city.
Months into protests, video footage revealed a police sergeant abusing peaceful demonstrators, while other officers shoved, pushed and pepper sprayed crowds.
There had to be change. From the top to bottom.
With the Mayor Janey in place, the hope is that the change for good is permanent.
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