I recently met an extended family member who was born in Roxbury but has lived more than half his life outside of Boston, in the city of Worcester. He was born in 1962, so the image of Boston contained in his mind consists of the 1960s and ’70s — not the best of times racially in the city.
When I told him African Americans and Latinos now live and work in Southie and Charlestown, he didn’t believe me. His mind, still fixated on that image from early in his life, couldn’t compute this new image of a far more tolerant Boston. I told him that it wasn’t exactly the land of milk and honey yet, but that things have been progressively getting better.
The Boston that he was born into has changed over the years, morphing into a newer, better Boston for African Americans, Latinos and people like me, second-generation Americans with roots in Italy and Ireland.
Buildings don’t make Boston better. People do. Politicians have been talking about the need for “a new Boston” for over 40 years, but the new Boston is happening, developing before our very eyes, today.
There are still rough spots, of course. There’s still too much needless violence and death. People are still afraid of getting caught in the crossfire, of being guilty of nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The journey isn’t over. Residents, parents and community leaders must stand together across the city and make Boston that shining “city on a hill” that Gov. John Winthrop talked about nearly 378 years ago.
As for my Roxbury-to-Worcester relative? He needs to take another look at Boston. He might like what he sees.
First and foremost, Barack Obama is a skilled politician who happens to be of mixed heritage. He is running for the highest office in the land and, some would say, the most powerful position in the world. It is a heady task, but that is the goal.
All kinds of doubters will come forth and all kinds of mud will be thrown back and forth. We will hear the calling-out about inexperience a lot. But most of what we will hear will be code terms that we can easily recognize, because we know that there are powerful people that don’t want the status quo to change.
They want the poverty and the racial divides to continue, and yes, they want the unholy wars and the unholy alliances to continue, so that the few may get richer as the many continue to suffer and talk about the problems, as opposed to working on solutions that are “race-free.”
Earlier, I said that Obama is a politician. And that’s all he is. Once he is elected, he will not provide the metaphoric “40 acres and a mule” long ago promised. He will not be able to turn back the clock of oppression to set the time for compassion, or to satisfy the wrongs that were — and too frequently, still are — committed against our people. In essence, he will not bring the miracles for social justice that many are hoping for.
But he will bring a presence that many doubted would ever exist. We will be there, more so than ever before. Changes can be made, mostly through a political process of fairness — not Democratic, nor Republican, just fair. So if you want the presence that we have never had before, don’t believe the hype or the polls. Just get out there and get folks to vote. Peace.
Haywood Fennell Sr.