It’s telling that Boston’s mayoral candidates would hold meetings and forums in places like Freedom House and the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center in Roxbury, as detailed in the Banner’s article, “Mayoral hopefuls sling barbs at RCC forums” (Sept. 10, 2009). These places are important because they demonstrate and symbolize the work ethic, commitment and determination for progressive change critical to people of color in our city.
The drive and dedication to community represented by the late Reggie Lewis of the Celtics and by Otto and Muriel Snowden of Freedom House are displays of character that bode well for candidates. Given the poor turnout in our last municipal election, candidates vying for votes see a pivotal voting bloc, and well they should.
But we swing voters need to take care and take stock when politicians come knocking!
We ought to be asking why people of color in Boston are still trying to attain parity in education, employment and housing some 60 years after the founding of Freedom House. If history provides any insight, our future looks bleak.
The Snowdens understood that grassroots efforts for fair housing complemented by a focus on education not only addressed the lack of economic and cultural vitality in a community, but also served as a catalyst for advocating agendas for progressive public policy. In essence, Freedom House was the birth of the modern-day community development corporation (CDC), before the turbulent civil unrest of the late ’60s.
While calls to end the Boston Redevelopment Authority and the contract favoritism it breeds between developers and viable CDCs seem fair, it’s also fair to ask if we now favor a viable CDC over nascent minority or small businesses in contracting, particularly when the nonprofit status of a CDC affords bidding leverage over smaller companies and a when a poorer effort at fulfilling the Boston Jobs Policy further weakens our communities of color.
When a CDC sheds its mission of educational services in lieu of producing more housing because such efforts are deeply subsidized and less risky to the bottom line, it hurts, because housing by itself is not an economic plan. If a CDC were required to provide local jobs for each housing unit built, economics would improve.
Given chronic educational shortfalls, constant adjustments with housing and employment are required to make up the deficit, which will only lift more out of poverty. The Snowdens understood this, too, while many of our CDCs of today have forgotten.
This election really is about us. So when are we going to take a chance on ourselves? When do we stop outsourcing development of our dreams and talents to folks who don’t have any skin in the game? We can deliver viable, sustainable communities for all, but not until we break the current status quo and get back to a planning process blueprinted by institutions like Freedom House.