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Walsh pushes for equity in city hires

Executive order requires officials to undergo training on systemic racism

Trea Lavery
Walsh pushes for equity in city hires
Mayor Martin Walsh signs his executive order at the African Meeting House. PHOTO: MAYOR’S OFFICE PHOTO BY JOHN WILCOX

Mayor Martin Walsh signed an executive order last Wednesday promoting racial equity in city departments.

The executive order will require all city departments to participate in a Racial Equity and Leadership training and develop a proactive plan for resilience, racial equity and social justice. It will also encourage the review of current policies and programs across departments with a focus on racial equity.

“It’s our obligation to move people forward,” Walsh said. “Even though we shouldn’t have to do it in 2019. We should be an equal society, but unfortunately we’re not.”

The work outlined in the executive order, which was originally announced in Walsh’s State of the City address earlier this month, will be carried out in collaboration with the Mayor’s Office of Resilience and Racial Equity, an office established by Walsh in 2015.

“We know that communities of color constitute 53 percent of Boston, and we are conscious of the role that the city needs to play in elevating those communities,” said Lori Nelson, the city’s chief resilience officer. “The City of Boston is committed to working with community members, leaders, organizations, and institutions to create effective programs and practices that work to advance racial equity and strengthen social cohesion across every city agency.”

In 2014, Boston was named part of the 100 Resilient Cities Network, which provides the city with resources for combating a number of modern economic and social challenges. With the help of these resources, Walsh released the city’s first Resilience Strategy in 2017, which focuses on promoting racial equity.

The trainings laid out in the order will focus on understanding institutional and systemic racism, implicit bias, racial equity framing and community engagement strategies, as well as personal and institutional roles and responsibilities in achieving racial equity in the city.

The order comes in advance of a city-led study on racial, ethnic and gender disparities on city spending, expected to launch later this year.

In a ceremony held at the Museum of African-American History on Beacon Hill, Walsh and advocates for racial equality spoke about the order and its importance for the city, which has long been criticized for its history of racism.

Walsh emphasized the need to use data and standardized performance assessments to be sure that all city departments are meeting the city’s goals for equity.

“If we don’t do it as a city, there’s no reason why companies and other agencies have to do it if we’re telling them to do it and we don’t do it ourselves,” Walsh said.

City Council President Andrea Campbell said in a statement that she supported the order, and thanked the mayor for signing it.

“I applaud the mayor for recognizing that our city government not only needs to acknowledge the existence of racial inequality but also be intentional about addressing it at every level, person by person,” Campbell said. “I look forward to working with the mayor during our budget review to ensure all city departments have adequate resources to comply with the order.”

NAACP Boston Branch President Tanisha Sullivan said the executive order is a positive step forward for the Walsh administration.

“Certainly we’re pleased that the mayor’s effort is joining in the fight for equality that our organization and others have been in for the last 100 years,” she said. “We look forward to the release of the implementation program for the training and equity assessment.”

While Walsh said that the order was only one piece of the solution to achieving racial equity in Boston, he added that it would someday be seen as a milestone in the city’s history.

“Every now and then we have to take a step back, all of us, and appreciate the struggle that got us to this point,” Walsh said. “We are a small little speck of the story, but we are part of the story. Each and every person in this room is part of the story… And that’s something that we have to think about, how powerful it is.”

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