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Rahsaan Hall takes helm at Urban League

Brockton resident and former ACLU director to lead historic organization

Leah Samuel
Rahsaan Hall takes helm at Urban League

The Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts has chosen Rahsaan D. Hall as the 104-year-old organization’s new president and chief executive officer, beginning June 5.

In a news release, interim CEO J. Keith Motley called Hall “uniquely positioned to champion communities here in Eastern Massachusetts,” meaning historically marginalized ones.

Hall lives in Brockton, a former Underground Railroad stop that now boasts — at 51% — the state’s highest proportion of Black residents. “It’s the Blackest city in New England,” he quipped.

The civil rights lawyer and former prosecutor credits his upbringing with giving him a strong sense of Black community. “I grew up being exposed to the civil rights movement, through the stories of family members as well as through books and documentary series like ‘Eyes on the Prize.’”

Born and raised in Denver, Hall graduated from The Ohio State University and earned his law degree at Northeastern University. After serving eight years as a Suffolk County assistant district attorney, Hall became deputy director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights.

In 2015, Hall joined the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts as director of the organization’s racial justice program. There, Hall led educational campaigns, such as “Reimagining Community Safety,” which focused on new ways of reducing crime.

“There’s not a lot of evidence that suggests that this system actually keeps our community safer,” he said, “compared to the level of safety we could have if people’s underlying needs and concerns were addressed.”

Hall pointed to problems like addiction, mental illness and poverty. “These are the things that overwhelmingly lead to people being involved in the criminal legal system,” he said. “If we can begin to make sure that those issues are being addressed on the front end, we have we don’t have to rely on the criminal legal system to keep our community safe.”

As a former assistant district attorney, Hall is distinctly aware of a district attorney’s role in prosecuting people accused of crimes. In another ACLU campaign, “What a Difference a DA Makes,” he focused on how district attorneys could play a role in criminal justice reform.

“I think that what DAs should really do on the front end is divert more people out of the system,” he said. “There’s the empirical data that supports the idea that people who are diverted out of the system earlier on are less likely to be rearrested or to face the criminal legal system in the future.”

Hall added that for those accused of crimes, the legal system greatly hampers their ability to live their lives.

“When a person has an open case, that impacts their ability to maintain or seek employment. Same thing when they have a criminal conviction,” he said. “When people are held on bail or detained in custody, that is subjecting them to trauma and, in some instances, violent situations inside those facilities.”

Hall also pointed to what he calls “an overwhelming number” of low-level, nonviolent offenses for which people are incarcerated.

“And in that amount of [jail or prison] time, they are not getting the services or treatment or educational opportunities or job training that they need, that would help them reintegrate back into society successfully,” he said. “So, the more that prosecutors invest in diverting people out of the system or using restorative justice programs and practices to resolve and mediate conflicts, I think we would get better outcomes.”

Hall added that money seized from drug or human trafficking can help pay for improved practices.

“We could use those funds to invest not in more police and prosecution, but in more community-based crime prevention programs,” he said.

Putting his ideas up front after he left the ACLU, he ran unsuccessfully for the district attorney in Plymouth County. Hall makes clear, however, that his Urban League job will extend his mission further.

“The Urban League platform is clearly much broader,” he said. “I see the work of the Urban League having a collateral benefit to the concerns that lead to people being involved in the criminal legal system. By also focusing on workforce development, job training and entrepreneurship, we’re creating opportunities for people to have good employment and livable wages.”

Hall pointed out that businesses owned by people of color, particularly Black-owned businesses, increase employment in their communities.

“One of the greatest drivers of wealth in communities are small businesses,” he added, “So let’s ensure that there aren’t roadblocks to people in Black communities or communities of color starting their businesses, and that they have the supports and services that they need.”

Former president Darnell Williams left ULEM in 2019, and interim CEO Motley has led it for the past four years. Hall looks to continue the organization’s longstanding work in such areas as improving health awareness, mentoring young people and increasing civic engagement.

“That’s what we have historically done at the Urban League, but I seek to do it in a more robust way,” Hall said. “We want to continue the strong programming that we’re already doing but then make assessment of the areas where there is an opportunity for growth and lean into those areas.”

As examples, he mentioned environmental justice and the green economy, particularly green jobs.

“Our communities are the ones who are overwhelmingly impacted by environmental injustice,” Hall said, “so we should be the communities that are benefiting from environmental justice initiatives and the employment that gets created through those.”

With a master’s of divinity from Andover Newton Theological School, Hall is also an ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. His faith, he said, also drives his advocacy.

“As I read scripture, God is showing up on the side of the oppressed. What has been done to the least of us has all also been done unto God,” he said. “That part of the Christian ethos is to stand in the gap for the marginalized, the disenfranchised and the oppressed, so I’ve made a point of my career to always be in a role of service.”

Hall lives with his wife Trinette, a social worker and community volunteer. They have two adult children.

Rahsaan Hall, ULEM, Urban League