Looking back on the struggles and triumphs of our community in 2023
What a year 2023 has been.
It tested us, pushed us to the brink and challenged our resolve.
We leave the year as the dead pile up, while nations fight two major wars in Ukraine and Gaza. There are attacks on democracy here and abroad and the assaults on our freedoms continue.
As Republican candidates campaign in nearby New Hampshire in preparation for the 2024 presidential contest, we leave 2023 fighting to hold on to hard-fought gains, including a woman’s right to reproductive freedom and Black students’ access to college. At this moment, one Black woman, Melissa L. Gilliam, is preparing to take her historic role at the helm of Boston University next year, while another, Claudine Gay, is fighting to keep her job as Harvard University’s first Black president.
The lessons of 2023 are many, but as we take a look back, let us remember that our struggle is not over.
In the early part of the year there were moments worth celebrating, including a changing of the guard at the Bay State Banner, which has been in existence since 1965. Its pioneering founder, Mel Miller, sold the paper to my partner Andre Stark, CFO, and me, Ron Mitchell, editor and publisher. We continue to amplify Black stories and the paper’s role as a leader in local journalism.
The year also saw landmark events, including Roxbury Community College’s 50th anniversary and the NAACP’s annual convention in Boston’s Seaport in July. Scores also marked the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington. These events are signs that no matter what the opposition, we as a people will continue to move forward and stand up for the progress we deserve, and that this nation is supposed to represent.
We lost some of our Black giants this year, including Boston civil rights icon Mel King and entertainer Harry Belafonte. The late Mukiya Baker-Gomez had a hand in sending numerous candidates to careers in City Hall, the State House and even Capitol Hill over the course of a half-century of political work.
Across Greater Boston, we celebrate the decision to name Somerville High School’s athletic field for local Black Olympian Phil Reavis Sr. The Somerville native made the cover of Sports Illustrated in February 1956 as “Villanova’s High-Flying Phil Reavis” before competing in that year’s summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia.
There were some serious blows to our civil liberties in 2023, including a decision in June by the mostly conservative Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, ending the national right to abortion that was upheld for a half century.
Also in June, the high court made another historic decision, voting 6-3 to ban the explicit consideration of race in college admissions. It was a stunning decision coming from a court whose integrity is being called into question after a string of stories showed Justice Clarence Thomas, in particular, receiving millions of dollars in questionable gifts from right-wing billionaires, clearly showing some members of the Supreme Court are compromised.
These rulings are helping to turn back the clock in the country.
There was some justice this month for Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, the mother-daughter election workers in Georgia, who were viciously attacked with death threats and other harassment after former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani lied repeatedly about their role in the 2020 elections. Giuliani is a henchman for former president Donald Trump, who has repeated baseless lies that the election he lost was stolen. The women were recently awarded a $148 million verdict in their defamation lawsuit against Giuliani, who has since filed for bankruptcy.
Mayor Michelle Wu ended the year on a healing note when she formally apologized on behalf of the City of Boston for the city’s response to the racist lie that Charles Stuart told about his role in the 1989 murder of his pregnant wife Carol DeMaiti Stuart. She had been shot in the head, but her husband blamed a Black man, unleashing a series of abuses by Boston police on the city’s Black population. Two men, Willie Bennett and Alan Swanson, paid a huge price after being wrongly linked to the white husband’s crime.
As we look forward, I ask you to remember we are the solution to the problems we face, as a people and nation. If we are to continue to rise as a people, we must learn from Boston’s own Mel King.
Move forward despite the fear of others, as King did. Ignore the limitations society tries to impose on you. Call out the injustices that hurt all of us. Ask others to stand with you, require ourselves to be better and never hate.