NAACP Convention: Opportunity for Progress

Written by Teri Williams, Board Chairwoman, and Segun Idowu, Executive Director

 
Delegates to the Niagara Movement meeting in Boston, Massachusetts in 1907

Delegates to the Niagara Movement meeting in Boston, Massachusetts in 1907

 

Is the recent announcement that the NAACP National Convention is coming to Boston in 2020 a cause for celebration or an indication of a need for progress?

City officials have been quick to say, “Hurrah!” and claim this decision is a sign of “progress” or improvement in the area of racial equity. Even The Boston Globe refers to the convention as a “public relations victory” for the City.

However, history would say that bringing 10,000 civil rights activist to Boston signals a need for progress. Indeed, each time the NAACP has come to Boston, it was during a dark period in our racial history.

During the most recent convention, in 1982, Boston was dealing with the lingering effects of busing, violent outbursts against black residents in Dorchester and other neighborhoods and housing discrimination that led to a major lawsuit, which was ultimately won. In 1967, the convention came to Boston as Louise Day Hicks – one of the most publicly unabashed racists in our city – ramped up her campaign for mayor, and on the heels of a protest-turned-riot in Grove Hall when a phalanx of police officers violently reclaimed a building occupied  by Mothers for Adequate Welfare, who were simply seeking dignity. In 1911, black and white residents huddled in Park Street Church to charter the NAACP’s first branch at a time when a massive wave of immigration pitted longtime black residents against new white residents for jobs and housing.

It’s therefore fitting that the NAACP selected Boston for its 2020 national convention as we focus once again on racial inequality. In light of the 2017 Boston NAACP report card, the Globe’s “Spotlight Series” on race and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s “Color of Wealth” report, it’s clear to the nation that Boston is continuing the work needed to address racial inequities.

NAACP Convention delegates in Boston, June 20-25, 1950. At this convention, the NAACP decided that it was time to attack legal segregation wherever it persisted. (Courtesy of Library of Congress)

NAACP Convention delegates in Boston, June 20-25, 1950. At this convention, the NAACP decided that it was time to attack legal segregation wherever it persisted. (Courtesy of Library of Congress)

Today, for example, if the NAACP board and its delegates visit Dudley Square, they will witness empty store fronts, swaths of vacant land and visible signs of inequities. In contrast, if they tour the Seaport, they will see first class buildings, none of which are black owned, occupied by retail tenants and restaurants that are not patronized by black Bostonians. In other words, they’ll see a tale of two cities.

However, “We must do something” solves many more problems than, “Something must be done.” Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley says, “Light is the best disinfectant.” We must ensure that we shine the best light on Boston come July 2020.

We must all work together towards the shared goal of growing our local black businesses and creating jobs in the black community by increasing access and opportunity for black businesses to win contracts. We must commit and adopt an MBE policy prior to the convention that ensures people of color are guaranteed to be part of all development and procurement policies. The "Massport model" should be adopted to make sure inclusionary language is part of the selection criteria for government contracts and diversity of ownership is considered at the city and state level and in other sectors like CDC's and charter schools.

We must provide resources for high quality technical assistance with proven results for black businesses to help build their capacity. The private sector has stepped up recently. The public sector should follow their lead.

We need major employers in Massachusetts to commit to increasing their percentage of black employees following the women's pay equity model and the efforts of Rep. Liz Malia. A third party can hold data on the hiring percentage of black employees at entry through management levels and their representation at the board level. Individual corporate data could be encrypted and aggregated to establish goals and measure progress, with affiliate players such as trainers and community colleges providing support.

To be clear, the selection to host the 2020 national NAACP convention represents a tremendous opportunity that should be celebrated. And Boston has progressed from our historic past. We simply must work together to ensure that the national attention on Boston showcases our community in the best possible light. With July 2020 fast approaching, urgency is needed.