Meet Makeeba McCreary, 2020 Academy of Women Achievers Awardee
On June 2nd, 2020 we will join together and celebrate the achievements of five unstoppable women who demonstrate YW Boston’s mission of eliminating racism and empowering women at our 25th Anniversary Academy of Women Achievers Luncheon.
Since 1995, as part of our mission to promote and celebrate the achievements of women, YW Boston has held the Academy of Women Achievers luncheon. Through this event, we recognize and honor some of Boston’s brightest, boldest, bravest, and most influential women. Leading up to the event, we are sitting down with each of the 2020 awardees for interviews and releasing one each month.
YW Boston is thrilled to induct Makeeba McCreary into the Academy of Women Achievers. As the Patti and Jonathan Kraft Chief of Learning and Community Engagement at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, she integrates diverse perspectives into the MFA’s programs and educational offerings to foster a better understanding of current issues through the lens of art. To learn about Makeeba, read our interview with her:
We are thrilled to honor you at our 25th Academy of Women Achievers on June 2nd. Can you please tell us about your history with YW Boston and what about our work resonates with you?
YW Boston has been in my world since I was a young girl. Even under a different name, growing up in the South End, the building, the programs, the mission were a staple offering that I associated with one of several “safety nets” for our community. The shift in focus to equity, inclusion and bringing diverse perspectives into leadership roles came later, but in many ways, represents a similar sentiment as the one of my childhood.
How were you introduced to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work? How has it impacted your career path thus far?
That’s an interesting question. I don’t know that I ever gave it a name but the constructs of DEI have always been a part of my work – simply because they are the foundation of my personhood. I grew up in a household with a white mother and African American father in the 70s. Boston was a city that was known for its racial divides and my family coexisted in this climate with an undercurrent of true danger. My parents never made me choose to be black or white – in fact they reminded me daily that I was intelligent, beautiful and meaningful to the universe just as I was. In spite of this profuse reinforcement I have vivid memories throughout my childhood, teens, twenties (and even a few decades after that) when society reminded me that I didn’t get to enjoy the same rewards as a white woman or man for the same investment of work. Luckily, I had people around me that continued to chant the mantra that my parents worked hard to instill, and I survived without being entirely depleted of faith in the opportunities that could be ahead of me.
I don’t know when, but sometime early in my career I realized that many children and young adults of color did not have these same champions. I also decided that they shouldn’t need them in order to participate in the world as fully equipped citizens. I have a mentor who gets on me about using the word “agency,” but I think she would condone it here because I’m going to offer the definition. The end game for DEI is that every young person – regardless of any part of their identity be it culture, gender, ability etc. – is so full of agency that they expect every opportunity is at their disposal. They demand it be so. That is the end of the rainbow. Right now we still have beautiful, intelligent, upcoming leaders who self select out of opportunities because they anticipate that they will be excluded for one of these reasons. That is unacceptable and as long as I have a platform to work on these issues I don’t see that there’s any other choice.
You are known as a champion for youth of color in Boston. What does it mean to you to be an advocate?
I am? That’s lovely. It means a lot to know this is true, but I would say I’m a champion for young people period – especially those who need a protector, cheerleader, or even someone to provide some tough love. I’m here to remind them that they are “everything” and that they will find that champion not only in me, but in many others as well. There are so many folks out here loving on our young people and pushing them to take up as much space as they can possibly can.
In the past you have stated that you understand those who do not regularly go to the Museum of Fine Arts, in part due to a lack of equity in such spaces. Why do you feel it is important for cultural institutions to prioritize diversity and inclusion?
Mainly because it’s our responsibility. The MFA is “of Boston.” We might host international visitors but our family are those who live here – in this city and state. We must be a place where everyone feels welcome. One of the reasons I took the position at the MFA was because of Matthew Teitelbaum’s strategic plan and his emphasis on the core value of inclusion. The strategic plan was an important step in creating a long-term path forward for the Museum in creating equity – both internally and externally. Part of the process was the creation of my leadership team position, and I can’t stress enough how important that is – for the MFA, and for all museums. In order to achieve inclusion, museums must be intentional in hiring and creating an internal structure that prioritizes collaboration across departments – from curatorial to communications to education. It is the only way forward.
I just had my one-year anniversary and I feel like we’ve already accomplished quite a bit as we work toward creating a space for all of Boston to feel welcome. We’ve completely restructured the Learning and Community Division to include a department of Inclusion, and I’m currently managing the search for a new Senior Director of Belonging and Inclusion to lead this area.
The MFA has expressed a commitment to collaborate and engage with communities more deeply through various initiatives, including the MFA 2020 strategic plan. As Chief of Learning and Community Engagement, what projects are you most looking forward to implementing?
There are so many! In the past year, we’ve made some great strides by adding community celebrations for Latinx heritage month and Indigenous Peoples Day, and I look forward to continued success with those two celebrations. In 2020, as part of the MFA’s 150th anniversary, we’re providing free memberships to visitors at our community celebrations and Late Nites events. Our goal is to have anyone who attends a community celebration feel comfortable enough at the MFA to come any day of the week. Working on that second invitation to new members is an important priority for all of us in our commitment to engage with different audiences.
Partnerships are also key to our path forward, and an initiative I’m incredibly proud of is on view now. The exhibition Black Histories, Black Futures is curated by six local teens, selected through a new partnership with youth empowerment organizations Becoming a Man, The Base and Bloomberg Arts Initiative. The exhibition was conceived during the strategic plan and I was able to put together the partnership shortly after starting at the Museum. The students have been at the MFA since July, working with their mentor Layla Bermeo to curate this exhibition that is centrally located in the Museum and speaks volumes about what we want to achieve.
Our tag line for AWA is ‘Unstoppable Women Changing Boston’. What advice do you have for women working toward equity in the City of Boston?
Hmmm. Self care. We don’t talk about it enough and I’m not an expert but I’m working to respect myself enough to recognize that if I want to be “unstoppable” I have to know when to “pause.” Equity is a large mountain that continues to change its shape. It is a threatening concept for those who believe that they will give something up if others end up with a gain, and that threat can be a powerful weapon. This work is hard and sometimes the reward is slow to come. So we need to remember that taking care of ourselves is the only way to stay in the cause.
Learn more from Makeeba McCreary at our 25th Annual Academy of Women Achievers Luncheon on Tuesday, June 2, 2020.