Boston City Council Tackles Racial Stereotypes, History

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Acknowledging the City of Boston’s racial dynamics and its own most diverse makeup ever, Boston’s City Council on Thursday completed an intensive 4-part, 8-hour YWCA Boston interracial dialogue, setting an example for other Boston residents and government leaders across the country.

The dialogue for Council members and their staff – professionally facilitated by YWCA volunteers Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination Director of Training Rebecca Shuster and diversity consultant Madison Thompson – took place over the course of four months. Each session allowed Councilors and their staff members to reflect on their own experiences with racial and ethnic prejudice, learn about others’ experiences, and consider strategies to address issues of race in Boston.

After completing the last of the sessions yesterday, the councilors agreed that the experience was eye-opening and helpful to building stronger and more open relationships between the members.

“Living and working in this city, and raising my three children in it, has given me the opportunity to appreciate Boston’s diversity,” says City Councilor Robert Consalvo, who along with new city Councilor Felix G. Arroyo, sponsored the project. “At the same time, you cannot truly participate in building this city without acknowledging Boston’s past and dealing with the realities of how race and ethnicity continue to impact the key issues facing the city.”

“The City Council continues to increasingly reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of Boston,” said Arroyo. “If we want our residents to step across perceived racial divides, and for the nation to believe we have begun to transcend our history, we felt we needed to take steps ourselves. Before we could take substantive action on a sensitive issue like race, we needed to break down some of our own unspoken barriers between us.”

Having completed the dialogue series, the Council’s first step is to proclaim Friday, April 30 as Boston’s first annual YWCA Stand Against Racism Day. More than 30 Boston sites – companies, churches, colleges, health centers and neighborhood groups – are promoting Boston’s diversity on that day and throughout the weekend by producing numerous public and private events ( ) that demonstrate Boston’s unity and desire for greater racial harmony. YWCA organizers estimate more than 2,500 citizens will participate in the inaugural activities.

“We’re delighted that the City Council took on this important project and that so many other Boston institutions are following its example, ” said YWCA Boston President & CEO Sylvia Ferrell-Jones. “Together we can begin to erase Boston’s divided past and work to building a better, stronger and more united community for all.”

The City Council’s interracial dialogue was the first since YWCA Boston assumed responsibility for the all-volunteer City Wide Dialogues on Boston’s Racial and Ethnic Diversity. Founded in 2003, professional volunteer facilitators have engaged more than 2,000 Boston residents in racial discussions. YWCA staff members believe this is the first City Council nationwide to participate in multi-session dialogues on race.

“I was personally moved by the Councilor’s courage to listen to one another’s experiences deeply, to consider new perspectives, and to begin to envision what our beloved city and nation would look like if we eliminated racism,” said co-facilitator Rebecca Shuster. “I can’t wait to see the thoughtful and bold leadership that will follow.”

Dialogues are currently underway in Hyde Park, Dorchester and Grove Hall, with others planned soon. To volunteer as a facilitator or participate, please contact YWCA Boston at (617) 585-5423 or