|Rev. Jesse Jackson applauds Rev. Al Sharpton Thursday at the National Urban League’s convention in Boston. (Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff)|
A new day for blacks in Boston
IT STARTED as a few voices of pleasure and gratitude, some tinged with surprise, but by the end it was a full-blown chorus of praise.
The Urban League’s national conference last week was a success for those who attended and a milestone for Darnell Williams, president of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts.
Most important, it was a significant step forward - perhaps even a turning point - for the city of Boston.
“I will be an ambassador for Boston,’’ said nationally syndicated talk-show host Warren Ballentine, who moved his studio from Atlanta to the Boston Convention and Exposition Center for the week. “I’ve been all over the city, and everyone’s been great.’’
The success of the conference gives a cause to celebrate, and a reason to build.
This was not guaranteed. Too often, Boston still earns its reputation for being chilly to visitors generally. And race relations too often still rankle. Earlier this year, the owners of the Cure Lounge paid a fine and apologized for shutting down an event hosted by black Harvard students following the Harvard-Yale game last fall. One wonders how often such things happen, with less fanfare, when the blacks involved are not from Harvard.
The Urban League had skirted Boston for 35 years - with reason. As the representative of Blacks in Government, another predominantly African-American organization, told Boston convention chief Jim Rooney several years ago, “Why would I bring 5,000 black people to Boston? They don’t want to come.’’
That has now changed. The Urban League was here, and Blacks in Government is also coming, later this month. Can the NAACP be far behind?
Hosting such events makes the city an instant winner economically. Studies show blacks are a third less likely to visit Boston than cities like San Francisco, Miami, and Philadelphia. Closing that gap would mean millions in tourist dollars annually.
Just as important, Boston, and the whole state, depend on a “knowledge economy’’ that seeks the best and brightest from all over the world. The region needs to recapture the status it once had as a world leader in diversity and inclusion.
To do so, it should build on last week’s success with a national marketing campaign to erase the vestiges of that harmful reputation. The city and the state have tourist offices. The Massachusetts Convention Center Authority and the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau are major players. The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and other business groups have a stake, as does Massport. The Ad Club, which sponsors the Rosoff diversity awards, has the experience and talent to make a big contribution.
All that is needed is for these folks to do something a bit novel in Massachusetts - collaborate.
Which leads to another recommendation: Build on significant research to tackle the most pressing gaps that remain - stubborn gaps in education, housing, health outcomes, criminal justice, and employment.
National data show that the recession has made the wealth gap between whites and blacks wider than ever. A recent State of Black Boston report could help form a framework for further action on pressing gaps.
The very fact that the report was produced is a positive sign of Boston’s commitment to further progress. It cannot be left to gather dust.
At the end of the conference, organizers gave out fortune cookies with a common message: “You’ve got a friend in Boston.’’ Truth to tell, the cookies were a bit stale. But the message was fresh.
Robert L. Turner, co-director of Commonwealth Compact, was co-chair of Boston’s Civic Engagement Committee for the Urban League conference.