PARTICIPANTS: Gerardo “Jerry” Villacres, retired founder of El Planeta newspaper; Carol Fulp, CEO of The Partnership, an organization that trains professionals of color; The Rev. Miniard Culpepper, pastor of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Dorchester; and Suzanne Lee, a 2011 candidate for the Boston City Council and former principal of the Josiah Quincy School in Chinatown
Kenneth J. Cooper
Kenneth J. Cooper: I want each of you to talk about the distance you think Boston has traveled on diversity.
Miniard Culpepper: I can really speak comfortably about growing up here and looking at Boston from a youthful perspective and looking at it today. The church that I pastor, my grandfather founded and built in 1939. Boston has come from a long list of challenges, desegregation, busing. I didn’t realize how polarized and segregated Boston was until the [US District Judge W. Arthur] Garrity decision [in 1974 that found unconstitutional racial segregation in Boston public schools], and then it became clear that Boston had a lot of race challenges to overcome, specifically with the educational system. I think Boston has come a long way; I think we have a long way to go. I look at city government now, and the representation in upper management — 10 percent Hispanic and African-American [males], 12 percent women [of color] in City Hall leadership positions.
Carol Fulp: I would tend to agree. First of all, this is a journey, and we’ve come a long way. I used to live in Newton, and now I love the fact that my friends who live in Newton can very proudly say their mayor’s black and their governor’s black and their president’s black. In Massachusetts, that you can say that, that’s a long way on the journey. But I think the journey now is more complex. We, from a corporate perspective, are at a crossroads. Take a look at the election and the demographic shift. That shift represents the pool of candidates for corporate jobs. How do we make sure we’re embracing this new talent pool and ensuring we have corporate climates where everyone can thrive? We’re on our way, but I think there’s real opportunity to strengthen that.
Suzanne Lee: I was a teacher at the old Josiah Quincy Elementary School in 1975, the year they started busing elementary school children. I rode the buses with children from the South End and Chinatown to Charlestown. Chinese parents, a group of mothers — limited English-speaking, garment workers — would come to me and say, “Miss Lee, what is this, where is this school, and where is Charlestown?” They just wanted to know how their children could be safe.
On the parents council, whites would have so many seats, blacks would have so many, and then there was a category called “others.” Hispanics and Asians were considered others. Everything we would bring up, the School Department would say, “but you don’t count. This is a black and white case.”
Now we are always very aware of the diversity in the school population. Nobody’s called “others.” Yet when you look at the number of people who are working at the top level of city government, what do you say? There are 13 members on the City Council, and our city is 53 percent people of color. What percentage of the council [is people of color]? I feel the change on the ground more than in [top] positions.
Jerry Villacres: I have a different perspective because I’m here in Boston for only 14 years. I came to open some Hispanic radio stations, after all the upheaval. One of the things when I came to Boston that surprised me, was the Latino community held no positions of power basically at all.
Another thing I oftentimes think is there is no real connection between our communities, African-American, Asian, Latino. We live next to each other but not with each other yet. And that’s not only in Boston, that’s in the United States in general. My hope would be that we could share our stories.
Lee: We have to create opportunity for that [to] happen. I can cite an example that is really successful: Castle Square, a housing complex right between Chinatown and the South End. When there were more Chinese moving into the area, which is predominately African-American, people were really upset. Today they coexist and help each other and learn that the Chinese Progressive Association helped create the tenants organization. You have blacks and Chinese on the board.
Culpepper: One of the things that happened with this election, I think, [is] Asians, Latinos, and African-Americans saw how powerful that coalition is. I think we have that same coalition in Boston. I don’t think we’ve yet realized that we have the power in our hands. I think we’ll see the transition when — at some point, we’re going to have a minority mayor.Continued...