Home Youth activism In female-dominated mayoral election, some black men turn to John Barros

In female-dominated mayoral election, some black men turn to John Barros

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Barros, the city’s former economic development chief and a community leader himself, recently launched the ‘Black and Brown Men’s Roundtable’ to focus on an often overlooked group in the city – a group that he and others believe they are not getting enough attention in the mayoral race.

Mayoral candidate John Barros said he had started organizing the roundtable to give voice to a long neglected group. Barry Chin / Globe Staff

Barros said he decided to hold the meeting to give black men a voice on what matters to them in the city.

“While I was campaigning, black men asked me if my campaign could be a platform for their voices,” Barros said in an interview after Wednesday’s roundtable, the second of five he plans, which will be broadcast live on Facebook. . “I wanted to make sure I provided a space to talk about our ideas. “

Black men’s issues have gained new momentum this year, amid a nationwide racial awakening that resonated throughout the city. An effort is underway to revive a commission of black men, which aims to register and engage 20,000 voters. And a large number of black men are running for a seat on the city council.

Still, this year’s mayoral race shed light on the historic rise of women (and people of color) in search of the corner town hall office. Barros is the only black man competing – and the only major male contender – and he’s trailing four female prospects as the contest returns to the campaign in person. These small gatherings bring him closer to a key element as he strives to garner support for his candidacy.

Black men make up 11% of likely preliminary voters, according to David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, which conducted a poll in June with The Globe. (Thirteen percent are black voters).

“It’s bigger than the entire Asian American electoral bloc, and it’s almost as large as the entire Hispanic electoral bloc. It’s an important part of the preliminary electorate, ” Paleologos said. The question, he added, is how these voters perceive the top candidates.

Racism, at 29 percent, was by far the biggest problem for black men, followed by economy / employment (at 20 percent), housing (16 percent) and education (14 percent). cent), said Paleologos..

There is also history here. Black men were the first politicians of color to join city council. For the past 50 years, Mel King in 1983 and Tito Jackson in 2017 – both black politicians – have been the only people of color to make it to the general election in Boston municipal election history.

But the success was fleeting. The last time a black man was elected to a general council seat was 40 years ago.

Barros’ outreach to black men has resonated with some observers, who agree that this constituency is largely overlooked in this year’s political contest and deserves to have a voice over this city’s future.

Jackson, who served as District 7 councilor for six years, said all efforts to target Black men help elevate their problems. Black men rank low on several indicators, including educational attainment, employment rate, and life expectancy. And they’re looking for a candidate who talks about these issues and can institute lasting change.

“These issues need to be addressed by every candidate, in every office, especially in the mayoral race,” said Jackson, who did not attend the roundtable. “As the last black man to sit on the board, the problems black men face shouldn’t just be dealt with by the black man [in office]. Civil servants are elected to serve all people, especially those who have been left behind and left behind. “

Candidates in the race addressed these issues, but Leonard Lee, a District Four City Council candidate who was also not present at the meeting, said black men needed stronger advocacy, in especially with regard to their mental health. “We are marginalized. Everyone thinks that everything will be fine. But they don’t really deal with our problems [enough]said Lee, who led the ‘I am a man’ march on Father’s Day last year in Roxbury which drew 500 people.

David Halbert, a candidate for general council, said the lack of an elected male voice in municipal government has been detrimental to the city.

“I’m happy that John is calling these groups and having these conversations,” he added. “But there must be more. Regardless of what happens during the election campaign, we have to anticipate what will happen over the next four years. “

At Wednesday’s event, Barros stressed to the men that the roundtable was not an effort to gain approval, but rather a safe space to speak openly.

“It is essential that we hold these spaces, it is essential that we find our voice in the city and that we are part of the conversation,” he said.

Retired juvenile court judge Leslie Harris, who attended the meeting, said he was happy the conversation centered on the black community and women as the city’s leaders. He said he recognizes the strong and vital role women play in Boston, but “I also know black men are being left out,” said Harris, who lives in Roxbury.

Two of his children are black men and all of his nine grandchildren except one are young men, he said. He worries about them “I worry about how young men are loved,” he said. “You go to colleges, you go to vocational schools and there is [few] Black men. . . . I fear black men will be killed – between jail and killing each other – and just be marginalized. That scares me. Yes, it really is.

During the event, James Hills, host of the online show “JavawithJimmy”, and Abrigal Forrester, executive director of the Center for Teen Empowerment, spoke about their activism. Barros spoke of his young son struggling with a music camp. “I told him to hang on because I didn’t have this opportunity,” he said.

Abrigal Forrester, executive director of the Center for Teen Empowerment, spoke on Wednesday while Turahn Dorsey, the city's former education chief, attended the Black Men's Roundtable at Restaurante Cesaria in Dorchester.
Abrigal Forrester, executive director of the Center for Teen Empowerment, spoke on Wednesday while Turahn Dorsey, the city’s former education chief, attended the Black Men’s Roundtable at Restaurante Cesaria in Dorchester.Barry Chin / Globe Staff

Conan Harris, a close ally of Barros who led the conversation, highlighted the pandemic’s toll on black men, including lost jobs, cases of COVID and other hardships. Turahn Dorsey, who was chief education adviser to former Mayor Martin J. Walsh, spoke of the loss of his father.

Pastor Chris Sumner of Jubilee Christian Church, told how he managed to create a sense of trust among the young men in his neighborhood by letting them play in his yard rather than on the streets. And Forrester explained how he befriended the kids who use the park near his home.

Sumner also described how he was able to find healing through therapy and God after dealing with the trauma that followed after being sexually assaulted in his youth.

“I am in a place [in my life now] and I want to be in raw critical conversations about black male mental health, ”Sumner said after the discussion.

Jameel Williams, left, speaks while Joseph Bennett, former CEO of YardTime Entertainment, Inc, right, listens during the panel discussion.
Jameel Williams, left, speaks while Joseph Bennett, former CEO of YardTime Entertainment, Inc, right, listens during the panel discussion.
Barry Chin / Globe Staff

It was also a moment for Joseph Bennett, who has served more than two decades in prison and who first shared during the chat, broadcast on Facebook Live, how he handled his bipolar disorder.

“I’m not ashamed of it. I’m taking care of it [through] therapy, ”he said. “I tell people about it, just so it doesn’t get in my way.”

He said he didn’t recognize he was bipolar until he started seeing a therapist. Being able to talk about it, Bennett said, allows him to let young men know that “it’s OK to deal with mental health issues and it’s OK to. [talk about it]. This is not a bad thing.


You can reach Meghan E. Irons at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.