Late last month, Boston Herald contributor Kevin Peterson wrote a controversial op-ed titled “Wilkerson angling for a way back into community life.” The focus was on former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson, and with its skeptical assessment of her character, spurred much conversation in the Black community. Everyone already knows Wilkerson, whose triumphs and troubles have both been well-documented. But the question is: Who is Kevin Peterson?
Peterson’s Herald credit simply reads, “a senior fellow at the Center for Collaborative Leadership at the University of Massachusetts Boston and founder of the New Democracy Coalition.” But he is so much more. Peterson has been angling for decades to establish himself as one of Boston’s best and brightest Black leaders. Like many of us, myself included, Kevin is flawed. And in his case against Wilkerson, he is also hypocritical.
Peterson sets the disparaging tone in his first line: “Former Roxbury state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson is an insatiable political animal whose appetite for power and influence knows no end.” This is problematic out the gate because Kevin is no dummy; he is certainly smart enough to know about the connotations of calling anyone, particularly a Black person, particularly a Black woman, an animal. We have been fighting the animalization of Black people in literature, media, and pop culture for decades.
As a political commentator in the current climate, I would think Peterson would know better. To write such things in the Herald is problematic in and of itself, with the paper’s history of racism and stereotypes, most recently displayed in a cartoon in which a caricature of President Obama appeared using watermelon-flavored toothpaste. Then there are the online comments, in which Herald readers often refer to our community as “the jungle,” and to our people as “animals,” “savages,” and yes, even as “monkeys.”
Peterson is apparently attempting to be seen as an intellectual voice of reason, a behind-the-scenes convener and a major player. Really, though, the Herald, a European monarchy, enjoys a good target on a platter, and Kevin, aiming to please, delivered what he thought to be the head of Dianne. But perhaps it is his head that should be served. Let’s look at some of the dismissive language he resorted to using:
- “Wilkerson complains constantly, especially about the frailties of black politics in Boston.”
- “Despite her past disgraces, Wilkerson deserves credit for pointing out the dysfunction in the black community.”
- “Wilkerson plans to release a book later this year documenting her “surreal” life. In it she “names” many in black leadership—including black preachers—who she says forced her out of public life. That’s a bad choice. She should burn the book before it ever sees the light of day.”
- “Wilkerson refuses to go away. But let’s hope her past corrupt habits and ethical lapses are gone forever.”
In summary: Dianne Wilkerson is a disgraced insatiable animal with corrupt habits who is hungry for influence and power, complains constantly, and refuses to disappear. The irony here is plain and simple: The above description more accurately describes Peterson than it does Wilkerson. Let’s start with his appetite for “influence and power” …
Peterson is a former executive director of the Ella J. Baker House, a Dorchester nonprofit, and a protege of Rev. Eugene Rivers. In 2011, Peterson founded the New Democracy Coalition, and has himself appeared in the newspaper long before he started writing columns in the Herald. In 2005, he was featured prominently in the same publication that now provides a platform for his often skewed opinions. From an article by former Herald reporter (and occasional DigBoston contributor) Dave Wedge titled, “Trail of Trouble: Election task force boss is a deadbeat dad” …
A non-profit boss tabbed by Mayor Thomas M. Menino to head up a board organized to clean up Boston’s elections is a deadbeat dad currently wanted on a criminal warrant. Kevin C. Peterson, who was appointed by Menino in August to co-chair the Mayor’s Advisory Task Force, owes more than $41,000 in back child support to two women for his two children, according to Department of Revenue records.
Kevin Peterson has also had two restraining orders taken out against him by ex-girlfriends, one of whom accused him of abuse. There is also currently a criminal warrant for Kevin Peterson’s arrest out of Dorchester District Court for a host of motor vehicle violations, officials said.
In addition to several motor vehicle charges, Peterson’s rap sheet includes a 2001 rape case in which he was accused of sexually assaulting an ex-girlfriend while she slept. The rape and kidnapping charges were dismissed after a superior court grand jury failed to return an indictment. While the rape case was pending, his accuser told cops Peterson showed up at her house, banging on the window, and called her 66 times.
Peterson says that Wilkerson is “long on complaints,” and sprinkles in comments about her “corrupt habits and ethical lapses” and “past disgraces.” Here’s what Wedge reported one day later, on October 25th, 2005:
The Herald has also learned that the “Nonprofit” New Democracy Coalition Peterson founded four years ago has never registered with the secretary of state’s office and is not a registered political organization with the Internal Revenue Service …
Who knew the Herald was this liberal? They actually gave column space to a troubled Black man who they once condemned as a deadbeat dad and woman abuser. On the other hand, here we are with a public assault on arguably the most important, beloved and effective Black woman ever to hold public office in Massachusetts. Peterson writes, “Wilkerson doesn’t blink when the famous FBI photo of her stuffing bribery cash into her bra is evoked.” I wonder if Peterson blinks at press recountings of his child support violations and restraining orders. I also wonder how much money the New Democracy Coalition has received over the years, and from whom?
I’ve had a troubled past, including going to jail in 1995, being shot in 2004, using drugs, and even being abusive to women in my youth. I have told my story publicly, and used it in attempts to better myself and others. The last woman I put my hands on was when I was 19, and I have since become an anti-domestic violence advocate. The last time I touched cocaine or was in jail was 20 years ago, and I live by a high code of moral and spiritual ethics. As for Wilkerson, Peterson himself quotes her as saying, “I’ve gone around my community and said, ‘I’m sorry.’ I did it, I did it. What they accused me of, I accept it. But I have to move on.” Nevertheless, Peterson accuses her of stopping “short of contrition for past deeds.” It’s ironic, Peterson accusing someone else of lacking remorse, but not nearly as ironic as the fact that his attack ran in the Herald.
Jamarhl Crawford is a community activist and the publisher of the Blackstonian. A version of this column appeared on blackstonian.com.