“What a lot of people don’t understand is that protests are just the beginning of a revolution.”
Black Boston, a youth-driven Black liberation organization, was founded this year as protests swept the country. Individuals initially issued a call to action on Twitter, rallying forces on social media.
Now that summer’s over, the group’s COO Toiell Washington is hearing people ask: In the aftermath of a season of rallying, what comes next?
“We sat and thought about how we kind of already have this platform—now, what do we do with it?” Washington said in an interview, noting that Black Boston is working to become more structured and organized in hopes of developing a more permanent foothold. “It took us a few days of collecting ourselves, trying to think about everything that’s been going on, and fully recharging. We decided we wanted to turn this into a community organization. It originally started with three women, myself, and two others who organized the protests. … We thought about the needs of the Black community in Boston right now. ”
The two main priorities of Black Boston that emerged from those discussions: political advocacy and education. The advocacy team is currently in daily meetings with elected officials, Washington said, and is focused on the reallocation of police funding to social workers, teachers, or low-income housing. At the same time, the education branch of Black Boston is creating workshops for Boston Public Schools about Black history, generational trauma, allyships, and other forms of anti-racist education—subjects that are not typically offered in classrooms.
On multiple fronts, the region’s Black liberation movement is experiencing changes and shifts, with organizations looking to see what kind of work needs to be done beyond protest marches. Many stakeholders and groups that have been active for decades are continuing critical work in their wheelhouses, in many cases at an accelerated pace—Mass Police Reform and the Boston Branch of the NAACP, for example, are grinding away on the details of reform bills at the municipal and state levels. The past five years have also seen new organizations assemble, especially over the past five months. With the cold setting in and reform measures being discussed in various venues, Washington said this is a time of transition. (Read up on progress made by the Boston Police Reform Task Force here.)
“There’s definitely new work that needs to be done,” the Black Boston organizer said. “What a lot of people don’t understand is that protests are just the beginning of a revolution. They’re not the end of it. Even if justice was served for the police who wrongfully murdered innocent Black people, it’s still not done. … A lot of people assume that just because protests and rallies aren’t happening as often, that things aren’t happening. But that’s because they’re happening behind closed doors.”
Monica Cannon-Grant, founder of the organization Violence in Boston, established the group’s Social Impact Center in Hyde Park in September. The facility has a studio and podcasting area for young people, a computer center, healing space for mental health professionals, social work assistance, and an on-site food pantry. With coronavirus concerns in play, the center also does door-to-door deliveries, while its Safestay program for victims of violence provides emergency housing, and a program called Transcend aims to support young men who have been through the criminal justice system with employment, trauma and healthcare services, and “all the things they are going to need to be successful and not go back to jail,” according to Cannon-Grant.
“[It’s] painful,” the organizer added. “When you leave, it’s like you’re leaving your brothers behind. A lot of them are doing life. Some are waiting for parole, but some will never come home. It’s painful to see because they’re fathers, and they’re uncles, and they’re sons.”
Daunasia Yancey, a lead organizer with Black Lives Matter Boston, said that now is a time for people to be “leveling up,” reevaluating roles, becoming more streamlined as a movement, strengthening partnerships, and building security. Karlene Griffiths-Sekou, who is also in a leadership role with BLM Boston, said that she hopes to see people be clear and intentional about their principles, and strategic about their goals: “Moving forward is going to always include [the questions]: How do we remain secure and how do we provide for those on the margins? How do we continue to push, to reimagine and reconstruct this idea of a society … to reconstruct how we live and how we understand what it means to be human, the kind of systems that it will take to support human flourishing and human dignity?”
For the People, a collective founded by Black and brown youth that emphasizes defunding the police, is also undergoing changes. According to organizer Queen-Cheyenne Wade, the group is trying to support existing community infrastructure, with an emphasis on mutual aid and direct reparations. Wade said that she has seen a transition in the Black liberation movement, as community members are seeking out next steps.
“…[There is a] shift that is really beautiful and is going to be making history,” Wade said. “There has been a huge shift in the ways that people are engaging in the practice of organizing and the practice of solidarity. Boston has this very liberal label … that comes with a lot of conversation but not with a lot of action. What I’ve seen in that shift, specifically within the Black liberation movement in Boston, is we have seen more engagement.”
Wade continued, “People are creating programs and structures, not just with outreach but with education. This definitely engages us with a way to further practice this and moves further away from the conversation, which of course is still important and needs to be had. But I think now we’re really understanding that the conversation has to be met with a similar or equally powerful action.”
Whichever tactics and approaches groups use to advance the movement, Wade said it is critical for this work to be done by individuals as well, since it takes more than the effort of visible organizations.
“Specifically thinking about police abolition and prison abolition, I would urge people to work on this in an outward-facing way … to also really think about how you engage with the system,” Wade said. “This movement is so big, and it’s so vast, and it’s so important. But you must think about the individual and personal political journey, how you are supporting this work—not just as supporting organizations and initiatives, but thinking about your personal experiences and actions.”
Shira Laucharoen is a reporter based in Boston. She currently serves as the assistant director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. In the past she has written for Sampan newspaper, The Somerville Times, Scout Magazine, Boston Magazine, and WBUR.