Racism: Holding Boston’s Leaders Accountable

The Boston Globe recently ran a multi-part investigative series in which it set out to answer the question: Is Boston unwelcoming to Black people?  Here’s what one historically Black fraternal organization had to say in response:

We at Beta Beta Boule, the Boston Chapter of the Sigma Pi Phi fraternity, read with deep historical interest the Boston Globe’s Spotlight series, “Boston. Racism. Image. Reality.”

Founded in 1904 by accomplished Black men who sought to bond in the face of an “isolated professional and social world,” Sigma Pi Phi is America’s oldest African American fraternity. Our national fraternity brothers include the late W.E.B. DuBois, Carter G. Woodson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph J. Bunche, John Hope Franklin, Arthur Ashe and A. Leon Higginbotham.

Justice Higginbotham, a pioneering chief federal circuit court judge, an adviser to President Johnson, and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, spent his last years as a Harvard professor and as a director of the New York Times when it owned the Boston Globe. He advocated for diversity at both newspapers and would be disappointed to learn that the Globe has no African Americans in top newsroom leadership positions and the same percentage of managers as it did 34 years ago, a mere 2 percent.

In his spirit, we now watch closely to see if Boston’s business and civic community does anything beyond offering bromides that are hollow to us such as, “We can do a better job,” and, “We are committed to diversity and inclusion.”

A true commitment to “diversity” and “inclusion” means more than hiring a handful of lower-level African American workers. It means an assiduous commitment to enrich our community by transferring in a tangible way, positions of responsibility and power to African Americans. We should be afforded the full opportunity to contribute and benefit from being in the mainstream of the greater Boston community.

The city must move from tackling racial bias after the fact to developing practices of proactive racial and ethnic inclusivity. Unfortunately, this has historically never happened in Boston despite the many studies showing that a company’s investment in power-sharing diversity leads to broadening the base of talent, expertise and insight, better problem solving and outcomes, and higher profits than less diverse organizations. Such change requires hard work and resources but many companies say they do not have the time or the money for vigorous diversity training. That excuse is no longer acceptable.

For decades, Boston’s power brokers have proclaimed that the city must shed its insular image to be a world-class city. As long as things remain the same, it will never achieve that status. Boston remains a city unable to assure us that our children will not hear racial epithets hurled against African Americans at sporting events or that African American students will feel comfortable in their classrooms.

The question now is who among the power brokers will take steps in their organizations to end the generational cycle of racism? We believe the Globe can play a critical role by monitoring the commitment and progress of business and civic leaders. It owns a critical platform that can educate and inspire us to collectively work to change Boston’s reputation. Internally, the Globe must hire African Americans to leadership positions. Externally, the paper must keep the issue of racism in the public mind with regular coverage that holds Boston’s world-renowned corporations, hospitals, law firms, sports teams (college and professional) and universities accountable to change their image and reputations. These industries, among others, would benefit from forming industry based coalitions to jointly recruit, hire, train, mentor, sponsor, and promote African American professionals.

We at Beta Beta Boule proudly call Massachusetts home. We are committed to ensuring that Boston’s next generation of African Americans is not isolated and marginalized as ours. That has been our charge for 113 years. We stand ready to work with leaders of good faith to come up with best practices everyone can learn from, because in the end, Boston will be a better place to live and work for all of us.


Macey Russell, Esq., Waban, MA

Augustus A. White, III, M.D., Ph.D., Weston, MA

Leave a comment below letting us know what you think of Boston’s reputation as being unwelcome to Black people and of Beta Beta Boule’s response.