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A Reflection on a Conversation with Kim Janey

November 9, 2021- Mayor Kim Janey participates as keynote speaker at Northeaster University's Africana Studies Program event. (Mayor's Office Photo by Isabel Leon)

by Africana Studies Special Program Assistant Savita Maharaj

Hello! My name is Savita Maharaj and I am a fourth-year English major with minors in Africana Studies and Writing Studies. I am so grateful I have the opportunity to work as a program assistant for Africana Studies this fall semester and have the opportunity to plan and partake in the second event in the Reimagining Together Series: A Conversation with Mayor Kim Janey.

Although Kim Janey was called away to public service and had to be delayed in joining us, the event was brilliant, particularly in the way the beginning of the event was used as a community forum between faculty, students, staff, and community residents to create space and talk about the changes needed to continue to make a change in our city. When we initially imagined this event, there were 3 main goals in mind: (1) creating community, (2) addressing community engagement and social justice advocacy (3) giving Kim Janey space to share her story about her role as mayor and engage with students, faculty, staff, and community members on a more personal level. I had no idea that Kim Janey’s father, Clifford B. Janey, was an original founder of the John D. O’Bryant African American Institute. As Dr. Richard O’Bryant said, “[we are] welcoming Mayor Janey home and greet[ing] her as the child of Cliff Janey.” 

In her conversation with Dr. Jean-Charles, she talks about the duality between healing the harm caused by the pandemic and addressing the racial and social inequalities as well as her joy agenda through which we can build space for residents of Boston. As Kim Janey said, “it is so important that we make space for joy particularly when things are hard, when it seems impossible, when it seems everything is stacked against us, because that joy is so critically important to restoring what will keep us going in this fight. It is so important to how we rebuild and reconnect with each other after being isolated and stuck in zoom boxes for a very long time. And we wanted to create that space where we could bring the residents of Boston back together in a joyful way.” She ended on the importance of activism and representation by highlighting how “ proud [she was] that as the first woman mayor and the first Black mayor of our city, I get to hand the baton over to another woman mayor. And I get to see my granddaughter who is seven years old and all little girls who look like her see themselves reflected in leadership in City Hall.” 

To say I was beyond excited to welcome Kim Janey, the first Black woman mayor of Boston to campus would be an understatement. Growing up in Boston, it was empowering to watch such an important moment in history take place in my own backyard (quite literally). Because of the racist social geographies of our city, Kim Janey and Michelle Wu’s position changed the ways I viewed politics, specifically because of the marginalization of Black and Brown communities in Boston. I echo the sentiments of Dr. Richard O’Bryant expressed at the beginning of the event: “Those of us who grew up in this city know how much our city has gone through. And for her to be able to emerge and be in a position as mayor of this city is an important symbol of the times we are in, but it speaks so much more about where our city has come […] We are getting there. Those of us who lived during this painful time in the 70s and 80s and portions of the 90s are breathing better as our city begins to change.” Janey’s position is a step towards addressing the harm and erasure of Black people in the Boston community. 

In this, I want to say thank you to Kim Janey, Dr. Jean-Charles, Dr. O’Bryant, Mika Morikawa-Zhou, and all our audience members for creating the space for this event and documenting such a profound moment in history. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of it.

Please find the recording of the event here.

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