Harvard Professors Discuss Black History at Cambridge Forum Event


Harvard Professor Danielle S. Allen, who recently ended her bid for governor of Massachusetts, spoke at a panel on Black history at the Cambridge Forum on Monday.

Harvard Law School Professor Randall L. Kennedy and Cheryl T. Gilkes, a professor at Colby College and a pastor at Union Baptist Church in Cambridge, spoke as panelists alongside Allen. The event also featured introductory remarks from Cambridge City Councilor E. Denise Simmons and was moderated by PBS producer and filmmaker Roberto Mighty.

The event, entitled “Black History: On Rewind,” was co-hosted by the Cambridge Forum, the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, and the Harvard Square Business Association. The Lincoln Institute is a think tank that advises local, national, and international governments and organizations on land policy.

Launching the discussion, Mighty confessed that witnessing Ketanji Brown Jackson ’92 become the first Black woman nominated to the Supreme Court has been very emotional.


“What made me want to cry about this? Why is this so important?” he said.

Kennedy admitted to feeling “choked up” in response to the nomination as well, attributing the emotion to the centuries-long lack of racial and gender diversity on the court.

“The fact that this is a first says something — that’s an indictment of our country and that’s something about which everyone should be very sad,” he said.

But Kennedy also acknowledged the progress that led to Jackson’s historic nomination.

“There is a tremendous struggle that has been waged to make this day possible,” he said. “I bet she will be confirmed, and that will be wonderful.”

Allen — who has spent the past few months on the campaign trail discussing the challenges Massachusetts faces — cited the immense racial wealth gap in Boston as evidence that an understanding of the history of racism is crucial for addressing today’s challenges.

“The median wealth held by a white family in Boston is $250,000. For an African American family, it’s $8,” she said.

Denise A. Jilson, executive director of the Harvard Square Business Association, said in an interview after the panel that she began planning the event to celebrate Cambridge’s history of giving a platform to Black social justice leaders.

“It occurred to me that, really, what we ought to be doing is having an event that celebrates the Cambridge Forum,” she said. “Because for 50 years, Harvard Square — through the forum at First Parish — had been celebrating and welcoming Black leaders to our community to talk about these really hard issues.”

—Staff writer Yusuf S. Mian can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @yusuf_mian2.
—Staff writer Charlotte P. Ritz-Jack can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @Charritzjack.