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Cambridge Moves Toward Creating Committees Focused on Racial Equity

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The Cambridge City Council discussed plans to create a pair of committees to address issues affecting the city’s Black residents during a Thursday meeting.

The public hearing, held by the Council’s Civic Unity Committee, centered around two policy orders — one to establish a Task Force To Examine the Status and Wellbeing of the City’s African American/Black Population and the second to create a Commission on the Status of Black Men and Boys.

The Council adopted both orders at the beginning of August.

Councilor E. Denise Simmons, who sponsored both policy orders, said in an email she hopes the two committees will serve as a lasting force for combating racial inequities in Cambridge.

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“I’m interested in figuring out how we can implement something that is solution-oriented, that becomes a part of the City’s DNA, and that is built to evolve and gain momentum long after a new crop of elected officials and administration officials have arrived,” Simmons wrote.

While discussions around racial equity in Cambridge have been ongoing for decades, she said, the city has failed to make it a priority in practice.

“As a city, we tend to place our focus on the most urgent problems of the moment,” she wrote. “After we have made that headway, another, newer problem rises up and grabs our attention, and maybe we take our eye off the ball from the original issue we were addressing.”

The second policy order is modeled off a similar program in Boston, which has had a Black Men and Boys Commission — housed in the city’s Office of Black Male Advancement — since 2021. Boston’s Black Men and Boys Commission was initially proposed by a city councilor in 2014, but it was vetoed by former Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh.

Isaac H. Yablo, the policy and research director at the Boston Office of Black Male Advancement, originally proposed that Cambridge create its own commission in a policy recommendation sent to the Council in May.

Yablo said in an interview that a government body dedicated to advocating for Black men and boys specifically — rather than people of color in general — would help address inequities in Boston and Cambridge.

“There’s plenty of data that show that there is a need for this commission to exist,” Yablo said. “Particular marginalized populations within the BIPOC community often get forgotten.”

According to Yablo’s proposal, similar offices or commissions focusing on advocacy for Black men also exist in Portland, Ore., Baltimore, and Philadelphia.

In her email, Simmons said it was “imperative” that the city also consider the experience of Black women and girls in Cambridge.

“I believe we need to see what the experience of ALL these individuals is, what programs we have that are currently supporting these folks, and what additional supports could be effective,” Simmons wrote.

The proposed Commission on the Status of Black Men and Boys will give policy recommendations to the Council and the city manager on a range of issues, including housing, economic opportunity, education, incarceration, and public health, according to the policy order.

The order specifies that the commission’s membership should include community activists, faith leaders, educators, and students.

—Staff writer Elias J. Schisgall can be reached at elias.schisgall@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @eschisgall.

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