Community Voices: Civic engagement isn't an option, it's an imperative

Charlotte Golar Richie and Kelly Bates | 9/21/2011, 12:48 a.m.

According to “The State of Black Boston” report, 31 percent of Black Bostonians are 17 years of age and under. For Smith, there’s no question that our community’s civic engagement activities must include developing our youth as strong, contributing members of society. Copeland Thomas, who chairs the Multicultural Committee of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau and has been in business for over two decades, said that the path to civic engagement is “through job creation and an expanded role in business development.”  

Entrepreneur and business owner, Darryl Settles, who was seated in the audience, agreed with Copeland Thomas when she said, “The only way the black community will advance is by addressing the opportunities in small business development, personal wealth creation, civic engagement and cultivating strategic business collaborations. That combination should be our primary focus for the next 10 to 15 years.”

As a community, if we want to fight crime and violence, give our youth who’ve gotten off track a second chance, elect politicians who’ll work hard and produce, establish and grow successful businesses, then we all have no other choice but to get involved — and it may, in fact, be the right approach to focus first on connectivity and collaboration. There’s certainly ample opportunity to connect with people of color in the city of Boston.  

Dr. Edgehill’s organization, The Partnership, Inc., supports the advancement of people of color in the workplace, and connects professionals with community opportunities to lead and mentor.  

“Over 2,000 professionals of color in the region have completed The Partnership’s leadership development programs and are poised to leverage their leadership capabilities in support of community and civic related initiatives,” explained Edgehill.  “These individuals understand the importance and significance of being a mentor and role model to young people. They understand the power of serving on nonprofit boards. They know how they can influence policy and  practices that break down the barriers to a quality of life that all people deserve.”

From The Partnership to the monthly “Get Konnected” events and MA Black Business Association meetings, to Boston’s Higher Ground —- from our churches and fraternities to civic associations and CBOs —- there are plenty of organizations seeking to connect residents with one another and with resources, services and networking opportunities that will improve their lives.

“Our panel on civic engagement was a great opportunity to talk about the type of vision and leadership we need to take our communities higher, through more than what we do at the voting booth every few years. We need to check back in through time-tested practices like joining our local neighborhood association, participating in our children’s PTA at school, and calling our elected officials,” said Mayor Warren.

Speaking of the “voting booth,” Bay State Banner Executive Editor Howard Manly, who authored the civic engagement chapter in “The State of Black Boston” report, offered a set of recommendations, which included encouraging black Bostonians to get to know their neighbors and — no surprise — registering to vote. Perhaps these are the two simplest and most important take-aways from this summer’s conference.

On Tuesday, Sept. 27 and again on Nov. 8, let’s do our part to improve the state of black Boston by knocking on the door of a neighbor and heading over together to the local polling station to vote! 

 Charlotte Golar Richie is senior vice president for Advocacy, Policy and Government Relations, YouthBuild USA and Kelly Bates is executive director, Access Strategies Fund.