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35% of young Black women surveyed consider leaving Boston

Mandile Mpofu

Dorchester native Ta-Neja Williams dreams of going to college and later running a business that uplifts predominantly Black communities in Boston. But she’s uncertain about whether the city is a place where she can thrive.

“I think Boston portrays itself as a very young-adult-friendly community,” said the 20-year-old, “but a lot of times, it doesn’t actually cater to that community.”


She is not alone in questioning a long-term future in Boston. A quarter of Boston residents between the ages of 20 and 30 said they plan to leave the city in the next five years, despite being largely satisfied with their day-to-day lives, according to a survey released March 11 by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

The eye-opening statistics included a finding that 35% of Black women in the same age range said they were thinking about leaving.

The survey cited the cost of living and job availability as some of the top factors that young people consider when deciding whether or not to stay in the city. Williams, who currently lives with her family and works in a restaurant, said many of her friends work two jobs or live with roommates to afford the climbing cost of living in Boston and would rather move to where they could afford to buy their own homes.

Williams also values cultural and racial diversity, a facet that 81% of Black women said was of import, according to the survey.

Should those Black women depart, Boston would lose “the intellectual contributions, the talent but also the culture that would go with them,” said Georgianna Meléndez, an assistant professor of management at Western New England University. Meléndez has worked in diversity, equity and inclusion spaces in professional settings for over a decade and said the results of the survey didn’t surprise her.

“I was talking to folks about their experiences specifically in the workplace, and a lot of folks … did not feel welcome. They didn’t feel heard or feel seen in organizations,” she said. “And then there was a social component that was more anecdotal, where it’s about finding community.”

Georgianna Meléndez COURTESY PHOTO

Boston has rich communities, networks and organizations, she said, but those new to the city may find it challenging to break through. As a Latino woman, Meléndez said she is familiar with the difficulty of integrating into various spaces and feeling welcome within them.

Nearly four years ago, Sheena Collier founded Boston While Black, a membership-based group for Black professionals and students, to help, she said, “people to have a sense of community belonging and see Boston as somewhere where they could build their career, have a close-knit network and also plant roots.”

Collier, a New York native, moved to Boston for graduate school and stayed in the city after building a strong social and professional network. In her conversations with Black women, many of them raised concerns about the dating culture, social atmosphere, and lack of upward mobility in their organizations, she said.

In addition to prioritizing affordable housing and physical and mental health, Collier said the City of Boston should focus on expanding opportunities for social engagement for Black women, and for young, Black people in general.

“We’re kind of known for being a college town, but once people age out of that, the social options get really limited,” she said. The city should invest “in more placemaking, more ways to improve the options that people have, which I think is related to the need for more physical gathering spaces that really are owned by Black people, programmed by Black people.”

Joseph N. Cooper, a professor of sport leadership and administration at the University of Massachusetts Boston and a transplant from North Carolina, said losing Black women in Boston would be a “tremendous loss … intellectually, culturally, artistically, economically.”

Cooper, who has been living in Boston for five years said, as is the case in many metropolitan cities, those who are not native to Boston may find it hard to build a sense of community, no matter their background.

“Any cultural group would like to be around culturally affirming people, so a part of it is being around people who understand your cultural background, whether it’s the foods you like, the music you like, the way you want to style your hair, the way you talk,” he said. “So, I think a part of that is just a sense of cultural, psychological safety and a comfort level. I think we all kind of want to be in a habitus that feels familial.”

If the city is to become a place where Black women feel they can stay in the long term, they need to see themselves reflected in leadership positions, Meléndez said. The study is helpful in sparking a conversation but needs to be backed up by action, she said.

“There’s opportunities for businesses to rise up and, you know, do some things,” she said. “There’s opportunities for those in leadership to make sure that they’re being fair in their hiring practices, and that they’re mentoring young Black women and others, right, but … it has to be intentionally measured.”

In a statement, James E. Rooney, president of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce Foundation, said leaders “need to urgently strategize solutions to alleviate the challenges facing young people,” adding that “uplifting organizations like Boston While Black and their successful community building as well as advocating for Governor Healey’s proposed Housing Bond Bill are actions that we can all take.”

Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce Foundation, young Black women of Boston