November 12, 2020

In The News with Dr. Karilyn Crockett

In recent weeks, our attention has been riveted on national politics and on the presidential campaign.

But let us not forget our politics at the state and local level, for the old adage is right, that all politics is local, and often the decisions made at the state and municipal juncture exert a greater influence on our day to day lives.

In that spirit, as part of our In the News series, we hosted Dr. Karilyn Crockett, Chief of Equity for the city of Boston. Having earned her PhD at Yale University and having been appointed to Assistant Professor at MIT, Dr. Crocket is one of those fortunate people who probably could write her own ticket to any job of her choice in any city. And yet, to our good fortune, she chose to return to public service here in Boston, to lead the city’s efforts to promote racial justice and economic equality, and in years to come, her efforts are certain to make Boston an even more welcoming city of richer culture and greater enlightenment.

The entire conversation was rich in detail. In this excerpt, Dr. Crockett shares a personal insight into Mayor Walsh.

Q: “Dr. Crocket, you had worked in City Hall in the Department of economic development but after the publication of your book, People before Highways, you took a professor ship at MIT. What lured you back to public service? Take us back to the day Mayor Walsh called. Put us in the room. What did Mayor Walsh say that persuaded you to come back to City Hall?”

A: Dr. Crockett: I was teaching at MIT. It was June, when the world was going nuts in so many ways. At MIT, I had just been promoted to Chief of Public Policy, Urban History & Planning. It was a Wednesday night, and I was in my kitchen, washing dishes. I thought I was powering down for the night, but I guess not, because the phone rang, and it was the mayor. Right away, he talked about George Floyds’ murder and the horror of watching someone die in police custody, and how it forced him to think differently about how to govern. As a white mayor, he was blunt. He said the city needed to do much more than it was doing, and he had decided to create a cabinet position for equity and inclusion -- a Chief of Equity, which would include six existing departments: Office of Diversity, Office of Women’s Advancement, Office of Immigrant Advancement, Office of Language and Communications Access, Office of Resilience and Racial Equity, as well as the newly relaunched Humans Rights Commission. All these departments would be the base for a new cabinet led by a new chief. So, I said, “Mayor, great! A wonderful idea, but why call me?” He said he wanted someone who would partner with him and push him. Certainly, when I was in City Hall previously, as Director of Economic Policy & Research and overseeing small business work, we were partners with a push and pull dynamic, and so, he was calling me back into service to commit to a new work and to think about what structural change could really mean. You know Geri, you laid it out so well, the mandate is to drive equity into all the city’s processes, functions, and plans, and to re-center that lens to an intersection that includes racial equity, economic inclusion, health equity, and gender as well. While we talked, I finished the dishes and put them away, and the mayor said, “Can we do this?” I said, “What is your commitment to this work?” He said ‘I’m all in.” I said “Okay, I needed to hear that.” As many of you know, you can’t have transformational change without full commitment from your executive. It has to go from the top all the way through the organization, and so for the past three months, it has been amazing to be in partnership with the mayor.