Kim Janey visits Northeastern, discusses her time as mayor before her mayoral farewell address


Avery Bleichfeld

Acting Mayor Kim Janey discussed her background and her time as the city’s top executive in a question and answer session with Africana studies program director Régine Michelle Jean-Charles Nov. 9.

Jennifer Suryadjaja, news correspondent

On Tuesday evening, acting Mayor Kim Janey sat down with Régine Michelle Jean-Charles, director of Africana Studies and dean’s professor of culture and social justice at Northeastern, to reflect on her time in City Hall over the last eight months as the first woman and first person of color ever to fill her role.

Prior to Janey’s entrance, Jean-Charles and Richard L. O’Bryant, director of the John D. O’Bryant African American Institute, sparked a community discussion between Northeastern students and faculty on how the institution can further engage with the Roxbury community through mentorship programs and volunteer opportunities. 

Janey arrived from Boston Medical Center after visiting three police officers who were shot in an hours-long standoff in Dorchester. In her welcome remarks, she reflected on leading the city through unprecedented challenges during the pandemic. 

“We know that COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted so many folks in our community, particularly poor communities of color,” Janey said. “We also know that COVID exposed and exacerbated what was there underneath the surface, which are systemic inequities that have been in the making for years, decades and centuries.”

As mayor, Janey said her efforts in leading the people of Boston through the COVID-19 crisis were done with a racial justice and equity lens. She spoke about investing $50 million in the Rental Relief Fund and the Vaccine Equity Grant Initiative her first week as mayor, among other initiatives throughout her tenure such as The Joy Agenda, ensuring students stay in school and supporting small businesses.  

With her experience in advocacy, as well as being a parent, Janey said she was inspired to pave a better path for the younger generation of the city. 

“We wanted to make sure that we were opening up the halls of power and bringing people in who didn’t always have that access,” Janey said. 

Jean-Charles’ first question to Janey was a simple: “How are you?” Janey proceeded to describe some incidents that occured in Boston that underscored the importance of finding a safe space within a community and addressing unresolved trauma that led to violence.

“We want to make sure that we’re doing that work to address trauma, as well as create that space for joy,” Janey said. “I am doing okay. And I’m going to do exactly what [Jean-Charles had] suggested, which is take some time for rest, reflection, writing, restoration and all of that.”

Jean-Charles mentioned a New York Times article about eight Black women mayors in the United States, which Janey described as a “sisterhood” she has connected with through challenging times. Janey also said she is proud that she’s blazing a trail as the first Black mayor of Boston.

“It was just completely surreal. I had pinch-me moments for the first couple of months,” Janey said. “I grew up here in Boston and I grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s… But I remember what my city was like, and I did not think in a million years that I would live to see a Black mayor even though we already had a Black governor and a Black president. It just seemed so out of reach for Boston and that we’d have a Black mayor and that it’d be me.”

Shifting gears to community engagement, Jean-Charles asked about Janey’s experience as a student activist with an intersectional approach to social justice. Janey shed light on her organizing experience, such as the training she received in direct action organizing, child advocacy and civil rights movement history at Shaw University’s Ella Baker Leadership Circle in 1992. 

“The advice I have is to do it. Young people have always been at the forefront of every single movement. Black women have always been at the forefront of every single movement,” Janey said. 

“I see a place where we have dealt with and are not afraid to confront our own history around racism. We’re willing to have tough conversations and create more opportunities for those who have been left out of power, of opportunity.””

— Kim Janey

Janey said she is looking forward to seeing Boston move towards a better future as she steps down from her role as mayor. 

“I see a place where we have dealt with and are not afraid to confront our own history around racism,” Janey said. “We’re willing to have tough conversations and create more opportunities for those who have been left out of power, of opportunity.”

This second event in the Africana Studies Program series titled “Reimagining Together” came the day before Janey’s farewell address as mayor of Boston. Jean-Charles said in an interview with The News that she had been wanting to bring Janey to campus for an event.

“I knew as soon as I started at Northeastern that I wanted to bring her to be in conversation with her,” Jean-Charles said. 

Jean-Charles said there’s more work that needs to be done to reimagine what society might look like moving forward.

“The imagination is where we begin to do our justice, political, organizing work. [Janey] is someone who has done all of those things,” Jean-Charles said. “She is also someone that has shown that you can bring that idea of reimagining politics as business as usual to your work in that particular field.”

Jean-Charles emphasized the importance of understanding that Black women have always been doing the necessary work to organize but that there’s still work to be done.

“Look for the narratives that are already there, as opposed to looking for the exceptional thing [or] seeing people or Black women in leadership as exceptions,” Jean-Charles said.

Brianna Johnson, a first-year criminal justice major, heard about the event through the Africana Studies programs and events newsletter. She said the event demonstrates how much Janey has contributed to Boston.

“It was really nice to learn about the things that she’s been doing for Boston,” Johnson said. “It really shed a light on all the hard work she’s been putting in for us and all Bostonians.”

During the community discussion, Johnson said she wished that community outreach programs would “be at the forefront here at Northeastern.” As someone who wants to be familiar with the city’s inner workings, she said being an active part of the local community is a first step toward the right path.

“There’s a lot that Northeastern can do, pairing up with local homeless shelters, even like community service clubs and organizations on campus [can make] more of an effort to get involved with homeless shelters, food, pantries, soup kitchens, things of that nature,” Johnson said.