Each year, the annual Roxbury Unity Parade presents the Leader of Tomorrow Award to a community leader. The award recognizes the recipient’s passion and commitment to fill in gaps in the community. George “Chip” Greenidge is the founder and director of the nonprofit Greatest Minds, who received the award at Sunday’s celebration. What follows is a lightly edited transcript.

Arun Rath: George, thanks for joining us.

George Greenidge: I am so happy to be here. Thanks for having me today. I’m so glad to be here, again.

Rath: It's great to have you. And first off — we'll talk about the award — but first, let's tell people about Greatest Minds because it's a pretty ambitious, expansive project. Give us a thumbnail for people who don't know anything about it.

Greenidge: No, it's amazing. I was able to found an organization called Greatest Minds in 2008. And what it was was to bring together generations of Black Bostonians to talk about issues that are facing the community, may it be issues around politics, about young people, about college to career and resources. And we've also done a number of political forums for mayors and city councilors and so forth. And so over the last, wow, 13, 14 years, we've been able to become a force, where we have intergenerational discussions in Roxbury talking about ways that we can build our next generation of civic leaders.

And when I heard about — maybe two weeks ago, I got an email from Toy Burton and the community activists that were forming the Roxbury Unity Parade. And they said I won, and I said, “I won what?”

And it was really exciting because a lot of times you put a lot of these efforts out there and you don't realize that they're actually being received. But when a couple people and community folks kind of give you that smile and that thumbs up, it really makes you want to go ahead and just knock out the door and keep on doing the great work that you're doing with great people.

But remember, I don't do this work alone. I have tons of mentors and volunteers. I also have 35 high school students that are working with me this summer. So I am blessed to be at this place.

Rath: Brilliant. And George, talk about a little bit about your academic work as well, because not to get nerdy, it just relates very much directly to how to do this in the long-term impacts of this. Because you've done a lot of looking at the racial wealth gaps and how they persist over generations, and it seems like this is a project which would seem to address the academic side of your background.

Greenidge: Oh, 100%. I've been lucky. Being born and raised in the Boston area — one extra thing in our backyard is that we have lots of colleges and universities. And so town and gown is something — I've been able to be able to be a part of many summer programs at middle school and high school to actually help young people get those resources.

And so, education has been something really big for me. I went to Morehouse College undergrad, got my master's at Harvard, and now I'm finishing my Ph.D. at Georgia State University.

But also, I recently just became a Harvard fellow for the last year and also next year at the Ash Center at the Kennedy School. And so I'll be working at looking at ways of innovation and democracy and ways that we can get our communities involved even stronger for voter protection rights — but also ways to get more young people to the polls. But all that, you know — polls and voting and all that — that's especially important right now as we look at our society and where things are going.

Rath: Was it your academic background that inspired you to create Greatest Minds? Or what would you say was the biggest impetus for it?

Greenidge: I think you're right on. It was my academic background, but also lots of different people out there in the Boston area — when I was a high school student and a college student — that looked out for me. And so what Greatest Minds is about is about bringing those wonderful people in the community, and also in our families and our networks, to come together and work together to build a strategy so we can to make sure that everyone gets a piece of the pie.

And that's what I do this summer. I have 30 high school students that are working with me in person in Dudley Square. And they're excited because they're actually coming to the award ceremony this Sunday as well.

"It's really great to be in a great company of people that understand that the community is where we have to be."

Rath: Nice. And tell us a bit about how the impact of this has played out on these young people. Greatest Minds, mentors, young professionals of various levels — secondary school, college students. Tell us some of the stories.

Greenidge: Oh, it's been really great. Recently, the Boston Red Sox and the United Negro College Fund gave me an award, an inaugural award, for helping over 10,000 students in the Boston and Atlanta area get access to college. Education is the key, and it's all about networks and mentoring.

And one thing I always say is that: you can't be what you can't see. And so it's very important, especially after the pandemic, is that we have really strong people in front of people to show young people that, "If I can do it, you can do it." And so it's been really great.

Rath: And let me ask you — you've got awfully expansive vision. Where do things go from here for Greatest Minds?

Greenidge: Well, I think the best thing is, it's about these 30 young people this summer. The best thing is getting them networked, is getting them meeting people and these are the ones that are going to change our communities, you know? They're the ones that are going to be actually questioning all of these policies and procedures that are going on. And so that's where it goes, is that we're going to be in touch with our young people.

But also this fall, we're going to be having a “generations” conference, where we bring together the baby boomers, we bring together the Generation X, Y and the millennials so we can have a stronger conversation about Bblack Bostonians and where we want to go for our futures. But also, how are we transforming and transferring information about our Black communities, but also about wealth, education and also about where do we go post-pandemic?

Rath: You talked about some of the things that are unique to the Greater Boston area that there were helpful to you as you were developing and helped you to come to this point of realizing Greatest Minds. Do you think, though, that this is something that could be replicated in other places? Because there's definitely a need, I would imagine, in other cities across the country.

Roxbury Unity Parade
Dancer Esuyah Xavier, of Boston, performs with Power of Skirts dancers during the Roxbury Unity Parade, in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood, Sunday, July 18, 2021.
Steven Senne/AP AP

Greenidge: Oh, definitely. 100 percent, definitely, we’d like to have replication efforts that are going on. And one thing is that I went to Morehouse, so I have many of my Morehouse alumni that love the work that I do. But you know what? They jump on the call and they might be in New York, or they might be in Cleveland, or they might be in California because that's what it is. And so with the power of Zoom and all these new tools that we have — the technology — is that we're connecting people across states, across the world, across all over.

It's funny, I try to tell young people that we used to do things called pen pals. You know, you sit there and you'll write a letter, and you put it in the mail, and — I had a pen pal, back of Archie Comics, I had a pen pal from Japan and a pen pal from London. And it would take a week and how I'd be excited for that. But not now! You can get instant gratification. So the whole thing about patience and all that other stuff, I'm also really trying to get our young people just to understand — all those older kind of techniques that are still important for one-on-ones.

Rath: George, it's been such a pleasure speaking with you. I mean, there's just nothing better to talk about than something that helps young people become more and more successful, right?

Greenidge: Definitely. And you know what? I'm so glad to be a part of the Roxbury Unity Parade and also getting the award. But also there's some other great people on there you're just so proud of. So it's really great to be in a great company of people that understand that the community is where we have to be.

Rath: Brilliant. Well, thanks for taking the time to talk with us, and thank you for the great work.

Greenidge: Oh, thank you so much. And I cannot wait — I can't wait — to learn from the young people and all the people this weekend. It's going to be on Sunday, right in front of Madison Park High School. We're going to have a lots of people and it's always big fun. And we're just going to learn and be community — because that's what we are.

Rath: George Greenidge is the founder and director of Greatest Minds, and he's a recipient of Roxbury’s Leader of Tomorrow Award. This is GBH.