A powerhouse of political leadership braved the year's first winter storm Sunday to celebrate a local program that teaches Boston youth from underserved communities how to get involved in politics.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Suffolk County District Attorney Kevin Hayden and City Councilor Julia Mejia all joined a fundraiser in Nubian Square for the Marcus Anthony Hall Civic Engagement Institute, saying it is critical to help the next generation learn how to successfully advocate for themselves and their communities.
The Marcus Anthony Hall Education Institute is a civic engagement program for economically and socially underserved youth of color in Boston. Through seminars, mentoring and leadership programs, the institute trains a few dozen young people each session in political organizing and public policy so they can become effective advocates. The institute will welcome its third cohort this spring.
Cecily Graham, chair of the board of the institute said the goal of the school is to “provide resources to young organizers—and possible future elected officials” in underserved communities of Boston. She said the institute teaches skills like canvassing, phone banking and other political organizing tactics, essentially equipping youth with“a tool kit of knowing how to organize a movement, how to work on a campaign, knowing how to work with non-profits or elected officials.”
The institute is named for Marcus Hall, who was shot and killed in 2016 outside a barbershop where he had taken his four-year-old son for a haircut. Before his death, Hall and some of his friends had started a group called Brothers Out of the Hood, or BOOTH, to promote conflict resolution; the institute, founded by Priscilla Flint, a long time activist and organizer, is a tribute to Hall's work.
On Sunday, Pressley thanked the Hall family “for turning your pain into purpose.”
She said the institute is “the actualization of one of the rarest and most precious gifts in movement building, and that is the intentional passing of wisdom to the next generation.”
Pressley said it is critical to help young people learn how to make public policy. “Every inequity, every disparity, every racial injustice is one that was codified in a budget or in law. It did not just happen,” she said. “So if we want to build that more equitable and just community for us all, policy matters.”
Hayden said it is important for young people “to know how to really make a difference in your communities, how to be a leader, how to be trained up to be involved in civic engagement, how to be trained up to be a city councilor.”
He also reminded the nearly all-Black audience of about 100 people that a key lesson to Black youth has to be: “Work harder than everybody else…work harder than white folks. That’s what we have to do. That’s what we’ve always had to do.”
Mejia said she is grateful to the institute for helping young people “to learn about civics, to learn about their rights, to learn about what it looks like when we step into our power.”
The institute will reconvene this year at an odd moment for Marcus Hall’s memory, as the man convicted of his murder had that conviction overturned last year.
In 2018, William Omari Shakespeare was convicted of Hall’s murder, despite his contention that another person, Mark Edwards, was the shooter. Edwards died before Shakespeare’s trial.
In November, The Supreme Judicial Court threw out Shakespeare’s conviction on both the murder charge and related gun charges, saying the the trial judge had improperly prevented the defense from presenting testimony that Edwards had given to the grand jury before his death. The SJC concluded that testimony could have been helpful in Shakespeare's defense.
It is now up to Hayden's office to decide whether to retry Shakespeare for Hall’s murder. Hayden did not address the legal issues at Sunday’s event, and there is no indication his office has made a decision in the case.
Armani, 20, a graduate of the institute who declined to provide his last name, said the program opened his eyes to new things, including more politics and how to step into leadership.
“It was like an open mike," he said. "They make us come out of our comfort zone.”.
Disclosure: GBH News hosted a group of students from the Marcus Anthony Hall institute last summer for a tour and conversation with our staff, and will do so again in April.