Acting Boston Mayor Kim Janey, now serving the remaining seven months of former Mayor Marty Walsh's term while running for a full term herself, has joined a small but growing group of Black women leading U.S. cities.

Among the nation’s 50 largest municipalities, which includes Boston, several Black women serve as chief executives. Two mayors – Lori Lightfoot of Chicago and London Breed of San Francisco – will take part in an MIT-sponsored conversation on equitable cities April 8.

Chicago, San Francisco, New Orleans and Charlotte, N.C., rewrote their local histories when Black women took the helm. When you consider smaller cities, the list lengthens.

This is a breakthrough. Women of color have an historic tradition of leading community dialog, but tangible political power has — until recently — eluded their grasp.

Race and gender are, of course, common denominators. So are a basket of similar challenges: pandemic recovery, affordable housing, an appetite for racial reckoning and the heavy lift of reforming police departments. Interviews with several of these mayors suggest they and Janey have two other things in common: an overarching dedication to public equity and a belief that their life experience provides them with an invaluable tool.

“As a daughter of Roxbury and the South End, I understand the challenges so many of our residents are facing — from structural racism, food and housing insecurity, failing schools and faltering transportation, hurdles to homeownership and the fear for our families’ and neighbors’ safety. I understand these challenges because I have lived them,” said Janey, emphasizing her local roots while announcing her candidacy. “Those experiences inform how I govern and how I will lead the city through a lens of equity, justice and love for every Bostonian.”

Janey is scheduled to discuss her acting mayoralty and campaign Thursday at 11 a.m. on GBH News' Boston Public Radio.

Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard, the first Black woman elected in the small, predominately Black city of Mount Vernon, New York, said it’s no coincidence that “equity” echoes across their campaigns and tenures.

“I think as Black leaders, we’ve always looked at the opportunity to create policy and programs and environmental change … through an equity lens,” she said in a recent interview with GBH News. “We’re impacted by the historic social injustices that have impacted our constituents.”

Because of that, Patterson-Howard said, Black women are well-positioned to prioritize equitable solutions to their cities’ problems: “We’re not coming to this in some vacant, vanilla way. This is our lived experience.”

Kimberly Peeler-Allen, visiting practitioner at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, said the rise of Black women mayors also has to do with timing and voter attitudes.

“Thinking specifically about the new mayor of Boston, [Black women] have always been kind of waiting in the wings for these opportunities,” she said, adding that San Francisco Mayor London Breed also became acting mayor when her predecessor died.

Peeler-Allen said the unplanned elevations, though they help voters visualize new faces and styles of leadership, are a sign that there are still challenges to being elected outright.

“The sexism and racism and party structures that have consistent been barriers [to] expanding Black women’s leadership are still very much there, and it takes a situation of a special election, or an open seat, or an appointment for a Black woman to step in,” she said.

Karen Weaver, former mayor of Flint, Michigan, said the recent national fanfare over political gains like Janey’s can be misleading.

“It's funny, because you see women coming into these roles now, so when we're highlighted people think there's so many of us. But when you look at the greater scheme of things and the number, we're still a small percentage of women in those elected positions,” Weaver said in a recent interview with GBH News.

Weaver, who was Flint’s first Black woman mayor and helmed the city during the beginning of its water crisis recovery, is now interim director of the African American Mayors Association, or AAMA.

The organization, according to Weaver, provides a gateway for Black municipal executives to build relationships. AAMA has more than 100 active members, 27 of whom are women.

“They embraced me and let me know that I had a support that I didn't know was there. And within that group, yes, black women mayors supported me,” she said, explaining why the network was necessary.

“There are so many challenges that as a black mayor, you face that your counterparts do not face,” Weaver said, pointing to the combined ills of racism and sexism revealing themselves in subtle ways.

Patterson-Howard, who is also a member of AAMA, agreed “there’s a certain bonding” when the Black women mayors connect and talk candidly.

“You've never been a mayor before, so you don't walk in the door knowing everything that it entails,” Patterson-Howard said with a chuckle. “So, you know, your relationships with other mayors, hearing some of their best practices, learning from their challenges, from their failures, from their successes, it's very helpful.”

Patterson-Howard said Mayor Yvonne Spicer of Framingham was one of the first fellow-mayors she forged a connection with before COVID-19 obliterated regular social opportunities. Together, they discussed the unique pressures that come with being a barrier-breaker, including the stress of high expectations from constituents seeking immediate change, as well as criticism from those who resist change and anticipate failure.

Mayor Spicer told GBH News the expanding network is a lifeline.

“I think I’ll borrow something I heard [Suffolk County District Attorney] Rachel Rollins say,” she said, paraphrasing Suffolk County’s first woman DA. “Yes, we are glass ceiling breakers, and we're breaking those glass ceilings. But we're also the first to get the cuts in the head.”

It’s one of the reasons she said she wants a “critical mass” of women of all colors in politics — to ease the demands of being one of few.

“We're not there yet, but every year, I look and I say, ‘There are more women coming to the table,’” Spicer said. “There are more of us stepping up to the plate — despite the negativity, despite the racism, the sexism. And we're prevailing.”

Spicer is an honorary co-chair of Janey’s transition team and declined to say whether she would give Janey, a political pal, her endorsement.

Though Janey is only acting mayor now, Peeler-Allen said her ascension to that role and the diverse candidate field lining up to win the job present a unique situation that could reshape how non-Bostonians perceive the city.

In the latest U.S. Census update, from 2019, Boston's population was over 44% white, over 25% Black and just under 20% Latino, nearly 10% Asian and less than 1% Pacific Islander or Native American. According to the city’s planning agency, immigrants make up 28% of the city’s nearly 700,000 residents.