Community Health Education alumna Meenakshi Verma-Agrawal MPH ‘02 among organizers of Boston race and equity summit

University of Massachusetts Community Health Education alums Meenakshi Verma-Agrawal MPH '02 (at right) with Nashira Baril '01

Meenakshi Verma-Agrawal MPH '02
(at right) with Nashira Baril '01

June 27, 2016

Nonprofit consultant and Community Health Education alumna Meenakshi Verma-Agrawal MPH ‘02 served among the organizers of the first Summit on Race and Equity: A Call to Government and Community held by the Boston Alliance for Race and Equity on May 16-17, 2016. The event, which the organizers described as “a launching pad for an inclusive, cross sector regional network that spans across greater Boston and New England to advance racial equity and ensure opportunities for all members of the Commonwealth,” drew an estimated 500 people representing nearly 150 different organizations, including city agencies, nonprofits, and for-profit organizations, to the campus of Northeastern University.

Verma-Agrawal, with fellow UMass Amherst alumna Nashira Baril ‘01, received funding through a Hyams Foundation grant to help the Boston Alliance for Racial Equity organize the Summit. “I had never done event planning on such a big scale,” says Verma-Agrawal, “but I’m committed to the issue of racial equity in Boston so I decided to take it on.”

Led by a collaborative of community residents, organizations, and government leaders dedicated to transformation, resilience, and healing, the summit offered powerful tools to ensure that policies and practices that impact the lives of residents are just and equitable. The Steering Committee included representatives from the City of Boston, Boston Public Schools, Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center, Boston Public Health Commission, On the Move and numerous other organizations. 

“The City of Boston and Mayor Marty Walsh signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Governing Alliance for Race and Equity (GARE),” explains Verma-Agrawal, “which helps city governments look at policies and policy making on the city level and helps cities become more racially equitable in everything from planning budgets or keeping the lights on in certain neighborhoods vs others. As part of the MOA, each city agrees to hold a convening and the Summit met that goal.”

The UMass Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences was among the Summit co-sponsors. Risa Silverman, who serves as Coordinator of the Office for Public Health Practice and Outreach for the School, was among the attendees. 

“The SPHHS chose to sponsor this event because it was offering a groundbreaking opportunity for our state’s leaders to hear from national leaders on ways to address racism by making changes within government,” she says. “An important component to building cultures of health is to develop new collaborations and the conference offered concrete ways for municipal government to play an important role in health.”

Those that attended received information on tools to promote racial equity in their organizations, policies and work. Participants also learned a deeper understanding of how these tools were used in other municipalities such as Seattle, WA, Portland, OR, St. Paul, MN and other GARE partners.

Day one of the Summit provided an overview of the history of race relations in the Boston region, definitions used in race equity work, and provide a context for the action steps to follow. The second day, participants convened to create a call to action and formalize long term goals for regional transformation.

“The event was a tremendous success,” says Verma-Agrawal. “We had a diverse group of attendees from all over the nation, meaningful sessions that provided tools to integrate racial equity, and Mayor Marty Walsh showed a strong commitment to creating greater racial equity in the city. It also provided the opportunity to discuss the context of tools that will help dismantle the systems of racism in the City of Boston, where the fallout from busing and historical racism continues to perpetuate inequities amongst Boston residents.”

For more information visit the Governing Alliance for Race and Equity website.