Boston History: Mayor Kevin White & My Father

Boston Mayor Kevin White
Left to right: Barbara Christopher (8th grade), Boston Mayor Kevin White, Mrs. Gardner, Dallos Perry (8th grade), Thomas Johnson. (February 4, 1971)

Last week, while looking through photos at my mother’s house, I found this rare gem. A picture from 50 years ago!

Since my father’s passing in 2018, it’s especially nice to find “new to me” old photos of him. And this one is for the history books. He’s with then Boston Mayor Kevin White.

I’m not sure exactly what the occasion was for this photograph, but it must have had something to do with his work as a Boston school teacher. He taught in the Boston Public School system for more than 20 years. Writing found on the back of the picture gives the names and date.

The timing of finding this picture seems especially poignant. Sometimes it feels like overall not much changes in the world. But it does. Step by step.

The week that I found this picture, showing one of Boston’s most influential mayors from last century, Kim Janey made history as the city’s first woman and first Black mayor of Boston. Janey is the 55th mayor and White was the 51st.

And the way it happened was completely unexpected! I remember being so excited when Michelle Wu decided to run for mayor back in September. Then just weeks later, Andrea Campbell put her hat in the mayoral ring. Boston could have a woman of color as mayor!

Then several others decided to run and there’s been speculation about even more. With so many people, it wasn’t as exciting anymore and I was over it. After all, I don’t even live in Boston, so I wouldn’t actually be voting.

But then, out of the blue, President Biden tapped Mayor Walsh for Secretary of Labor. Suddenly, we have a Black woman becoming mayor during Women’s History Month. And the mayoral election had nothing to do with it. Plot twist!

When the time is right, change happens in ways we can never imagine. Like the way the first woman mayor in the United States was elected back in 1887. It was supposed to be a cruel joke — only Susanna Madora Salter won.

My father loved politics and was quite the conversationalist. When a major event happens, I always wonder about conversations we would have had. Which makes me think even more about this picture.

Since the opportunity presented itself, I’m sure my father must have said something to Mayor White. I can only imagine. But on that day back in 1971, Mayor White got the chance to have a conversation with Thomas Johnson. Which is something that I now miss everyday of my life.

Rest In Peace Marshall Johnson

My paternal cousin Marshall Johnson died this past week. It was way too soon. He was way too young. This picture, from much happier days, shows him with his mother at our cousin’s wedding.

He’s with his mom again now and his father. Along with many aunts and uncles, including my father. And some other cousins who died even younger.

When my father died and my mom and I went to the hospital right after, Marshall was there with us. He was there for all of us in my immediate family many times before and many times after. How do I describe such a big presence?

It’s Valentine’s Day, so maybe the best way to talk about him starts there. With love. The day usually focuses on romantic love, but it’s also about love for family and friends. Marshall had a big heart.

He was always one for big celebrations with family and friends. The bigger the celebration the better. He was someone who extended himself to his immediate family, extended family, friends and co-workers. But he wouldn’t stop there. Then he’d also welcome the family, extended family and friends of the first group!

I mean he would go big with invitations and bring everyone into the fold. There would be lots of food, music and an atmosphere of fun and joy. Big gatherings were his thing – backyard barbecues, picnics at a Boston area parks, Super Bowl parties, birthday parties. All kinds of parties. He loved to party!

I have to admit, as an introvert, sometimes the sheer number of people that could be anticipated would be overwhelming to me. I attended many of the gatherings, but not all of them.

Something that I learned and especially appreciated about him over more recent years was that he would truly see and celebrate you as an individual. It didn’t always have to be a big event.

When I got a food writing gig with WGBH, I was so excited! And so was Marshall! He was genuinely happy for me and wanted to celebrate my win by treating me to dinner. I chose Myers + Chang and we had a lovely time.

I thought there would be more time with him. It’s a small circle of people who’ll celebrate your wins and be there at times of extreme loss too. My father was one. Marshall was one. My heart hurts losing both of them so recently. It’s hard to process it all. Writing through it is a start.

Marshall had a lot of extreme health challenges over the last several years. But he beat so many and came back. He was so strong. His most recent health struggles were just too much. I hope he is at peace now. He can finally rest.

I hope he knows how much he will be missed and how much he was loved.

Quote of the Week: Amanda Gorman

“We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace.

In the norms and notions of what just is

isn’t always justice.

And yet, the dawn is ours before we knew it.

Somehow we do it.

Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken,

but simply unfinished.”

~ Amanda Gorman

Watching the inauguration this past Wednesday was a breath of fresh air — a spiritual cleansing for the nation.

The previous two Wednesdays featured an insurrection and then an impeachment. It was heartbreaking. While our democracy is still in a very fragile state, it feels good knowing that our current president, unlike the previous one, is not actively seeking to harm our country.

So I will bask in the balm of Amanda Gorman’s words. This amazing young woman, the National Youth Poet Laureate, is helping us move in the right direction.

Sea Us Now & Black Beach Culture

Photo from Sea Us Now

As a Virgo Sun and Taurus Rising, my astrology is deep into the earth. That may explain why I love my plant babies so much!

But some of the best times in my life take place near water. Not long ago, I learned that I’m a Scorpio Moon, which adds some water to my chart. Growing up on the East Coast may have a lot to do with it too. Living in Quincy, Massachusetts, I’m just a couple of miles from the beach. When I open the windows in the summer and the wind blows just right, I can smell the salty air — one of my favorite scents.

There was a pool in the apartment complex where I grew up, so I swam a lot. I loved doing handstands under water and playing Marco Polo. I lounged by the pool almost everyday during the summers and played ping-pong in the cabana. As children, my brother and I took swimming lessons at the local college. Our parents brought us to the beach for picnics and lots of swim time on the Cape. As a young teenager, I even went to marine science camp.

It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized many considered it unusual for African Americans to swim. When you think about movies showing beach culture, often focused on surfing, someone like me usually isn’t there. But things are changing.

On Instagram, I found a group of Black women surfers calling themselves Textured Waves. Their website describes who they are and their goal.

Textured Waves [w]as created to propagate the culture and sport of women[‘]s surfing towards women of color and underrepresented demographics through representation, community and sisterly camaraderie. We value integrity, inclusion and advocating diversity in the water.

In the early summer, Textured Waves premiered a short film called Sea Us Now, which was created in collaboration with Seea, a progressive women’s surf brand. The film itself is extremely short, but the conversation around it is fascinating and worth watching.

It reminded me of the importance of creating something for the future. Documenting that yes, Black women surfers are out there enjoying life right now. Their existence shows a roadmap for the next generation. The conversation alludes to the precarious history of African Americans and water. Our African ancestors were brought to this country in ships. Many suffered horrifying deaths at sea and those who lived witnessed it. There is also a strong history of racial discrimination at public swimming pools in this country. If we look at the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, even our drinking water is harmful. African Americans have ancestral and current trauma involving water that needs healing.

The joy of Sea Us Now starts that aquatic healing. It feels like a daydream. The women of Textured Waves in colorful bathing suits catching the waves. The sound of moving water, peaceful music and driving in a vintage car by the seashore. Carrying their surfboards. Palm trees and ice cream. Short vignettes of style, beauty and warm weather. Flowering trees blowing in the breeze along with their natural hair. Sisterhood. A carefree afternoon. Time for reflection and dreaming. The gift of exercise on the beach. Black health and wellness.

They describe the film as “a re-imagining of our history with the coastline and the sea” and “a love letter to our past and our future.”

If you want to skip right to the film, it starts a little after 25 minutes and goes until almost 30 minutes. But I do hope you watch the conversation.

It’s quite striking that the timing of the film’s release was in the midst of the protests after George Floyd’s death. Watching the video of his murder made me physically hurt. This film is like a balm for the body and soul. In the midst of everything, we can still find happiness and peace. We always have. That’s how we’ve survived.

:: :: ::

Screenshot: YouTube

Juneteenth 2020

Flowers and blue sky represent a day in June, Juneteenth

The exact year I cannot remember. But at some point before 2006, I learned about Juneteenth. At a family gathering here in Massachusetts, my cousin told us about the fun Juneteenth celebrations she went to in Texas. We New Englanders had never heard of it. But learning about it made a big impression. The 4th of July didn’t liberate Black people, so it really wasn’t a day of independence for us. Juneteenth was for us.

I started blogging in 2006 and wrote about Juneteenth that year.  After that, I wrote a few more posts about the day. In 2009, my post discussed how the Senate formally apologized to African-Americans for slavery and segregation. Below is part of that post.


The Congress acknowledges the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow laws; apologizes to African-Americans on behalf of the people of the United States, for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow laws; and expresses its recommitment to the principle that all people are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and calls on all people of the United States to work toward eliminating racial prejudices, injustices, and discrimination from our society.

DISCLAIMER.—Nothing in this resolution authorizes or supports any claim against the United States; or serves as a settlement of any claim against the United States.

As an African-American who is a descendant of slaves, I accept the apology. It’s not all that can be done. The disclaimer is huge. Reparations are still an issue. But it does have meaning. If nothing else than for the history books.

Eleven years later, Black people in this country continue dealing with injustice, cruelty and brutality. My belief is that until the United States truly reckons with the legacy of slavery, beyond a mere apology, but with formal hearings and reparations, this country will never heal.

However, it’s encouraging seeing more white Americans trying to understand the magnitude of wrongs suffered by Black people. Before change takes place, acknowledgment must happen. It’s starting.

For example, Netflix took down their paywall today for viewers to see Ava DuVernay’s “When They See Us” and “13th.” Hulu placed “The Gullah Way” on YouTube for free. I hope many take advantage and watch these shows.

2020 has exceeded all expectations in shining a light on the truth, so that everyone can see society clearly. And the year is only half over. Let’s hope 2021 brings more justice, compassion and kindness.