By Vetto Casado, Assistant Director, Programs
The 2021-23 Boston Neighborhood Fellows cohort represents the largest and most diverse class of Fellows we have ever assembled. This year’s class represents a tapestry of intersectional identities, experiences and perspectives that authentically and vividly represent the emerging diversity of Greater Boston. These voices will have the platform to engage, interact, and challenge us and the local philanthropic sector – helping to shape our ideas, approaches and core practices at what is arguably the most opportune time in our history.
It is an opportunity born from unprecedented times. The past year has unleashed winds of change throughout Greater Boston, and as we race towards a post-COVID reality, we have the opportunity to re-think and re-shape the way we do our most important work. At the Foundation, we are working to activate the knowledge that real change can come when we align with and listen to those most proximate to our work, and to those whose lived experience gives a clearer understanding of both the pain felt in too many communities feel and the untapped promise they contain.
The Fellows play a key role in that knowledge sharing. Each class of Fellows takes part in a two-year program designed to harness the collective power, expertise and knowledge that they bring through their immersive work throughout many of Greater Boston’s most vibrant communities, while providing them with a platform, resources and connections to help our sector move in a more progressive and inclusive direction that centers community voice, racial equity and social justice. They join a growing alumni base of more than 180 Boston Neighborhood Fellows since 1990.
As I reflect on my own personal story and how I got here, the parallels are quite visible. The 15 fellows were nominated by a collective body of community leaders, BNF alumni, and TBF program leadership. Their shared stories serve as an important reminder of the importance of uplifting, celebrating, and supporting their voices and work throughout the community.
Like them, not long ago, I was an under-the-radar leader in need of a larger platform, of access to other BIPOC community member leaders, and of additional resources to do the work that had to be done. A wise man and mentor once told me, “When you get the elevator to go up in life, make sure to press the button and send it back down…” That message has stayed with me throughout my entire career and is a founding core principle of mine. To send the elevator back down and bring other folks up with you to the top floor creates larger networks, cohorts and power collectives that are authentic in their voice, bold in their vision, and reflective of the communities and people that they aim to serve.
As a sector, I challenge all of us to lean into the practice of power-sharing with under-the-radar leaders, community-building through active listening, and to progressively and passionately re-imagine what philanthropy looks like when communities are at the center, strong values and authentic representation is at the table, and all of us are joined in a united effort to re-shape and re-imagine what a more equitable and just Boston looks like in the post-COVID future.