One nonprofit’s response to racism – City Mission Boston

Providers' Council member City Mission Boston educates and empowers individuals and communities to expose systemic barriers and act together to advance economic and racial equality for underserved families.

Click here to learn more about City Mission Boston.


“People across diverse groups are thinking and planning—or they should be—how to respond to alarming and accelerating murders of black Americans. Racism, economic injustices, and health disparities among black individuals and other people of color prevent progress for everyone who calls America home. It’s a devastating time, but there is reason for hope.

In the experience of City Mission, people of all backgrounds want to understand the hard topic of slavery and its continuing impact in our country. It starts with education, and there are immediate steps that nonprofits, congregations, and others can take.

Organize pilgrimages
City Mission formed in 1816 to educate and empower communities to expose systemic barriers and join together to advance economic and racial equality for underserved families. In the past year, we have piloted a promising model of pilgrimage, in which groups of primarily white Americans travel to places of significance to the racial history of our country. Our visit to The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Alabama, and to sites in and around Boston where slavery flourished and blacks found safety on their travels South have been oversubscribed. There is a thirst to know and to understand.

Hold public events
City Mission’s public forums that directly address racism have drawn crowds. In March 2020, just before the COVID-19 lockdown, a capacity audience at Old South Church heard a moving tribute from Josephine Bolling McCall, author of The Penalty for Success: My Father was Lynched in Lowndes County, Alabama. We need more such gatherings, when and in whatever manner is safe.

Train the next generation
City Mission’s Urban Pastoral Ministry Program, funded by the Lilly Endowment, Inc. prepares new clergy to integrate racial and social justice as a priority of urban ministries. This model can be easily adapted for use in any community. In another model we blend social justice with the education of seminarians. High school students are clamoring to learn how they can promote a racially just society. In 2020 we received 120 applications for just 12 places in our Social Justice Intern Program. With more funding we can expand, and we can share our curriculum and tools with others.

Engage the community
It’s unfair, but necessary, to ask those burdened by racism, poverty, poor health, and/or fear of deportation to find the time and mental energy to complete even a seemingly simple task like the 2020 Census. The onus is on us to reach out to those who are underrepresented and help them be counted. Funding and other partnerships make this and other such efforts completely doable. It’s essential to our democracy.

Advocate for justice
Perhaps no other work of nonprofits calls out for partnerships more than advocacy for policies and programs that promote justice for all. All can participate, and as we see every day, when our voices are amplified people listen. For example, City Mission trains single mothers living in poverty to tell their stories to the public. It’s another area in which a small investment can have outsize impact.

Join in solidarity
Like many nonprofits, City Mission’s capacity is limited and our resources are thin. Our experience with the Lilly Endowment, Inc. demonstrates the possibilities inherent in partnerships across institutions that are among the biggest and the smallest, and that ask questions about new models of doing business. We believe that many possibilities can work when we apply our shared values to a common purpose.

“History despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but it can be faced with courage, and need not be relived again.” Maya Angelo, author

City Mission Boston
185 Columbia Road
Dorchester, MA 02102 “