This is Part II in a series of posts highlighting ideas discussed during HUBweek 2018 to create a more inclusive and equitable future. See the first five ideas here.
HUBweek’s 2018 theme was We the Future, a call to action and invitation to our attendees, speakers, and the Greater Boston community to co-create a more inclusive, equitable future, together. Invoking the ways in which this region has, historically and today, served as a laboratory and launchpad for some of the world’s most exciting discoveries, the theme speaks to our collective ability to change the world we live in, and to find ways to make a positive and lasting impact in Boston and around the globe. Throughout HUBweek, speakers shared their thoughts on how to accomplish these goals, and how they have, and continue to, work towards a better future. From the fields of art, politics, global health, and more, below are five ideas from to create a more equitable future for all.
1. Engage, empower, and make elders more visible
Did you know that 10,000 people turn 65 every day in the U.S.? And, according to a City of Boston and UMass Boston report from 2014, seniors will make up almost 20% of our city’s population by 2030. During the HUBweek session “Can Artists Change the City,” Karen Young, a local organizer, cultural artist, and 2018 Boston Artist-in-Residence shared the results of her Older and Bolder project, which sought to “engage, empower, and make elders more visible in the city using art.” Using the Japanese taiko drum “as a vehicle to command space and attention,” Young engaged members of this growing, yet civically invisible, community of elders in an effort to “look at the stigma around age and getting older” and change narratives around aging. As part of the project, Young worked with residents at the BCYF Grove Hall Senior Center, helping them publicly address issues of concern in their neighborhood.
2. Reorient how we think about mental health
For author and activist Glennon Doyle, the most important thing we can to do to support mental health is to change the way we think about it. In conversation with her wife, Olympic gold medalist Abby Wambach, and drawing on her own experiences with addiction and recovery, Doyle proposed reorienting the way we conceptualize mental illness, and anxiety in particular. Her vision of a more inclusive and equitable future is centered around supporting people with mental health issues, emphasizing that mental health is something that affects us all, whether or not we have a diagnosed condition. Only by broadening the conversation and removing the stigma around these issues can we begin to heal, and to provide better support to members of our communities. “Mental health not just for people who struggle with depression and anxiety,” she explained. “Just like physical health isn’t just for Olympians. We all have brains that we need to focus on making them become strong and healthy, just like we all have bodies...This is not a separate conversation that we have for sick people.”
3. Use non-traditional methods to elevate underrepresented voices
During the inaugural Change Maker Conference at HUBweek 2018, architectural designer and grassroots community organizer Caroline James spoke about fighting for equity and inclusion in the architecture field, one in which only 17% of practitioners are women, and many fewer are people of color. After building a network of allies and elevating the voices of female designers through symposia and storytelling, James realized she needed a new approach, “a different tune — more public, vivid, visceral:” the flashmob. “Together with the other women [at the 2018 Venice Biennale] we made a manifesto denouncing discrimination harassment and making a collective commitment to equity,” James explained. “It was so beautiful; hundreds of architecture students, women, assembled in a leafy open space...inserting ourselves. We read the manifesto, solidifying a collective commitment to respect to values of respect and justice in architecture.” She cited the physicality and emotional impact of the flashmob, which helped it effectively bring to light the discrimination and harassment that so many women architects experience, and pave the way for a more inclusive culture in the industry.
4. Engage communities to use academic research for impact
Academic research often operates at a distance from the populations it serves, but that is not the case for the work of Dr. Erica Walker, exposure scientist and environmental epidemiologist at Boston University. Walker prefers what she calls “ride-sharing science:” research that actively engages communities along the way. “I like to call my hypotheses a destination...So my destination was that I wanted to understand the relationship between community noise and health,” Walker explained at the inaugural Change Maker Conference. “With ride-sharing science, as you’re getting to your destination you’re picking up people along the way, and you listen to their input...And other people shared their stories with me...and [it] helped me to develop a more rich study project.” Throughout her research process she has worked closely with residents to address noise issues, improve community wellbeing, and create a future where academic research is as inclusive and impactful as possible.
5. Use personal narrative to change hearts, minds, and policies about addiction
Despite scientific evidence that addiction is a chronic disease, drug policy is still largely based on public opinion that frames addiction is a moral failing or personal choice. For Michael Botticelli, Executive Director of the Grayken Center for Addiction at Boston Medical Center and former Director of National Drug Control Policy under President Obama, changing the narrative around addiction with personal stories and more accurate language is the only way to engender empathy, rethink public policies, and build a society that supports people who struggle with drug use or are in recovery. “If we’re going to increase empathy and a compassionate response to [addiction], we really have to understand, and appreciate, and hear and promote personal stories. We really [need to be] creating an environment free of stigma where people feel free to kind of talk about their own journey, to talk about their family’s journey as it relates to issues of addiction,” Botticelli explained. He concluded by calling for grassroots advocacy and storytelling, and by asking the audience to create a society that truly supports — rather than punishes — those struggling with substance use.