By Seth Daniel
Special to the Gazette
Growing up in the South End and attending schools in East Boston, it was clear upon hearing the life story of new Council President Andrea Campbell that she had far more in common with the disenfranchised voices in the city than the voices that would typically be heard at City Hall.
After being unanimously elected to the role of Council President by her colleagues, the District 4 councilor shared her story of growing up in Boston. District 4 covers parts of Forest Hills and Woodbourne in Jamaica Plain.
It wasn’t a story of rags to riches, but one of uncertainty and – as she said – the divergent paths taken by her and her late twin, Andre – who died in jail six years ago.
“My story shows what’s possible in the City of Boston,” she said. “To think that a girl from a poor family in Roxbury and the South End could be standing on this stage and holding this gavel is amazing.”
She explained that her brother died in jail due to inadequate medical care, and it had a tremendous impact on her life – mostly because while she exceled in school, he was in and out of jail, and ultimately, died there.
“How do two kids born and raised in the City of Boston have two very different life outcomes?” she asked. “We both were born here and educated in all Boston Public Schools. We both lost our biological mother at six years old…We both didn’t meet our father until we were eight years old because he was in prison. During those first eight years we bounced around with family and sometimes foster care. We would later live with our father, but he would suddenly pass away when we were 19 years old. In spite of all this, I was blessed to go on to Princeton University and UCLA Law School. Andre, on the other hand, went in and out of the criminal justice system and ultimately faced his death. I would have never imagined the Council would be the place I would share this story and work on policies to ensure we don’t continue these stories of divergent paths.”
She also explained that her father instilled in her a will to do better, even though as a young man growing up in Boston, he faced much discrimination. She said he was accepted to Princeton University, as she was, but wasn’t able to attend.
Instead, he went down the wrong path.
“My father shared the frustration that many people of color do in this city – that even if you work hard, you still are marginalized or relegated to low-wage jobs,” she said.
“Although he never made it to Princeton, I did by taking advantage of every opportunity this city has to offer – excellent public schools, after school programs and job opportunities, mentors, strong church communities. These are opportunities my brother and far too many of my peers were not afforded.”
That led right into her platform, which includes making sure all neighborhoods have high-quality schools, affordable after-school programs, transportation, great parks and affordable sustainable housing.
“My story illustrates that a child’s life is not determined by the neighborhood or circumstances he or she grows up in, but rather the opportunities they are afforded in this city,” she said. “Today we celebrate many firsts, as the first African American woman to lead this body as Boston City Council president, I especially am humbled and proud to lead the most diverse Council in history with six women of color. The diversity of this body is one of its greatest strengths. Every single one of us, men and women, brings our story to this world and that gives us passion to do the work.”