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^ Governor Baker and LtGov Karyn Polito converse with and speak to 200 community leaders and Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative members yesterday at the Kroc Center —- —- —- —- —- Governor Baker delivered as inaugural address at the State House yesterday, and all of us in the media have covered it, analyzed it, opined about it. But Baker delivered a second speech yesterday, one that no one has yet written about. This speech was given at the Kroc Center on Dudley Street in Roxbury, where Baker and his Lieutenant Governor, Karyn Polito, heard from, and then spoke to, about 200 assembled community leaders and members of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, otherwise known as the “Promise Movement.” It was a speech of inspiration such as I have not heard a Republican deliver in at least 40 years, words of encouragement and uplift and quite pointed, a  speech almost revolutionary in its potential political consequences.

Baker said “there’s an awful lot of good stuff going on in communities of color…things you never hear about…which the media does not cover…we should pay more attention to the success going on, here and right up the street, at places like The Base.” Baker talked about the city of Lawrence too : “you don’t often hear about Lawrence in a good light, but two days ago we visited the Frost School there, a level one school in a city where education progress is going on right now. The city has doubled the number of top performing schools.”

Summing up his theme, Baker said “success usually mean doing more of what works and less of what doesn’t” and “We need to focus on the success stories !” You may be tempted to think that Baker was simply voicing a cliche about the news always reporting bad things that go on in communities of color and none of the good, but Baker’s meaning, addressed to an audience of people of color rigorously dedicated to self-improvement, went much deeper than that. He was telling the 200 that their personal successes matter : to the community of which they’re part; to the City; and to the state, as validation, as role modeling, as foundations to be built upon, not merely by money or programs but, most basic of all, by will power and confidence, attributes of the soul that work whether there’s money aound or not.

Before they spoke, both Polito and Baker wrote upon the organization’s “Promise Board” their promises to the community

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^ Baker and Polito writing their promises to the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative on the group’s “Promise Board”

This was inspiration at the Deval Patrick level and then some, for dpecificity and resolve and becasue it was made to an audience of color by a Republican governor and lieutenant governor.

The 200 applauded every sentence of Baker’s speech, as well they might, given what most people in communities of color have seen and heard from Republicans recently.

Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins was there, as were State representatives Evandro Carvalho and Russell Holmes, local business leader Clayton Turnbull, UMass Boston chancellor Keith Motley, Roxbury Community College president Gloria Roberson, incoming Labor Secretary Ron Walker, City of boston Development leader Sheila Dillon, and Boston Police Commissioner Bill Evans. It was an impressive display of what in gospel singing is called ‘witness.” Baker also had with him two cabinet secretaries of great significance to the Dudley Street community : Business and economic Development chief Jay Ash and Chrystal Kornegay, who will be Baker’s Housing and Urban Development leader. Baker singled them out and also their recent work : Ash as Chelsea City manager and Kornegay as head of Urban Edge.

I thought of Senator Ed Brooke, who died barely days ago, and what he would have thought had he been on hand, in the neighborhood that he lived in, to hear Baker’s words. His life, his work, his politics exemplified “Promise.”

Baker’s speech reached back to that era in Republican politics and, for me at least, reclaimed it for himself, and, by implication, for Republican political priorities as well. And if Baker often sounded more like RFK than not, that too takes us back to a time when success-oriented urban reform, and the moral impulses that underlay it, were the driving force of successful Massachusetts Republicanism : and to its adoption, intentionally, by the Kennedys, who eventually made it a major Democratic mission even as the Republican party lost grip. But that was almost 50 years ago, and Governor Baker is now : potentially, a political force as game-changing as were the 1960s Kennedys. —-

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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