Bos­ton teens look for ways to shape the fu­ture of race re­la­tions.

Metro USA (Boston) - - FRONT PAGE - KRISTIN TOUS­SAINT @kristin­dakota kristin.tous­[email protected]

Malaysia Fuller-Staten can’t pin­point the first time she was tar­geted for her skin color, be­cause there have been many small in­stances of bias, she said, but one sit­u­a­tion a few years ago stands out.

Fuller-Staten, who is black and a Roxbury na­tive, was 16 years old when she and a friend were shop­ping at a high­end cos­metic store. The two were look­ing for a gift for her friend’s cousin. They found the item and waited for an em­ployee to help them. The girls waited and waited and waited.

The em­ploy­ees ig­nored the teens, said Fuller-Staten, who is now 19. “Peo­ple who were walk­ing in af­ter us were helped, but em­ploy­ees were walk­ing past us like we didn’t ex­ist. At one point I said, ‘Let’s just wait to see if any­one ever speaks to us.’ No one ever did.”

The not-so-sub­tle act of prej­u­dice left FullerS­taten feel­ing pow­er­less, she said. Both stu­dents soon joined the Cen­ter for Teen Em­pow­er­ment, a com­mu­nity group that em­ploys low-in­come teens to iden­tify press­ing is­sues in their com­mu­ni­ties and find ways to ad­dress them.

On Tues­day, the cen­ter is join­ing with Bos­ton city of­fi­cials and other ac­tivist or­ga­ni­za­tions to lead a dis­cus­sion on racism. The event will take place at 5:30 p.m., at Hiber­nian Hall in Bos­ton, 184 Dud­ley St.

Fuller-Staten will be there as will other young peo­ple who are tak­ing a more ac­tive role in ad­dress­ing the is­sue of race re­la­tions and racism in Bos­ton and be­yond.

The event, called Racism Talks, To­gether We Walk, is a way for young peo­ple to share their sto­ries and be­gin to work on so­lu­tions, Fuller-Staten said.

In Novem­ber, Bos­ton Mayor Marty Walsh kicked off a se­ries of “city­wide con­ver­sa­tions about racism” with a talk in part meant to ac­knowl­edge the city’s racially di­vi­sive past, as well as look to­ward its fu­ture.

Jose Capo, a pro­gram co­or­di­na­tor at the teen em­pow­er­ment group, said the city spends a lot of time talk­ing about its mis­takes (like the con­tentious bus­ing his­tory) with­out an­a­lyz­ing their long-last­ing ef­fects, or the sys­tems that let those in­stances oc­cur in the first place.

Bos­ton’s fu­ture, he said, is with its youth. The 14- to 21-year-olds who will have a voice in Tues­day’s talk didn’t ex­pe­ri­ence much of the racially charged events in Bos­ton’s re­cent his­tory, like the court-or­dered de­seg­re­ga­tion of pub­lic schools. But the young peo­ple to­day still live in a sys­tem that al­lowed that kind of racial bias, he said.

“The things we’re ex­pe­ri­enc­ing to­day aren’t new things,” he said. “Racism has ex­isted for so long, and young peo­ple have such a pow­er­ful voice in all of it.”

The cen­ter hopes that the talk will reach both peo­ple of color and white res­i­dents, who both have a role in “dis­man­tling” racism, Capo said.

“Ul­ti­mately, we’re fram­ing the con­ver­sa­tion where racism is a dis­ease and racial bias is the in­fec­tion,” he said. “Un­til we have ac­tive con­ver­sa­tions, where we’re des­tig­ma­tiz­ing, destereo­typ­ing things we have racial bias for, we’re not go­ing to be able to get rid of the dis­ease of racism.”


Malaysia Fuller-Staten per­forms a poem at a pre­vi­ous Teen Em­pow­er­ment event. PRO­VIDED BY THE CEN­TER FOR TEEN EM­POW­ER­MENT

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