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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Spirit Lives On

Before the days of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., Boston’s own William Monroe Trotter stood as a pillar of advocacy in the fight against racial injustice. A Harvard graduate and editor of the Boston Guardian, he wasn’t afraid to confront people of power, including the President of the United States, on hypocrisy and injustice. To the end of his days, Trotter dedicated his energy to fighting for the civil rights of everyday people.

The spirit of Trotter lives on through UMass Boston’s William Monroe Trotter Institute, located on the tenth floor of the Healy Library, and its Director Barbara Lewis. As the mission statement proclaims, the Institute works to “address the needs and concerns of the Black community and communities of color in Boston and Massachusetts through research, technical assistance, and public service.” Together with community groups throughout the area, the Institute works to develop a wide range of resources and support. “We are partnering with the Union of Minority Neighborhoods to work on a program whereby we can offer workshops on a variety of things such as fundraising, basic business and planning activities,” Lewis said.

“We’re going to be working to create a job fair. We’re doing a program whereby we’ll have free screening for men who might have prostate cancer. We’re also putting together a panel of folks from the African-American and Latino communities to talk about issues of conflict and how we can get past them.”

In addition to helping communities by providing direct services, the Institute also researches social issues and their effect on populations, compiling articles in the annual Trotter Review. “We have a scholar now from the sociology department who is working on questions related to criminal justice,” Lewis explained. “We’re doing demographic research, a profile of where the African-American community is now and research on education and the rates of MCAS passage and failure in the school systems. We’re also doing a bit of research into the health situation, a health assessment of the Haitian community. The Haitian community in Boston is the third largest Haitian community in the United States after New York and Florida.”

The Trotter Institute also works to engage students at UMass Boston in issues affecting people of color. During Black History Month, the Institute worked with Student Activities to present programs on campus on topics including hip-hop and local African-American art. In the coming weeks they will be hosting a talk about the foreclosure market, a discussion on media portrayals of black women and a Q&A with the Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Carol Johnson.

Lewis went on to describe efforts to arrange a mentoring program with campus faculty for students of color. The program will help students find support with the challenges faced in college life. “There are all kinds of problems that students encounter,” Lewis commented, “and sometimes they need a little help to figure out how to address those problems.”

The ambition of the William Monroe Trotter Institute speaks to the legacy of its namesake, a man whose life and work continue to inspire Lewis. “He was an advocate for justice,” she said. “He was very forthright in what he did, he didn’t back down. I find it terribly impressive that he had these ideals and stuck by them and put everything he had into them. I think it talks to the spirit of young people today. I think they realize that not everything is perfect in the world, and a lot of them really want to make a difference. Trotter was someone who did that, so I think he’s a role model. It feels good to be associated with an institute that tries to live up to those ideals of making some difference.”