Kim Janey's Historic Journey From ‘a Little Girl From Roxbury' to Boston's Acting Mayor

The Roxbury native who lived through the busing crisis reflected on her path as she took over the keys to Boston, saying, "It's just incredible to think how far a city has come"

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Kim Janey's path to becoming the first women or person of color to serve as Boston's mayor hasn't been easy, and certainly didn't look like any of her predecessors'.

She lived through Boston's busing crisis in the 1970s and raised a child as a single teenager, but took over the keys to the city Monday night after Marty Walsh resigned on his way to becoming secretary of Labor.

"It's still so unbelievable. It is a very surreal that this little girl from Roxbury is now mayor of Boston. It's just incredible to think how far a city has come," Janey said.

The city's first mayor took office 199 years ago, in 1822. Since then, they were all white men -- until Janey, who before assuming the mayor's office was Boston City Council president after being elected to the body in 2017, the first woman to represent her district.

Though home to prominent Black thinkers and well-known abolitionists throughout those two centuries, Boston was also home to racial strife, including the busing crisis of 1975. In an attempt to desegregate Boston Public Schools, students were taken to schools outside of their neighborhoods, leading to intense and sometimes violent protests that captured the nation's attention.

Ted Landsmark, a Northeastern University professor and a Black man who was attacked during a 1976 anti-busing demonstration in Boston gives advice to young Black Lives Matter activists today.

Janey lived through that process, when she was 11 years old.

"My school bus would need escorts from the police. There were often racial slurs and rocks thrown at our bus," she said. "It was a very difficult, ugly moment in our city's history. And we have come a very long way since then."

She added, "We have a lot more work to do."

In high school, she got pregnant and gave birth to her daughter, Janey said. Some people discounted her for that.

"My life changed dramatically from that point on. And the focus really was to finish high school, to graduate with my peers, to make sure that I could do everything to give my daughter what she needed in life, even though others around me had written me off. But I persevered with the support of family and of community and mentors who poured so much into me," she said.

City Councilor Kim Janey sat down for an interview with Latoyia Edwards before taking over as acting mayor of Boston following the confirmation of Marty Walsh as U.S. labor secretary.

Janey's family has a history of community involvement. It consists of "educators, entrepreneurs, artists and advocates, with deep roots in Roxbury," she said.

Her great-grandfather, Daniel Benjamin Janey, who was part of Twelfth Baptist Church when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. attended as a graduate student at Boston University.

And her family remains a part of the community: "My younger sister is a teacher in Boston Public Schools. My other sister is the owner of Black Market in Nubian Square. My brothers do great work."

"Oh, she is a boss," said her nephew Malcolm Grant, to whom the new mayor is simply "Auntie Kim."

Kim Janey is now Boston's acting mayor, the first woman or person of color to lead the city. In Roxbury, where she's from, people were excited about what it means for her.

In Roxbury on Tuesday, residents were ready for a Black, female mayor. As Grant put it, "so that we can feel part of the city."

"You know, a lot of times we don't feel the opportunities that the city provides," he added.

Frugal Bookstore owner Leonard Egerton said he loved the message Janey sends, "especially to young Black women, that they can become as important as she is."

Roxbury business owners said she was supportive and knew the neighborhood well.

"Kim Janey has walked these streets, she's quite familiar with the community," said Cheryl Straughter, whose restaurant, Soleil, Janey visits frequently for the salmon/mac and cheese combo.

Acting Mayor Kim Janey, the first woman and the first person of color to serve in the top job in Boston, is receiving support from others who have blazed trails in the city and elsewhere in Massachusetts.

Others in the community Janey's from were excited to see her take charge in City Hall, too, like longtime Boston activist Clifton Brathwaite.

"This is a new Boston. We have a chance to show the world what we can do," he said.

The city will commemorate the change with a swearing-in ceremony for Janey just before noon on Wednesday.

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