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Education, Violence Top Concerns For District 7 Residents05:26
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About 30 people gathered in the Haley House Bakery Café Wednesday night in Roxbury. The Greatest Minds Coalition, which aims to get more people of color in Boston involved in community and political issues, organized this event. It was chance for District 7 voters to talk the candidates about their top concerns.

“My name is Gary Bracey, and the most important issue for me is education,” said one voter.

The Education Problem

Education is by far the most important issue to people here. Many are upset about the disproportionately high number of schools in District 7 that the city is planning to close, and about the 50 percent dropout rate among Boston’s blacks and Latino’s.

Education is by far the most important issue to people in District 7. The dropout rate is 50 percent among Boston's blacks and Latinos.

Bracey said bad neighborhoods don’t make bad schools. Instead, bad schools make bad neighborhoods.

“Kids are dropping out in record numbers. Our politicians have to be about correcting this in this area because this is the most devastated area in terms of education. Our children are going to jail instead of college.

Violence And The Desire For Change

There’s also a lot of concern about violence — hardly surprising with the more than 70 people murdered in the city last year.

Joseph Bartley, who spent 11 years in prison on a weapons charge, and is now learning to be a baker at Haley House, said there are a lot of people like him in this community who need more help.

"There has to be a system set up for us to get back into society because a lot of guys are coming home — and they want change," Bartley said. "So the way the current laws are set up, it’s difficult for people to get a job and get back into society."

And Evette Brown of Dorchester said the district needs more services for young people.

"I agree. It’s essential to make sure the youth feel valued, and to give them alternatives other than being in the streets," Brown said.

This was not a debate. The candidates appeared separately –- one after the other -– to introduce themselves and take questions from voters.

The Candidates

Cornell Mills described himself as a husband and homeowner -– and the owner of a real estate firm. Mills is the son of Dianne Wilkerson, who was a civil rights lawyer, and a state senator who was caught in the same federal corruption probe as Chuck Turner, and sent to jail. Mills cast himself as a candidate not afraid to shake things up.

“A lot of what we hear about today is we have a governor who is black; we have a president who is black, so there is [sic] some conversations about us being in the post-racial America," Mills said. "In my opinion we are far from a post-racial America. My candidacy is one in which I’m excited to challenge the status quo, to speak truth to power."

For his part, Tito Jackson pushed his platform of jobs and education. Before working as Gov. Deval Patrick’s political director in the last campaign, Jackson worked in the Patrick administration to attract businesses to Massachusetts. And last night he touted his experience as a political organizer.

“As a city councilor you get a little yellow book that says what your duties are. And it’s a little yellow book, too. So many of things that we are talking about are outside the power of that. But the real power that we have is the power to bring folks together -– and to push and organize — and I think that’s what needs to happen," Jackson said.

And that may be a big challenge. In the preliminary election last month, only 7 percent of voters –- fewer than 3,000 — went to the polls.

Carline Porcenna said the biggest challenge facing these candidates is to get more people in the community involved.

“In a city where there’s so much need, people aren’t showing up and this is such a crucial election for this area," Porcenna said. "And people are using old tactics. We can’t put up fliers and expect that to work. Something has to change.”

This segment aired on March 3, 2011.

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