Diversity & the Future of Boston

She’s spent her career helping organize voters in poor urban neighborhoods, working to reduce youth incarceration, and empowering underserved communities. Now, she’s aiming to make Boston a more fun, business friendly city.

Malia Lazu, Director of the newly formed Future Boston Alliance, aims to improve Boston’s image by luring and keeping creative industries in the city, easing regulation that make it difficult for restaurant owners to get liquor licenses or force nightclubs to close at 2 A.M., increasing civic engagement, and celebrating the city’s historical and cultural achievements.

“The mission of Future Boston [Alliance] is to look at creative industry, the diversity of culture that we have here, bettering out transportation system, and getting people civically engaged in the process, and we really think that those four areas of society are areas that Boston could do better in, and we hope to help that happen,” Lazu said.

“If people feel welcome in a community they’ll stay. People stay in New York not because there’s affordable housing, not because it’s a small quaint city, but it’s because everybody has their community there, and you feel welcome and you feel that you’re in a city that if you wanted to hustle up an idea you could in fact do just that and you could invent the next greatest thing, and that comes from having a vibrant society, and I think that Boston has killed it’s society, the fabric of who we are by becoming very nanny-esque if you will.”

Although Lazu is originally from Hawaii, she’s spent the majority of her career in Boston. After graduating from high school, she moved to attend Emerson College, and during her sophomore year in 1996, she founded Mass VOTE, a non-profit that organizes voters in poor urban neighborhoods of Boston. Malia was recognized by the Massachusetts State Senate for her work with Mass VOTE and was even named MTV’s Activist of the Month in June 2000.

After leaving Mass VOTE in 2002 she moved to Washington D.C. where she worked with Young Democrats of America, and Progressive Majority, which works to get progressive candidates of color elected to state and local offices.

In 2007 she moved in New York and became Executive Director of The Gathering for Justice, which works to reduce youth incarceration throughout the United States, before returning to Boston in 2009 to take a Mel King Fellowship at MIT, and she also briefly taught at Emerson College.

Although the Future Boston Alliance was only established last May, they have already formed an accelerator program designed to train people in creative industries how to start their own business.

“We’re also doing an accelerator program, where people who are in the creative industries can learn how to start business, and we’re hoping, we’ve got to help people want to stay in Boston and build business and build sort of a creative economy if you will,” Lazu said.

Along with training entrepreneurs to start their own business, Lazu also noted that the accelerator is an example of the Future Boston Alliance’s, fostering the city’s diversity through civic engagement.

“Bringing people out of their silos is the revolutionary act, right, and so we want folks to understand that, and we want to make that happen,” Lazu said.

“Within our accelerator program we have so much racial, economic, neighborhood diversity, but we also have a transgendered person in our accelerator program,” Lazu said. “So in being able to bring together these different groups of people Boston is going to have a different feel to it and I think that it allows people to sort of have this emperor has no clothes moment, you know, and be like, ‘oh wait, we can live a different life, let’s just do that then, that’s way easier.’”

Although Lazu stressed that Future Boston Alliance isn’t a political group or a lobbyist firm, she said there are changes in policy the organization believes would make the city better.

“As far as policy is concerned, we have a few areas where we think that we can actually change the law and make things better,” Lazu said. “The first being the liquor licensing and just how not open, just how closed of a process, and how back door of a process, and how expensive liquor licensing is. Which, it being so cost prohibitive, it changes the face of who actually creates cultural venues here.

“The whole entertainment bureau seems very strange to us, you know, and the fact that you need a permit to allow people to dance seems a little footloosy,” Lazu said. “And we think we’re all responsible to be able to dance.”

Although the Future Boston Alliance aims to make Boston a more fun, civically engaged, business friendly city, Lazu said that in order make this happen, Bostonians need to lighten up. “You can create realities when you don’t take your reality very seriously, and I think that that’s what is needed here, is that we’ve been taking ourselves way to seriously and we really believe that this is who we are” Lazu said. “And the fact of the matter is, is that we have a longer history of being freaks then we do of being cops and teachers.”

-Adam Sennott

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