Social Justice in 2019: A Year in Review

By Ranelle Porter,

By Michael Givens | December 31, 2019 | 4 Minute Read

From Massachusetts becoming the 16th state to ban a harmful mental health practice to the progress that was made on a bill that can help immigrants stay in the United States, social justice in 2019 has seen many impressive strides forward. As we get ready for the first chapter of 2020, the Join Us For Good campaign and Eastern Bank want to acknowledge the progress we’ve made.

An End to Conversion Therapy in the Bay State

On April 8, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed HR 140 (An Act Relative to Abuse Practices to Change Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Minors) into law. The controversial practice of conversion therapy has long been used by a small number of mental health providers to attempt to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBTQ youth through harmful practices that target physical and mental health.

Over the last several years, the practice has become condemned by a number of professional organizations, including the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, among others. Numerous studies have shown that attempting to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBTQ youth can cause depression and increased thoughts of suicide and lead to more instances of illicit drug use. Massachusetts joined California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington in legally condemning the practice. Just a month later, governors for both Colorado and Maine signed similar bills into law, with Maine becoming the last New England state to ban conversion therapy.

Providing a Clear Pathway to Homeownership

In 2019, Eastern Bank continued its commitment to social justice by working to provide Boston’s low-income families and families of color with the opportunity to own their own homes.

The Eastern Bank Community Development Lending (CDL) program has an impressive track record in this area, investing millions of dollars into affordable housing projects and community revitalization initiatives. Earlier this year, Eastern Bank Senior Vice President Yongmei Chen was honored for her work to ensure that Asian American families have greater access to housing opportunities in Boston.

“Gentrification is a major issue, not just in the Asian American community but in a lot of minority communities in [Boston],” she said at the awards ceremony. “In Chinatown, particularly, with all of the development that’s going on, the pressure of affordability, of people staying in the city and working in the city is getting tougher and tougher.”

Neighborhoods in Boston like Roxbury and Chinatown saw dozens of new homes built specifically for working families. Eastern Bank didn’t stop at affordable housing—it also invested heavily in its Business Equity Initiative (BEI), which provides capital to small business owners. It’s a great way to encourage entrepreneurship within communities of color.

Climate Strike

Climate change was one of the dominant conversations for social justice in 2019 and it’s an issue that affects every single one of us. On September 20, youth around the world participated in climate strikes to call attention to their deep concern about climate change and its impacts. From Belgium to South Africa, Afghanistan to Japan, thousands of young people took to the streets to discuss issues like greenhouse gas emissions, carbon dioxide levels, oil and gas exploration, rising seas, soil erosion, and the ever-fading ozone layer. In the United States, cities like Denver, San Francisco, New York, and Boston saw thousands of youth congregate in public spaces with colorful signs to demand a healthy future for our planet. The mobilization of so many young people across the world is powerful evidence that 2020 and beyond will see lots of social justice activism.

Dream and Promise Act

No year in review would be complete without discussing advancements in immigrant rights. The Dream and Promise Act passed the House of Representatives this summer. If approved by the Senate and signed into law, it will provide a clear path to citizenship for thousands of immigrants living across the nation. Specifically, this act will support immigrants who came into the United States as minors and provides them with conditional permanent status for up to 10 years. It was a major development in social justice in 2019.

As 2020 begins, the passage of bills like the Dream and Promise Act will ensure that our nation will continue to welcome immigrants who are seeking a better life.

Join the movement of doing good things to help people and communities prosper.

Celebrating Dr. Ron Ferguson with the 2019 Social Justice Award

By Ranelle Porter,

By Vanessa Lewis | October 29, 2019 | 3 Minute Read

Early childhood education is an undeniably valuable aspect of a child’s life. The first three years are crucial to their development and influence what kind of adult they will become.

October 28, 2019. Boston, MA. 2019 Celebration of Social Justice. Award recipient Ron Ferguson. © 2019 Marilyn Humphries

The Eastern Bank Charitable Foundation, which has selected “enriching early childhood development” as the theme this year, works to reduce structural inequality and empower families. We do so in order to contribute to the health and vitality of the neighborhoods we serve. Each year, our Celebration of Social Justice honors people and organizations who are committed to similar work.

We selected our theme because we believe that all our neighbors should have equal access to early learning opportunities for their children. There are people who go above and beyond to help foster a world where every child has access to education during one of the most pivotal times in their lives.

The Work of Dr. Ron Ferguson and The Boston Basics

Dr. Ron Ferguson has spent his career combatting the barriers that restrict children from disadvantaged communities from getting everything they need. As a professor, he’s using education to empower local families to dismantle the systems that keep those barriers up. He’s also creating models for how to engage with and support families who have limited resources. He believes that every child, from any background, can benefit from foundational learning experiences.

Dr. Ferguson created The Boston Basics organization to help our communities with early childhood caregiving. The work done at The Boston Basics has empowered parents and communities to help reshape child development in profound ways.

At Eastern Bank, we’ve come to understand that there are young children who are at risk of not reaching their full potential because of limited access to nutritional meals, a lack of early stimulation or nurturing, and early exposure to stress. Social justice and advocacy programs like The Boston Basics help to find solutions to challenges in early childhood education and care. That’s why, on October 28, 2019, we honored Dr. Ferguson and The Boston Basics at our annual Celebration of Social Justice.

Join Us For Good

Dr. Ferguson and The Boston Basics still need help. Your community involvement can have a tremendous impact on what happens in the homes and preschool classrooms of some of the city’s most underprivileged young children. Our employees have seen firsthand the difference that volunteers can make when it comes to enriching the early learning experience. They’ve donated over 50,000 hours of volunteer time in 2019 alone. Much of that is to organizations that focus on children and their developmental health.

Additionally, through our Charitable Foundation, Eastern Bank provides funding to over 1,600 local organizations that support families in the communities we serve. This year alone, our commitment in annual donations will exceed $10 million because we recognize that no one organization can change our communities without help.

We all need to support and invest in the programs that address the early educational needs of children. When we champion the outstanding work of community leaders like Dr. Ron Ferguson, we hear from some of our youngest voices in the community, voices that may go unheard in other circumstances.

Recognizing the work of programs like The Boston Basics is an opportunity for us all to connect and establish deeper relationships, which will further strengthen our communities.

Eastern Bank Honored at the Shorty Awards for LGBTQ+ Community Engagement

By Ranelle Porter,

By Lorelei Erisis | August 1, 2019 | 3 Minute Read

The past several years have been a tumultuous time for the LGBTQ+ community. It has often felt like we’re constantly fighting uphill only to be pushed back down whenever we’ve made significant progress. Yet as an out, queer, trans woman who has been deeply immersed in the fight for over a decade now, I know we’re making progress. We continue to score important victories.

And a big part of these successes are the allies who have helped us achieve them—like Eastern Bank. If LGBTQ+ rights are under attack, you can find Eastern Bank rallying behind our cause in support of their customers, colleagues, and communities.

Eastern Bank’s tireless support was recognized at the 2019 Shorty Awards when they were honored as a finalist in the LGBTQ Community Engagement category, where they received the Audience Honor for the most public votes within that category. This recognition further demonstrates the impact their work has had on the movement and individuals everywhere.

Join Us For Good and The Shorty Awards

The Shorty Awards is an annual award show that recognizes impressive work done through social media. This year, Eastern Bank was nominated for their Join Us For Good campaign, which focuses on social justice issues and particularly on spreading awareness and support for the LGBTQ+ community.

As a longtime ally, Eastern Bank has teamed up with local advocacy organizations, businesses, and activists like myself to promote action on key issues. And when transgender rights were being questioned on the Massachusetts ballot in the 2018 midterms, Eastern Bank knew the election results could have a profound impact on the LGBTQ+ community.

I was deeply humbled when Eastern Bank invited me to be a part of the “Good Votes” digital campaign, which was meant to target awareness of question three on the ballot. They felt that using my image alongside the quote “‘This is a person. Not a political argument.’ offered a unique insight into just how important the question was in the midterm election.”

It takes a community of people each doing their part to make sustainable forward progress and when I asked Eastern Bank why they felt the need to be so involved, they said, “It was our duty to step up, speak out, and protect transgender people from discrimination in public places,” adding, “Eastern Bank has dedicated over 200 years to doing what’s right and smart for our customers, colleagues, and communities, and supporting LGBTQ+ rights is one of many social justice causes we are passionate about and wholeheartedly believe in.”

What Progress Looks Like

The most important thing about “Join Us For Good” is the results. With Massachusetts voting 67% in favor of question three, we knew the campaign was a success. The last-ditch attempt by opponents of the LGBTQ community to repeal our hard-won transgender rights in Massachusetts was defeated.

With such a solid success, what’s next for Eastern Bank? “We won’t waiver from our commitment to the LGBTQ+ community and from standing up for what we deem is right and smart,” they said. “The public’s response to this campaign serves as affirmation that we need to and will continue to be an ally for LGBTQ+ individuals.”

Join Us For Good and celebrate Eastern Bank’s recognition at the Shorty Awards for their work in support of the LGBTQ+ Community!

Paula Johnson Honored with Social Justice Award

By Ranelle Porter,

By Nicholas Conley | December 14, 2018 | 4 Minute Read

As a young girl in Brooklyn, Paula Johnson always knew that she wanted to be a doctor someday. She had a love for science, a passion for helping others, and a cause—her beloved grandmother. Johnson has described her grandmother as a world-traveling, dancing woman who “loved life,” until suddenly succumbing to depression at age 60—a condition that was diagnosed too late to save her life.

The Cause

In Johnson’s acclaimed TED Talk, “His and Hers…Healthcare,” she explains that even though women are 70 percent more likely than men to experience depression, they are misdiagnosed 30–50 percent of the time. The reason for this comes down to implicit gender biases in medicine and research, which leads to the lack of quality healthcare for women. As Johnson famously told audiences, “It’s my grandmother’s struggles that have really led me on a lifelong quest.” Because of her grandmother, she had dedicated her life to ensuring that women receive the healthcare they deserve and to the well-being and advancement of women.

Johnson’s TED Talk has earned over 1,133,000 views, and is now recommended as one of the 10 Talks by Women That Everyone Should Watch.

Johnson has been a lifelong pioneer, advocate, scientist, and changemaker in the field of women’s health.

Because of her education as a cardiologist, she was among the first medical professionals to point out that the textbook “standard” symptoms of a heart attack are usually those experienced by men, whereas women may show entirely different symptoms. This was the basis for Johnson’s research because women’s biological differences from men aren’t always taken into account when diagnosing diseases or prescribing treatment.

“Men and women are different down to the cellular and molecular levels,” said Johnson in her TED Talk. “From our brains to our hearts, our lungs, our joints. And we’ve learned that there are major differences in the ways that women and men experience diseases, but we’re not making the investment in fully understanding the extent of these sex differences. We aren’t talking about what we have learned, and routinely applying it in clinical care. So we have to ask ourselves the question: why leave women’s health to chance?”

Johnson, the Grayce A. Young Family Professor of Medicine in Women’s Health at Harvard Medical School, a professorship named for her mother, and professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, founded the Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and she’s currently a member of the National Academy of Medicine, as well as the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Today she serves as the 14th President of Wellesley College—the first Black woman to occupy that role. In this new academic role, Johnson has worked to create new opportunities for women to achieve their aspirations across all fields.

Why Her Work Matters

Johnson has dedicated her life to the cause of equality. She has called out gender biases in medicine and worked to receive funding for women’s health sciences.

Furthermore, she’s sought to create change at the ground level. When people ask how they can help, she gives a straightforward answer: “As a woman, you have to ask your doctor, and the doctors who are caring for those you love: is this disease or treatment different in women? Now, this is a profound question, because the answer is likely yes, but your doctor may not know the answer, at least not yet. But if you ask the question, your doctor will very likely go looking for the answer. And this is so important, not only for ourselves, but for all of those whom we love.”

Most recently, Johnson co-chaired the first evidence-based study on sexual harassment in academia, specifically in STEM fields, under the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine. This ground-breaking study not only describes the extent of the problem but recommends strategies to prevent sexual harassment and to change climate and culture in organizations.

Celebrating Her Social Justice Achievements

Eastern Bank’s Celebration of Social Justice is now in its 30th year of honoring local individuals and nonprofits who have achieved outstanding success in addressing social justice issues.  In support of its 2018 Targeted Grant category of Advancing Women, Paula Johnson—physician-scientist, innovator, and educator—is this year’s award recipient.

Please join us in congratulating Johnson on this honor and for advancing, promoting, and defending women’s education, health, and well-being.