Denise continues to be a true leader for civil rights in Cambridge. For more than 30 years, she has been an advocate for diversity and fairness. She has held town meetings on race and class and supported training programs and other activities to promote equal opportunity for people of color. Denise has been an active supporter of the YWCA's annual Stand Against Racism, Black Lives Matter, and Like Minded Parents, recognizing that these are crucial to creating a more just, equal Cambridge. Denise has been the local champion of women's issues, promoting great opportunities for women in business and leadership positions, and advocating for equal pay for equal work.
As a City Councilor and as Mayor, Denise has continually worked to address how race and class impact our society. She first sponsored a Race and Class Forum in the city over a decade ago, and in its most recent installment, in May 2009, the community was invited to participate in an open forum that addressed race and class in Cambridge. The forum was moderated by Professor Charles Ogletree, director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School. The forum was successful in bringing the community together and inspiring open discussion on the topic. Many participants remarked that they were pleased with the dialogue that the forum inspired and requested that a follow-up meeting take place.
During the summer months of 2009, Cambridge found itself thrust into the international spotlight following the unfortunate arrest of a distinguished Harvard professor. The incident sparked many heated discussions on the intersection of race and class in contemporary society, and Denise worked hard both in public, and behind the scenes, to ensure that this incident did not spin out of control. Through levelheaded media appearances and thoughtful pleas to the community to try to wring something positive out of this experience, Denise proved herself to be an intelligent and forward-thinking leader.
Denise has also devoted considerable time and effort into winning recognition for civil rights pioneer Prince Hall. Prince Hall – a Revolutionary War era figure who established Black freemasonry, who fought to abolish slavery, petitioned George Washington to allow Black soldier’s to fight in the Revolution, and who blazed a path later picked up by Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King, Jr. – was in danger of fading into the shadows of history until Denise joined the efforts to win him the recognition he deserves. Thanks to her tireless advocacy, the nation’s very first Prince Hall Memorial now resides on the Cambridge Common.
Denise also used her position as mayor to promote Black History Month by sponsoring and promoting a number of performances, lectures, and exhibits in City Hall throughout the month.