Denise continues to be a true leader for civil rights in Cambridge. For more than 30 years, she has been an advocate for diversity, tolerance, and fairness. This term, she has sponsored an order that called for the creation of a Black-Owned Business Task Force, to work directly with City leadership in better understanding and meeting the needs of our local Black Business owners, and to develop policies, practices, and procedures designed to help them thrive. She has sponsored a policy order asking the City to pilot a reparations program that would take a to-be-determined percentage of revenue from local cannabis sales and distribute these monies to local Black-owned businesses AND that asked the City Mgr to explore establishing reparations programs with funding from other appropriate sources for possible future implementation to redress policies, including those enforced in Cambridge, that prohibited descendants of enslaved people from acquiring wealth, and she has co-sponsored a policy order asking the City Manager to establish a Commission of Racial Justice and Equity.
Denise also worked for months as co-chair of the City Manager’s Taskforce to Re-Imagine Public Safety, which in May 2021 released its recommendations for decreased reliance upon the Cambridge Police, a re-imagining of how to send unarmed first responders to a variety of different emergency calls to the City, and the creation of a new, unarmed Department of Community Safety.
Over the years, 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 equal pay for equal work.
As a City Councilor and as Mayor, Denise has a long, established track record of working to address how race and class impact our society. She sponsored her first Race and Class Forum two decades ago, she has led Cambridge through some of its more turbulent chapters in recent memory, and she continually seeks ways - such as working to re-establish the Citizen's Civic Unity Committee - to ensure that the People of Cambridge are rolling up their sleeves and actively engaging in the conversations that help us all better understand and work with one another. Denise also touched upon many of the themes from this dialogue - about the need for mutual respect, tolerance, and inclusion among one another - in her State of the City address in February 2017.
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 soldiers to fight in the Revolution, and who blazed a path later picked up by the likes of 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 Denise's tireless work and advocacy, the nation’s very first Prince Hall Memorial now resides on the Cambridge Common.
Denise has also used her own story as the nation's first Black, openly-lesbian mayor as an example to others, both to illustrate the inclusive and diverse nature of Cambridge, and to discuss the challenges that still face us as a society. Denise has spoken to audiences all across the country about the work she has had to put into achieving electoral success, about the pains we must all take to speak to one another rather than shouting over one another, and how we all are standing on the shoulders of those who came before us. Denise has used her work as lessons for the upcoming generations, cautioning that tolerance, acceptance, and inclusion can never be taken for granted, and we must all continually recommit to finding ways to build bridges across our community, put one another in each others' shoes, and try to figure out how to work together for the greater good of our communities.