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She wants to build a sense of campus community for Black women

Kiera Perryman. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Kiera Perryman took part in last summer’s Black Lives Matter racial justice protests in Boston, walking the nearly four miles from the Nubian Square commercial district near Northeastern to City Hall. It was her first time seeing people gathered together since the pandemic lockdowns started earlier in the year.

The solidarity of seeing a mix of races coalescing around a movement left a mark on Perryman that day.

“It was very grounding and powerful,” she recalls.

People coming together toward a shared vision was what propelled her two years earlier to join the Northeastern chapter of Sisters in Solidarity (SIS), an affinity group for Black women and part of the larger Black Voices Matter campaign. Perryman is one of about seven members in SIS, and she says it’s meaningful to be with like-minded others.

Kiera Perryman. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

“It’s nice to have that place to be together on campus,” she says. The John D. O’Bryant African American Institute in West Village is another place where Perryman feels free to be herself. The bracelet on her left wrist with “Faith” written on it was a gift from a friend at the institute and was bought from a Black-owned vendor.

Meeting with other Black women and sharing joys, pains, and concerns triggers a sense of belonging, which became even more important after the global pandemic put a sudden end to everything, Perryman says.

“You’re getting that feeling of solidarity,” she explains.

But that connected feeling is often missing in certain circles, including the legal profession, where Black women are rare, says Hilary Robinson, associate professor of law and sociology. She pointed to Rachael Rollins, the Northeastern law school graduate now serving as a district attorney in Massachusetts, as an example of a leader who inspires others.

But “finding ‘safe’ mentorship can be difficult when there isn’t a Rachael Rollins or someone like her in your organization,” Robinson says.

Lacking alliances, Black women may struggle to prove their worth in the workplace while trying to project an image of perfection, she adds.

“This can lead to burnout, missed deadlines, and procrastination,” Robinson says. “For the woman of color in the workplace this could confirm existing society-engendered worries about her worth and competence.”

Nicole Aljoe, director of the interdisciplinary Africana Studies Program and associate professor of English and Africana studies, sees affinity groups serving two critical functions.

“First, like much of the world, academia operates through networks, so I see organizations such as [SIS] offering Black women the possibility of creating their own networks,” Aljoe says.

“The second issue is that at many primarily white institutions, Black female students are often isolated, or one of only a few Black women in campus, so again, groups like this offer a sense of community.”

Black women’s groups, she adds, encounter “the usual obstacles which face most social groups, and, of course, racism.”

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh last month signed an executive order that would provide a quarter of city spending on contracts to go to women- and minority-owned businesses. The order comes after a study found that only a small portion of contracts have gone to minority-owned businesses.

“We knew that deep inequities exist in contracting here in the city of Boston,” Walsh said at the press conference announcing the order, according to media reports.

But Walsh is likely headed to Washington soon for a job in President Biden’s cabinet once he is confirmed by the Senate.

The leadership void in City Hall would be filled temporarily by City Council President Kim Janey as acting mayor—the city’s first woman and first Black person to assume the office—until a regular election later this year. The new mayor is not bound by Walsh’s executive action.

Northeastern’s Perryman, who grew up about an hour south of Boston, says if she were in charge of the city, she would focus on Black communities, especially Black-owned enterprises. “I try to choose them over Amazon when I shop,” she says. 

She went to a vocational high school and is the first in her family to pursue higher education, so she would also make high school students a priority. “Providing better resources for them as they’re applying for college is something that’s very valuable,” she says.

With graduation two years away, the third-year design major is looking ahead to a professional role in user interface/user experience design enhancing websites, improving digital content, and tapping other creative skills beyond what she’s done so far.

But after a co-op stint at a Boston digital marketing agency supporting multiple clients, she is now considering changing gears and searching for a second co-op doing in-house work instead, supporting just one customer—the company.

Describing her personal style as straightforward and formal, she says “I want to get a better grounding as a designer, so the shift will help me get more experience.”

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