This week, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh appointed Atyia Martin as the city’s first chief resilience officer. According to Boston public radio station WGBH, she’s exactly the kind of person you’d want helping your city if disaster were to strike:
At 34, she’s done stints in the Air Force, at the FBI, with the Boston Police, in the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management. As director of the Office of Public Health Preparedness, she was in the thick of the city’s response to the Boston Marathon bombings. Last year she finished a PhD on the factors that make people vulnerable in emergencies.
Martin’s position is funded by the Rockefeller Foundation (which also provides support to Next City) as part of its global 100 Resilient Cities initiative. Oakland has used the resilience officer position to address a gamut of natural disaster vulnerabilities. While different cities have different resilience priorities — from rising sea levels to earthquakes — Walsh appointed Martin with a specific task in mind: to address how income inequality, a lack of affordable housing, poverty and racism factor into disaster recovery.
“The mayor has been specific about wanting to do work around race, understanding race and having racial dialogues to figure out the root causes of the social circumstances people are facing in our communities,” Martin told WGBH.
When Martin steps into her new role at the end of this month, Walsh wants her to focus on the day-to-day lives of people in all of Boston’s communities.
“Whether you’re talking about the Boston Marathon bombings or whether you’re talking about shootings that happen in the city, or you’re talking about some of the other national news that happens around shootings of young black men in the community. All those things affect people in their day-to-day lives,” Martin said.
Atyia Martin (Credit: atyiamartin.com)
It’s not a coincidence Martin brings up the shootings of young black men in the same breath as talking about the Marathon. Mayor Walsh does it, too.
“After the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, we rallied as a city to support the victims and overcome fear,” Walsh [said]. “But some people asked very hard questions about why we don’t rally the same way against violence in communities of color.”
Atyia Martin says there’s “an undertone of psychological trauma” in the city.
Last month, Rockefeller opened applications for the last 33 spots in the 100 Resilient Cities initiative. Cities may apply online until November 24, 2015.
Jenn Stanley is a freelance journalist, essayist and independent producer living in Chicago. She has an M.S. from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.