Good People for the Resistance is a twice-monthly interview with people who give me hope during these dark times. Today, meet Determined Diva Julia Mejia, a social justice activist in Boston. She is currently running for Boston City Council At-Large. When I caught up with Julia, she was coming from a meeting of the city’s leaders of color at the Museum of Fine Arts. The museum is under fire because of multiple instances of overt racism experienced by black and brown high school students on a recent field trip…
Q: What’s your day job?
I’m the founder and executive director of CPLAN – Collaborative Parent Leadership Action Network. We get parents more engaged with their kids’ schools through leadership training. We also train school leadership on how to work better with parents of color.
Q: You are a fierce, determined activist. How did this happen?
I came to Boston from the Dominican Republic with my mother when I was a kid. She was undocumented and did not speak English. By the time I was 9-years old I was her official translator. We’d go into the welfare office and I’d have to fight for services for us to survive. For us to have food. Luckily I had an award-winning personality, and at a very young age I learned to speak truth to power. My mother was often humiliated because she was poor and didn’t speak English. When I translated what they were saying to her I would soften the blow. Because of these early experiences I’ve devoted my life to helping people who have been left out to have a voice.
Q: Was there a key event that changed the course of your life?
I grew up in a segregated Boston, in Dorchester. I rarely interacted with white people – teachers, or when they came in and took kids away, or in the welfare office. I did not have any white friends. Then I got to college and everything changed. One day I saw a white campus policeman harassing a black student about his ID. I told the police I knew him, he was trying to get into the dorm to get his asthma pump. Afterwards I talked to one of my professors about what had happened. He told me if you want to make a dent in this issue you need to work from the inside. That’s when I decided to become a Resident Assistant in my dorm. It transformed the way I see my advocacy. That was the event that launched my social justice activism.
Q: Whom do you admire?
Liz Walker. She was the first African-American TV anchor in the state of Massachusetts. She shared her story at my high school and her journey inspired me to become the 1st in my family to graduate high school and college. That brief encounter interrupted my entire cycle of poverty. She went from being a reporter to being Reverend Liz and she continues to inspire others.
Q: In the early 2000’s you had one of the coolest jobs on the planet – working for MTV. How’d you get the job?
I wanted to be a reporter like Liz Walker, so I moved to NYC to try to make it. It was hard to break into the business, so I wound up working in youth development. I was making a documentary of a girl I’d been working with who’d lost her mother to AIDS. We entered the video for an MTV documentary contest. At the time, they were looking to hire a Latinx college student to be a reporter. I had graduated from college already, but they hired me because I understood the issues impacting youth. I had the “urban beat” during the 2000 presidential election – I followed Al Gore across the country and inspired young voters to get involved. After the elections I went behind the scenes as a producer and worked on cause-related programming to inform, influence and inspire our most vulnerable populations.
Q: The Boston City Council has a long history of being a bastion of white male-ness. Today, the majority of its 13 members are women of color, and the Council President is a black woman. What happened?
The everyday people of Boston are recognizing our power and understanding that nothing for us without us is about us. There’s now a sense of accountability and responsibility that we, as people of color, are seeing. Finally, we’re setting the agenda. Change is slow but we need more people acting with a sense of urgency.
Q: If Trump invited you to the White House to talk about immigration would you go?
Yes. My mother was undocumented and now she is a Super Voter. So I would use the opportunity to talk about generations that came before us. He and I would go back in time and talk about how we both got here. I would help him see there is really no difference between us – I want to humanize our journey to this country. I would have a “Come to Jesus” conversation and open his eyes to the harsh realities he refuses to see.
Q: Would you shake his hand?
Only after we have had the chance to talk and even then I wouldn’t give him a firm handshake.
Q: What’s your favorite TV series?
Sex in the City. Which shows when I last had time to watch TV, 12-13 years ago.
Q: Which App on your phone could you not live without?
Actblue. It helps me keep track of contributions to my campaign.
Q: Who’s your 2020 presidential Dream Team? It can be reality-based or a dream.
AOC and Ayanna Pressley.