On a recent Saturday afternoon Board members Ayesha Wilson and Michele Scott had the pleasure of a zoom interview with newly appointed Police Commissioner Elow and School Superintendent Greer. It was a lively discussion that covered a lot in a short period of time. While the idea of the interview excited Wilson and Scott, we came to the discussion with interview questions prepared. What we were not prepared for was how we, as up and coming leaders in the Cambridge community would experience black women joy! All four of us experienced that joy and felt even more empowered and encouraged to continue the great work for this amazing city. The conversation was rich and there were many takeaways as we sat and listened to these high-ranking black women share their life journeys, the work to be done, and acknowledging that representation truly matters. These women have already pulled up their sleeves and showed they are ready to “Walk their talk!”. Read some of the highlights from the interview with Commissioner Elow and Superintendent Greer, and we hope you feel that joy we experienced! Happy Black History Month!
Question: Who are you, where are you from, and why did you choose this work?
Commissioner Elow was born and raised in Cambridge and entered the military right after high school. Unsure of what to do next, she took the police exam and quickly rose through the ranks all while witnessing the effects of the War on Drugs on the Black community. Twenty-seven years later, she is now the police commissioner for the city of Cambridge and has used her experiences to commit herself to procedural justice and to creating a better Cambridge for all while recognizing the historical injustices done to communities of color by the police.
Superintendent Greer was born and raised in rural Tennessee, about forty-five minutes outside of Memphis. With an initial degree in psychology, she soon discovered her passion for education and mental health via volunteering during her college years. She became passionate about education after realizing the way it could change the trajectory of a young person’s life and yield generational wealth.
Question: What are the most rewarding parts of the work that you do?
With her commitment to procedural justice, Commissioner Elow says that seeing her officers do that work is most rewarding to her. She is particularly proud of the work that the Youth Resource Officers (YROs) do in the Cambridge public school system and hopes it can be a framework for other districts.
For Superintendent Greer, she cites the reward of seeing young students of color get excited that a Black woman is leading their school district. She also states that it is incredible to see that families in the community trust her by coming to her for help because “that just means so much and brings me joy to know that there is confidence in the community around the leadership that I bring to the community.”
Question: What are the most challenging parts of the work that you do?
Covid most definitely plays a huge role in what both of these phenomenal women define as their biggest challenges. For Commissioner Elow, it is seeing the mental toll this has taken on youth. She stated that “we’re struggling with violence–when I see fifteen year-olds picking up guns with large magazines, it makes me think, like what sort of trauma has that individual experienced where they want to hurt somebody?”
Superintendent Greer mentions similar challenges but also emphasizes the challenge of balancing providing exceptional academics while also keeping students and staff both physically and mentally healthy. Furthermore, the Covid pandemic has definitely put strain upon the educational workforce and she is concerned about the future of being able to provide for students properly because of it.
Question: What does it mean to you that you both identify as Black and women as leaders in Cambridge? Especially because Commissioner Elow was sworn in on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Superintendent Greer was sworn in during Black History Month.
Both Commissioner Elow and Superintendent Greer discussed their role as mothers to Black children and how that plays a role in wanting the best for every child in the city. Commissioner Elow sees power in embracing her role as a Black woman and getting others to listen to her and her ideas about procedural justice. She is working under the idea that “if you do not get on board that maybe it’s time to go.”
Superintendent Greer says that she sees her identity as both a responsibility and an opportunity. She takes her role as a Black woman leader seriously when considering how to close the academic-opportunity achievement gap with students of color in school.
Question: What message would you give your younger self and the youth of Cambridge today?
“Be unapologetic about who you are.” Superintendent Greer began her answer with powerful words and spoke about how life is full of “dips and curves” and that there is no specific path from point A to point B. She says to “own your truth. Own who you are and speak it, as long as you are not disrespectful about it and know that every intention you have is to be able to use your own voice because it matters, and be unapologetic about that.”
In strong agreement, Commissioner Elow emphasized the uniqueness of everybody’s life journey. She also brought up the importance of finding people to rely on and look to for guidance and reveling in the moments that bring you joy.