“Everything Bob does is driven by a vision of a more just and sustainable world. He works not for personal accolades or ego but for real change for his communities. This award appropriately recognizes his career achievement as not just his individual work, but his role in the collective advancement of BIPOC communities and society as a whole.”–Penn Loh
This week, Bob Terrell —2012 UEP Master of Public Policy (MPP) graduate and current part-time UEP faculty member—was the much-deserved recipient of Tufts’ Graduate Alumni Outstanding Career Achievement Award for this academic year.
Each year, the Outstanding Career Achievement Award is given to a Tufts Graduate School of Arts and Sciences or School of Engineering graduate alum who has excelled in their career of choice. Nominators provided evidence of the nominee’s career success, contributions to their field, dedication to diversity, equity, inclusion and justice, and service to the Tufts community. Bob Terrell measured up to all these criteria, and it was a great honor for UEP to take part in his nomination.
When he entered UEP’s mid-career MPP program, he already had an incredible 30-year career as a community organizer and leader in Boston’s working-class communities of color. Since then, he has only amplified his career achievements, making even deeper contributions to housing justice, community development, and environmental and transportation justice.
In January 2023, Bob was appointed by Mayor Michelle Wu as Executive Director of the City of Boston’s Office of Fair Housing and Equity. Although this position affords Bob a bigger stage to advance housing justice, he was already a key driver and architect of the first-in-the-nation fair housing zoning ordinance in City of Boston in 2020. Bob’s entire career is marked by prominent leadership roles and behind-the-scenes work to build vision and leadership from below. It is this role as an organic, public intellectual that led him back to graduate school at Tufts. And it is why UEP hired him in 2020 as a Part-time Lecturer to teach the foundational policy seminars for our mid-career MPP cohort.
Bob was born in Boston’s South End and came of age during the height of the civil rights movement and struggles over bussing and school desegregation. Like many Black Bostonians, he and his family experienced gentrification and were displaced to Roxbury. Bob began his career as a youth and tenant organizer in Boston in the latter half of the 1970s. By the 1980s, he had become a leader in the movement for community control over development. He was active in the Greater Roxbury Neighborhood Authority, the precursor to the Roxbury Neighborhood Council.
He served from 1986-88 as Executive Director of the Washington Street Corridor Coalition, the leading organization fighting to replace the former elevated MBTA Orange Line, which was torn down and relocated in 1987. This position began Bob’s role in transit justice in the region. He later returned to the coalition as Director from 1998-2007 and was one of the staunchest voices for holding the MBTA to its promise of “equal or better” replacement service. In addition, Bob was one of the prominent voices in the documentary Equal or Better produced by UEP alum Kris Carter in 2012 as his UEP master’s thesis. Bob later served as director of On the Move: Greater Boston Transportation Justice Coalition from 2008-11.
By the time Bob came to Tufts as a student, he had already been recognized as a Boston Neighborhood Fellow in 2008 for his long record of community service and action. Among some of his achievements were serving as Chief of Staff for Boston City Councilor Anthony Crayton and then running for City Council himself in the 1990s. He also hosted a live community television program called City Journal from 1999-2009.
Bob was already a familiar face at UEP, even before being a student. He had been a regular guest lecturer in various classes, particularly around environmental justice and community development. When Bob came to the mid-career program, he was awarded a UEP Neighborhood Fellowship. After finishing his MPP, he remained involved with UEP, serving as a Visiting Practitioner in 2015-16 and returning to teach the MPP Seminars in 2020.
Since finishing at UEP over a decade ago, Bob’s work has continued to flourish, particularly around fair housing. He led the Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston from 2013-2018 and then went to work at the Boston Housing Authority. Though his recent appointment to the Wu administration gives him an even more prominent role, Bob had already been a driving force behind housing justice wins in the region.
Perhaps the most significant was his role in helping Boston become the country’s first city to integrate fair housing requirements into its zoning code. Known as the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Amendment, Bob worked behind the scenes with community residents, advocacy groups, elected officials, and UEP Professor Emeritus James Jennings to get this amendment introduced and passed (see this article that he co-wrote: “Fair Housing and Zoning: Toward a New Boston?” and this article he is quoted in, “How Has Boston Gotten Away with Being Segregated for So Long?“).
Bob has since received numerous awards and recognitions. In 2018, he was part of a team awarded a Sasaki Foundation Design Grant to develop an app to help housing voucher holders to find more rental choices in communities that meet their needs. In 2021, he was awarded the Public Policy award by the Citizens Housing and Planning Association, where he had served on various committees.
These achievements are only some of the most visible in Bob’s career. He has and continues to serve on numerous boards and volunteer leadership roles with many community organizations and initiatives. In recent years, he has served on the Roxbury Neighborhood Council, the Madison Park Development Corporation Board of Directors, the Action for Regional Equity steering committee, and the Housing Committee of the Boston Branch of the NAACP. He has also given his time to Tufts, serving on the Advisory Board of the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice program.
Everything Bob does is driven by a vision of a more just and sustainable world. He works not for personal accolades or ego but for real change for his communities. This award appropriately recognizes his career achievement as not just his individual work, but his role in the collective advancement of BIPOC communities and society as a whole.
The Tufts UEP community congratulates Bob Terrell on receiving the Graduate Alumni Outstanding Career Achievement Award with great pride. Your career has been a testament to how public service and advocacy can effect real change. We look forward to this opportunity to celebrate your achievements.