Snowden to take reins at Freedom House

As it nears its 60th year, leadership of the Freedom House in Grove Hall is back in the family again. Director Ricardo Neal will take a break to find a new direction and Gail Snowden, whose parents founded the neighborhood institution, will temporarily take the reins.

"I've really arrived at being a leader in public education policy," said Neal, who has pushed hard for education reforms addressing the achievement gap and high school dropouts during his tenure. "I have not yet decided on a particular role at a non-profit or agency I would want to work with."

Neal said he would be spending some time with relatives and working on a few essays in preparation for a job search, possibly for a national non-profit or a school system.

"The way the community has reconnected to the house has meant a great deal to me," said Neal. "To pass it on to Gail makes me feel good that we're going to continue some of the good work that we've done for years."

Snowden is the daughter of Otto and Muriel Snowden, two African-American social workers who founded Freedom House in 1949 to fight for good schools, improved neighborhoods and racial, ethnic and religious harmony. Snowden will serve as interim director while the organization launches a search for a new director in cooperation with Third Sector New England.

"As a child I got to spend a lot of time here because of my parents, who were so involved in community building," Snowden said. "I would always be the one cranking the mimeograph machine."

As a young person, Snowden met such luminaries as Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy as they passed through Freedom House, speaking or visiting. After graduating Harvard College and taking a MBA at Simmons College, she went on to join the banking industry, eventually helping Bank of Boston - now Bank of America, formerly Fleet - open up several bank branches in inner city neighborhoods like Roxbury and Dorchester. She later became president of the Fleet Foundation and also served as CFO for The Boston Foundation for three years. Now, she wants to give back to the community.

"I feel so good when I'm here in the building," she said. "I feel the spirit of my parents in some way. It feels like the right thing to do."

The search for a permanent executive director could take in the neighborhood of four to six months, which means Snowden will likely get a chance to participate in planning celebrations for the house's 60th anniversary next year.