It’s a mild October evening in Roxbury and Kim Janey is standing in front of the earliest childhood home she can remember. The two-toned green and beige Codman Park house does not look anything like the Academy Homes apartments of the late 1960s, Janey said; but she can still point to an approximate window where her first best friend, who taught her to ride a bike, might have looked out over the street.
Janey, 52, is out hitting the doors in her old neighborhood, hoping to rustle up commitments from voters to support her bid for the District 7 city council seat on Nov. 7 after handily walking away with the top spot in the September preliminary.
The doors are her favorite part of the race, and the soles of her grey and green sneakers are worn down nearly smooth from the canvassing.
“I heard all kinds of stories,” she said. “People's deepest fears, to their hopes and dreams for their children, personal problems that they’re struggling with. There was a lot of frustration on the doors, and you have to understand it’s not personal, when someone is venting, but to listen and hear.”
She has a strong leg up going into November. Out of a crowded pack of 13 hopefuls, Janey lead a low-turnout preliminary election with a full 25 percent of the vote, more than double that of her closest challenger, Rufus Faulk, who edged out 11.7 percent.
The two will face off for the seat, held by City Councillor Tito Jackson for the past six years, in just five short weeks. Janey, now senior project director at Massachusetts Advocates for Children, says the city council is the next step to advance her lifetime of advocacy, this time from the inside.
The day before, Janey sat in Dudley Cafe in Dudley Square for a post-election interview. Whitney Houston belted over the sound system, and rarely did more than five minutes pass between cafe patrons popping over to congratulate Janey on her win, tell her about an upcoming art show, or quickly chat about their families.
“They recognize that our community is at a crossroads,” she said, munching on a bagel. “There’s inequality all around us, throughout the city of Boston, but we’re being left out of the opportunity and pushed out of our community. I want to bring forth some solutions to the challenges that we face, and understanding that it’s not me alone to do that.”
Janey’s family is full of educators and activists, and her grandchildren are the sixth generation of Janeys in Roxbury.
“My family always placed a high value on education,” she said. “It was a way out - not out of our beloved Roxbury - but out of poverty.”
Her parents, Clifford and Phyllis Janey, married and had Janey when both were 18 years old. In turn, Janey had her daughter Kimesha Janey-Rogers at a young age.
“I was 16 years old, and a junior in high school,” she said. “This was obviously a life changing experience, and was a pivotal point that led to me having a career in child advocacy.”
Janey’s first educational experience was an independent community school, the New School For Children, before moving into Boston Public Schools — David A Ellis on Walnut Ave in Roxbury) beginning in 2nd grade, then moving to the Garrison and the Higginson. During the second phase of court-ordered busing, 6th grade Janey was sent to Edwards Middle School in Charlestown — “at such young age, to see the worst of people,” she said — then was in METCO shuttling back and forth from Reading from 8th to 12th grade. As a young mother, Janey was still one of only two black students to graduate from her class.
Earlier, her parents had fought to keep her in the correct grade entering BPS from the community school.
“As a second grader, that was maybe one of my first real lessons of advocacy, of protest, of parent voice and how important parent voice is, and those lessons I took with me as I do the work that I do,” she said.
During and after her time at Smith College, Janey took a lesson from her parents’ advocacy for their community and for their children: That, given the worst possible circumstances, a level head and engaged community are the best tools for tackling injustices.
“There’s more we can do but, it’s not just doing more,” she said. “We need to be more creative and innovative in our approach and doing things that will get us results at a faster pace. When will we begin to see the benefits of some of the things that we’re putting in place?”
Janey successfully advocated for a new dual language school in 2014, helped write diversity-focused BPS policy, and helped bring about changes in Boston Latin School policy after racial incidents stirred citywide controversy. She founded the Historic Moreland Street Neighborhood Association in 2009, serving as president for four years, and organized partnerships with inspectional services and the police department to respond to neighborhood disrepair and violence.
“In addition to just making sure that we are passing the Jim Brooks Stabilization Act, which we absolutely need to do, focus on addressing the lack of student housing, because that that can drive up rents, and the short term corporate rentals. We also need to make sure there is opportunity for home ownership,” she said.
Although a first time candidate, Janey is no stranger to political engagement. She is a member of the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus, active on the Boston Ward 12 Democratic Committee and served as a delegate at the State Democratic Convention for the last 7 years, helped found the voting rights group MassVOTE, and serves as a member of the Boston NAACP education committee.
And she has some high-profile endorsements in her corner, including the Mass Women’s Political Caucus, the Greater Boston Labor Council, state Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz, Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins, former City Councilor Chuck Turner, former state Rep. Marie St. Fleur, former state Rep. Alice Wolf, Lew Finfer, and Rev. Liz Walker.
Turnout will be higher in the November race, Janey knows, and after a preliminary where the margin of victory is measured in the hundreds of votes, she is on the doors every day, barely taking note of the other challengers.
Listening to people’s frustrations and stories takes time. It can mean tears or hugs or rants or stony-faced recitations.
"And it was easy for me, because as someone who grew up here, who lives here now, I share in the frustrations of what’s not happening, in terms of being left out,” she said. “And I share in those hopes and dreams. You know, If I weren’t hopeful, I wouldn’t even run.”