In Boston’s world of community violence prevention, Dr. Rufus Faulk has seen it all, attending hundreds of tragic funerals and celebrating successes when people and neighborhoods have improved. But in February, he plans to step away from that work.
For the last three years, he’s served as a senior adviser on public safety to the mayor, a cabinet-level post he plans to leave on Feb. 3.
Isaac Yablo, 28, who most recently worked at the Mayor’s Office of Black Male Advancement, will be stepping into the job, with help from Faulk as he winds down his time in the mayor’s cabinet.
Faulk, 40, was born and raised in Roxbury and still lives there. He previously led the celebrated Ten Point Coalition for 12 years before taking a job with the Department of Corrections. He also unsuccessfully ran for the District 7 Council seat in 2017.
In 2019, he stepped up to take a cabinet position under then-Mayor Martin Walsh, and remained there after Michelle Wu took office just over a year ago.
Faulk’s move to step aside comes as violence has hit parts of Dorchester and Mattapan particularly hard, with a rash of shootings and homicides stretching back to the early summer months. For most in law enforcement and the violence prevention sector, it is said to have been a distressing time to do such work.
On Monday, Dec. 5, two juveniles – one from Jamaica Plain and one from Mattapan – allegedly fired more than 25 rounds at someone on Talbot Avenue, hitting two bystanders at a tire shop. The shooting occurred in broad daylight – like others in the last six months – and happened just outside of the Joseph Lee K-8 School, which still had students inside at the after-school program.
Faulk was not immediately available for comment, but City Hall sources consider the departure as amicable and not the result of any policy or personality differences. Rather, they said Faulk decided it was time to move on to other things.
“Safety continues to be an urgent priority and I’m grateful that Dr. Faulk has spent so many years of his career with the city of Boston helping us rethink our approach,” Wu told the Reporter. “He’s really laid a foundation for redefining violence prevention and intervention work that’s grounded in the public health approach and addressing the entirety of someone’s life...He is passing the baton over to someone that knows this field and this city inside out.”
Yablo, who grew up in Cambridge and now lives in Hyde Park, has worked as a data specialist with the city’s street outreach teams, as well as at the Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency in community building roles. He is transitioning from his role as policy and research director at the Mayor’s Office of Black Male Advancement. He graduated from Howard University in Washington, D.C., and he received his master’s degree from UMass Boston. He is now a PhD. Candidate there as well.
City officials said his cabinet role will involve routinely meeting with other senior policy makers, as well as hiring staffers, creating new programs and accessing funding.
Yablo said he considers himself a “hometown kid,” despite hailing from Cambridge, and he is excited to begin building on the foundation of community violence pioneers who came before him.
“It is tough and tiring work and work that needs to be done and work that at the end of the day I can go back to my family and talk about the impact I’ve been able to have on the city of Boston,” he said.
Yablo added: “I think efforts should be driven by data…I’ll be paying attention to data to look for patterns like on Talbot Avenue. I’m also very strong on policy impact and making sure those affected by policy should be able to drive policy.”
Mayor Wu said she supports Yablo’s vision for furthering holistic work as a cabinet member.
“Isaac is an incredible leader and I know his focus will continue to make sure we are centering those most impacted in violence in our city while we bring people together and refuse to settle for anything less than everyone in the city being part of this effort and experiencing the safe and healthy communities we all deserve,” she said. “We’ve had conversations about his vision for this role and this work…His vision is to broaden this and not just call it a role focused on public safety but on community safety. This is really about our mental health and well-being and collaboration across every single department.”
She said another part of the work is internally “breaking down silos” in city government and connecting it with the community.
Isaac Yablo (City of Boston photo)
Yablo said he has been paying attention to the uptick in street violence in Boston and mentioned he has observed an increase in places like Talbot Avenue. He said he is ready to be visible and accessible in the community, while using data in the office to make sure he’s focusing on the right areas in the right moment.
“It’s a very small number of individuals committing these acts of violence,” he said. “The residents of the Talbot Avenue area are an amazing community…I want to shine a light on these amazing residents and people in that area. I would specifically work there to address this uptick.”
Faulk did not speak directly with the Reporter about the news, but he was front and center at a City Council hearing on community violence on Thursday, Dec. 8 at the Lilla Frederick Middle School in Dorchester. During that meeting, he became emotional discussing the murder of 15-year-old Curtis Ashford Jr. on Ellington Street in July and the response he saw from local teenagers after Ashford’s death.
“It was tough; how do we get out in front of that?” he said. “The crisis response we could have offered was inadequate…What I saw there I’ve never seen before, and I’ve been doing this a long, long time. There were about fifty 13- to 17-year-olds standing there drinking Don Julio (tequila). It was almost performative in that they were doing what they thought they were supposed to do on a scene and like a badge of honor in that they could wear a pin commemorating their friend.
“For me, it was eye opening that our young people were that hurt,” Faulk said.