Metro, Politics, Features, Newton, Celebrating Black Voices

Tarik Lucas Breaks Barriers as First Black Newton City Councilor in 40 Years

Tarik Lucas’ first brush with local politics came in 2017, when he decided to help campaign against a charter commission proposal to eliminate ward-elected councilors in Newton.

“It was a very competitive ballot question back in 2017, and I fought against those changes,” Lucas said. “We prevailed in the election, and we still have local representation.”

That same year, Lucas ran for the Newtonville Area Council, and he won one of the nine positions in a competitive election.

Since then, Lucas has climbed up the ranks of local politics. In March 2021, he was elected as Ward 2’s city councilor-at-large, becoming the first Black city councilor in Newton in nearly 40 years. 

“Newton is a primarily white city, and I think the last Black city councilor—or then, alderman—was in 1987 … so it’s been a while,” Lucas said.

Lucas has been a Newton resident since 2009, before he became involved in city politics. In 2008, he began his work as a royalty specialist for publishing house Harvard University Press—a job he still has to this day.

“[That] essentially is what pays the bills, and I take a lot of pride in my day job,” Lucas said. “But you know, when the clock strikes five, you know, I have to put on my city council hat, and I have to respond to those emails that built up during the day.”

Balancing his time as a royalty specialist and a city councilor is a challenge, Lucas said, but it one that he is more than willing to take. 

“It is a lot of reading, it is a lot of work to do, but I like it,” Lucas said. “This is what I want to do. I want to give back to the city—the city that has been very good to me ever since I moved here in 2009.”

Susan Albright, president of Newton City Council, commended Lucas for his dedication to his work as a city councilor. 

“He always does his homework—he comes prepared for meetings, he understands the issues,” Albright said. “And, you know … I can’t say that every councilor does his homework, but Tarik always does his homework.”

Lucas said he primarily attributes his work ethic to his parents. His father is a retired postal worker and his mother is a nurse who worked on the frontlines during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If you put in the work, you will see results, and, you know, hard work pays off—that’s just a fact that applies to everything,” Lucas said. “And, you know, that’s something that my parents did when they were young to achieve the status that they’re at now.”

Though he currently resides in Newton, Lucas and his family spent the better part of his early life living in lower-income housing in Allston and later Brookline.

At the age of 12, he and his family were displaced from their apartment in Brookline by their landlord, who wanted to convert the building into luxury housing. Before that, Lucas’ mother and her family were forced to move out of their home in Roxbury to make room for a highway that was ultimately never built. 

Because his family frequently moved around during his childhood, Lucas said the issue of housing stability is a personal one. When it comes to voting on housing projects or zoning changes, the possibility of someone being displaced from their home as a result often plays an important deciding factor in Lucas’ decision, he said.

“[It] is not fun for a family, a family that doesn’t own their home, and it’s something which I hope all my colleagues take into consideration when making a decision on this,” Lucas said. “How is it going to affect the people who are going to be essentially most affected—the most vulnerable people in our society?”

As city councilor, Lucas said he is always listening to his constituents and building relationships with Newton residents and business owners.

“You know, that’s my approach—just following up with people, calling them up, sending them emails, meeting them in person, meeting them at a site visit, and just being there really,” he said. “Being present is really helpful to developing relationships.”

According to fellow Ward 2 City Councilor Emily Norton, Lucas’ willingness to connect with residents is what makes him a good representative of Newton.

“[He] explains things to people,” Norton said. “He does a newsletter—[an] excellent newsletter—that explains what the issues are that are being considered and voted on, and what the sort of various angles are around those issues and where he is leading.”

In addition to these relationships with his constituents, Norton said Lucas’ position as one of the few Black elected representatives in the history of Newton is a significant accomplishment for the city as a whole. 

“He’s the only person of color on the city council, and that is a big deal—it’s a big deal for representation,” Norton said. “I know … anecdotally there are young people of color who are really happy that Tarik is there.”

Albright also emphasized the importance of Lucas’ position as city councilor.

“We welcome any background and of any diversity, and it’s great to have that on the council,” Albright said.

Lucas noted the importance of his involvement in Newton government, recalling initial reactions from residents while canvassing for his first run for office in 2019. 

“I would give my opening speech or, you know, my opening elevator pitch, and then someone at the door would say, ‘Oh, okay, alright … wait, wait, you mean Boston City Council?’ I’m like, ‘No, Newton,’” Lucas said. “So they just couldn’t understand that someone who was Black would be running for city council.”

As a government representative, Lucas said he aims to represent everyone in the Newton community, regardless of their cultural background.

After a surge in hate crimes against Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic, Lucas helped draft and ultimately pass a resolution in 2022 urging the city to take action and “invest in multiracial community health and safety.” 

According to social worker and Newton resident Betty Chan, who spearheaded the resolution, Lucas’ support was essential to getting it unanimously passed by the city council. Chan said she is still working alongside Lucas to address systemic racism and that his election to city council is a step in the right direction.

“Asian Americans are the largest minority group in Newton—it’s around 16, 17 percent and growing each and every year, and, you know, as far as … racial justice, that is something that is always in the back of my head,” Lucas said.

Lucas said he expects to be held at the same standard as his white colleagues, noting that the city’s Black community—though small—has held prominent positions of power in the past, most notably former Newton Mayor Setti Warren and former Newton School Committee Chair Tamika Olszewski.

“As Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘By the content of their character, not by the color of their skin,’” Lucas said. “And that’s the way … I treat people, and that’s the way I expect to be treated in return.”

February 22, 2023