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Ed. Magazine

Working for Wu

Recent alum heads up DEI in a historic Boston administration
Mariangely Solis Cervera
Mariangely Solis Cervara
Photo: Blake Fitch

Mariangely Solis Cervara, Ed.M.’19, grew up in a family that did not trust government. “I am originally from Puerto Rico, an island with a colonial history that continues to impact people’s current lives. This is a history that is all too familiar to the Black, Indigenous, and communities of color,” she says.

How, then, did she end up working at Boston City Hall as the chief of equity and inclusion for Boston Mayor Michelle Wu?

Solis Cervera says the answer loops back to the Ed School.

“A really inspiring leader I met at HGSE knew I was curious about entering the world of government and policy. She asked if I had ever heard of Michelle Wu? I said, ‘Who hasn’t?’”

After that conversation with Wu campaign volunteer Mariel Novas, Ed.L.D.’20, Solis Cervera joined the campaign as the constituency director, a role that would change the way she experiences politics. During those hectic months, she says she was struck by Wu’s desire to empower communities, like her family, that didn’t trust government and didn’t know why they should vote for her, or anyone.

“My role was about engaging communities that speak different languages, work nontraditional work hours, and those who weren’t plugged in. We held phone banks in Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Haitian Creole. We visited bodegas, community restaurants, and hair salons and barbershops, all in an effort to meet people where they are. To build trust. I understand those feelings,” she says. “I come from those feelings. We were able to build something beautiful and now we’re here, really excited and ready to expand on that vision of a city for everybody.”

Asked what it feels like to be working in an administration that is making history — Wu is the first elected female mayor in Boston, as well as the first mother and the first person of color to hold the job — Solis Cervera says she understood during the campaign that Wu was breaking huge barriers in Boston, representing, as The New York Times noted, “a seismic shift to a political landscape in which ‘white’ and ‘male’ were prerequisites to be elected mayor since the position was established here in 1822.”

But it wasn’t until election night, she says, “that it really hit me. Not just the campaigner me, but me as the whole person. In her speech, she said anything is possible — in four different languages. It takes a special kind of leadership to understand the impact that has in our communities.”

Since then, Solis Cervera says she has been thinking deeper about the history being made at City Hall, for everyone who lives and works in Boston, and for herself.

“That night was the unlocking of, I see you,” she says. “It’s not going to be easy. In fact, the first five months have been very challenging given the hatred directed at our mayor and what she represents, but we’re doing this and it feels really damn special.”

Initially, she started as a senior policy adviser in the new administration before Wu asked her to be chief of equity and inclusion, a cabinet-level position with eight offices under it, focused on everything from supporting immigrants and the advancement of the Black community to training city workers in racial equity and making sure services are available to residents in a range of languages.

Solis Cervera says she remembers when Wu first asked her to take the role. As a first-generation queer Latinx woman, she says she is all too familiar with “imposter syndrome,” but was not going to let it get in the way.

“I called my most honest adviser: my mother. My mom said, ‘According to others, you were never qualified to go to college, to go to Harvard, to build a life you are proud of, but you’ve always figured it out. Your love of community will guide you.’”

She had those same questioning feelings when she was first accepted to the Ed School — and again, she turned to her family for their honest advice.

“I was on the train, on my way to work in New York. I got the letter from the only university I had known since I was six,” she says. Again, Solis Cervera’s mom reminded her of her “why” and pushed her to accept the offer.

At the Ed School, she found her people.

“Surprisingly, it was at Harvard that I found a community of first-gen professionals like me who understood the assignment. At times I thought, it feels challenging to be in a place that historically has been so exclusive. But that community that I found will always remind me that we belong here,” she says.

She’s even leaning into her roots as a former teacher. That background in teaching has proven useful for heading up a cabinet that has multiple departments under it and is tasked with making sure that work across all city departments is equitable and that every resident has access to the resources and opportunities that they are entitled to.

“As a teacher, you have daily lessons and month-long and year goals, but you also know that every day, students are coming with their own dreams and needs: Who am I? Am I hungry?” she says. “That experience prepared me to think about long-term system change while prioritizing people’s day-to-day needs.

“I initially went into education because I believe that one way to change the world is to empower the hearts and minds of young people,” she says. “I accepted the role of chief of equity and inclusion because under the Wu administration we have an opportunity to empower historically excluded communities and change the trajectory of our histories.”

Ed. Magazine

The magazine of the Harvard Graduate School of Education

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