Best of Boston

2020 Best Local Heroes

The People Who Gave Us Hope

If we could dream up a 2020 all-star squad of heroes, champions, and advocates, it would look a lot like this: Community organizer Gladys Vega (1) of the Chelsea Collaborative, who has spent the past two decades fighting for social justice but swiveled her focus to feeding 11,000 residents each week as the coronavirus ravaged her city. Public health advocate and Harvard professor of epidemiology Marc Lipsitch (2) would also make the team, in no small part due to his consistent and clear message, whether speaking to us in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, or the Boston Globe: Never underestimate COVID-19. Our best city politician is Julia Mejia (3), the first immigrant and Latina on the Boston City Council, who fought back against racist harassment after taking office in early 2020. She has also worked to improve bilingual communications in Boston and even made a series of TikTok videos with her daughter to liven up the mood at City Hall during the early days of the pandemic. Ibram X. Kendi (4), meanwhile, is the man of the hour and our hope for humanity. A bestselling author, the 2019 Guggenheim Fellow recently became a history professor and the founding director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research, where he’ll lead many of the country’s brightest minds to solve problems of racial inequity. His books, including How to Be an Antiracist, are already required reading among those in the know around town. As for the best social justice advocate in Boston? That’s Monica Cannon-Grant (5), a Roxbury mother of six adopted children who rallied tens of thousands of residents to Franklin Park to peacefully protest police brutality. She also runs a victim-assistance program and free-meal delivery service through her organizations Violence in Boston and Food for the Soul. And though he’s best known for his moves on the court, Celtics star Jaylen Brown (6) is our clear choice for celebrity ambassador—he’s peacefully protested, regularly speaks about race in America, and was honored at the State House this year for his charity work with children. We’re proud to have him on our home team.