Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Campbell visited Tufts on Oct. 17 as part of Tisch College’s Solomont Speaker Series. In a conversation with Taina McField, Tisch’s associate dean for strategy, Campbell reflected on her first year in office, discussing the office’s initiatives and the role faith and family has played in her career.
McField began the conversation by asking Campbell about her many personal and professional “firsts.” After being elected as the first female Boston City Councilor for District 4 in 2015, Campbell became the first Black woman to serve as City Council president in 2018. Campbell is also the first Black woman to hold her current office.
“There’s a real opportunity for us to lean into uncomfortable conversations and to really get things done with a sense of urgency,” Campbell said. “That means taking on racial disparities, that means addressing white supremacy, that means addressing hate in all of its forms … so for me it’s an honor and a privilege.”
Campbell then talked about how her office is addressing these inequities, elaborating on the four new units that she had requested funding for back in April. The proposed fiscal year 2024 budget of almost $71 million included funding for units on reproductive justice, elder justice, gun violence prevention and police accountability.
“Everything we do is informed by the people,” Campbell said.
McField raised the question of mass incarceration, a significant issue for event co-sponsor the Tufts Petey Greene program. Campbell’s personal experience with the criminal justice system started with her father, who was incarcerated for eight years. Campbell tied the issue back to the police accountability unit, emphasizing the need to scrutinize racial disparities in data collection to confront racial profiling.
“There is a way in which the office can continue to show up and support law enforcement … around the reporting of disparities we see,” Campbell said. “You can do that while also pushing for transparency and accountability when things go terribly wrong.”
Campbell continued to describe how the units were influenced by her constituents, describing a grassroots operation of speaking to those most impacted by the law.
“The Gun Violence Prevention Unit first was going to be the Gun [Law] Enforcement Unit, but because we listened to people and stakeholders, we changed the name and rebranded it,” Campbell said. The gun violence prevention unit in particular was praised by State Senator Adam Gomez of Springfield, a Massachusetts city that has seen an uptick in gun violence.
The Reproductive Justice Unit was also created to meet the demands of constituents in response to the 2022 Supreme Court decision. Campbell discussed how the broad mandate of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office allows them to take on issues that a dysfunctional Congress and Supreme Court may not be able to.
“This is about autonomy … we want to be at the forefront of protecting those rights, and the reproductive justice unit will do that, [and] couple it with maternal health issues and the racial disparities we see there and make it more intersectional,” Campbell said.
A theme that ran through her time in the ASEAN Auditorium was Campbell’s foundation in her family and her faith. The AG lost her twin brother 11 years ago when he passed away in the custody of the Department of Corrections as a pre-trial detainee.
“My twin brother and I were very close, and when he passed … it was a two-year battle with the Department of Corrections and so many different stakeholders to try to get him the health care that he was entitled to,” Campbell said. “It led me in another direction of looking at public service and wanting to make a change for other families.”
Answering an audience question from senior Wanci Nana about how faith informs her everyday decisions and lifestyle, the AG explained how it originated with her aunt and uncle, who she said are her “parents by all definitions,” and how they would go to church when she was younger.
“For me, it is about love and connection,” Campbell said. “It informs … how I lead with empathy and compassion, deep understanding and hopefully open mindedness. So anything I do, including running for office, I prayed on first.”
When asked to reflect on her first year as Attorney General, Campbell spoke about her pride in representing the state of Massachusetts.
“We have the best, most progressive laws in the country,” Campbell said. “We have the innovation, the resources, the philanthropic community, the business community, the artists, the activism, we have it all. … Let’s figure it out.”
In a personal reflection, Campbell discussed her brother, parents and grandparents, who have all passed, as well as her loved ones who are currently incarcerated.
“If I do find moments to reflect, and maybe there’s some tears that come on some of the hard days, it’s just remembering where I came from,” Campbell said. “While I have this title and role, it will not shift my being. I have to make sure that I continue to carry that humility with me wherever I go.”