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  • Vive Griffith

Ginnette Powell: Always End Up on the Side of Good

Recently on Clemente’s Twitter account, Ginnette Powell posted a photo of herself at her Clemente graduation, a rose in her hand and her proud son’s arm around her. The photo was a throwback. Ginnette graduated from the course in Dorchester, MA, 17 years ago, but her connection to Clemente has stayed strong. “I still have the books on my shelves all these years later,” she says.

She first found out about Clemente from a newspaper article, but she jokes that it was something more basic that brought her to the program. “I’m like my cats—and I’ve got six of them—incredibly inquisitive,” she says, laughing. “I like to see what people have to say.”

That inquisitiveness led her to the classroom, as did the feeling that it was time to do something that was just for herself. She’d spent years supporting her family and raising her son. But in 2004 he was a student at UMass-Boston and Ginnette faced the unfinished goal of earning her own bachelor’s degree. Clemente seemed the perfect place to begin: “It felt right for me to be there, to be with my classmates and engaging with them. We all challenged each other and brought out the best in each other.”

The course materials really expanded her thinking—she loved studying art history, visiting museums, and being immersed in texts she’d never encountered before. And sometimes the class connected to her life in surprising ways. She found herself reading the Greek tragedy Antigone in Clemente at the same time that her son was performing in it as a theater arts major in college.

Ginnette and her son at her graduation

After celebrating her Clemente graduation, Ginnette enrolled at Simmons College as an African Studies and Women’s studies major, where the habits of reading and writing she acquired in Clemente came in handy. She then transferred to Northeastern University to complete her bachelor’s degree in sociology, landing on the dean’s list and writing a blog about being a working adult student.

For Ginnette, the blog was just one way in which she could give back to her community. Her career has been another way. Her work in development has taken her to roles at Boston University, Harvard Business School, and MIT, and she now works at Massachusetts General Hospital. Back in her neighborhood, she’s the lender of books and the finder of lost cats. And with her Unitarian Universalist Church, she is involved in social justice campaigns and Black Lives Matter. “I try to end up on the side of good,” she says.

This is no surprise to Jack Cheng, who teaches art history in Dorchester Clemente and has worked closely with Ginnette in the classroom as a student and alumna. “In class Ginnette was always engaged, always listening to the other voices at the table, so I’m not surprised that she carried that sense of mutual responsibility outside the classroom and into the community.”

Read about Ginnette’s participation in a story circle to heal Boston’s legacy of segregation and busing in the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

Ginnette’s son now lives in San Diego. In addition to her work at Mass General and her involvement in organizations like the Association of Black Sociologists, Ginnette has made sure she keeps her connection to Clemente alive, taking part in classes for graduates and keeping a close eye on opportunities on social media. She credits Clemente for offering a safe place for her inquisitive nature.

“I would very much say that in the tree of my life, Clemente is one of its strongest branches. It provided nurturing and shade and food and birds would come to nest,” she says. “My life doesn’t look the same without Clemente. It really broadened my horizons.”

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