Brockton candidate already a winner

Longshot mayoral challenger overcame a hard start in life

WITH MAYORAL RACES in the gun lap around the state, most eyes are on what’s happening in Boston and then maybe on Lawrence and Framingham or Newton. But little attention has been paid to the race in Brockton, where incumbent Mayor Bill Carpenter is challenged by 26-year-old Jimmy Pereira, one of the more unlikely and unusual political candidates to emerge in that city – or in the state – in a long time.

Pereira emerged from a field of five other candidates in September’s primaries to battle Carpenter, who has held the post since 2013. Pereira, who received 775 votes to Carpenter’s 2,253, acknowledges the race is an uphill battle. But uphill battles are this political newcomer’s strong suit.

Pereira says he wants to focus the city’s resources on tough social problems that have continued to plague his hometown, such as gang violence, lack of a vibrant downtown, racial discrimination, and domestic and family violence. He wants to improve cultural competency in the schools and local government. He wants to create intergenerational and other programs to prepare young people for well-paid jobs instead of crime and drugs.

That’s a lot of promises for a political newcomer. Pereira has formal education and experience in urban planning, but the school of hard knocks has given him the insights and fueled the ambition that distinguishes him from the crowd. He knows the cracks in the city’s schools and neighborhoods because he’s fallen through them. More importantly, he’s had a chance to see how they could be repaired.

Trouble began when Pereira was 11 and his father returned to his native Cape Verde. His mother worked several jobs to support the family, causing her to be away from the home for long stretches of time. More upheaval came when a step-brother and sister arrived from Cape Verde. “I thought at the time, they were getting more attention than I was,” he says.

Problems at home led him to get involved with a new set of friends outside the neighborhood. He started skipping school and getting into fights. He recalls one of his teachers telling him he would go nowhere. The comment stung, but served only to egg on more delinquent behavior.

At 14, after numerous arrests and truancies, Pereira was committed to the Department of Youth Services, the state’s juvenile justice system. He decided there was nowhere to go but up, but the road ahead was not a smooth one. After struggling to maintain him in Brockton, Pereira’s mother concluded, with his caseworkers, it would be best if he entered a foster home in Springfield. His home life stabilized, but he fell back into old habits at school and in the neighborhood. He joined a gang, and continued to skip school and get involved in fights.

While living in the foster home, his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. “That was a turning point for Jimmy,” says Pereira’s long-time mentor, Darnell Williams. “He gave his mother a difficult time when he was younger, he was in and out of a lot of bad situations, making poor choices. He loved and cared about his mother so deeply, could potentially lose her, he realized he needed to do something with his life.”

“My mom is a fighter and I realized I’m a fighter, too,” says Pereira. “The temptations were always there but around that time, I grew closer to my higher power. I wanted to graduate high school and make her proud of me before I lost her.”

Pereira graduated from Putnam High School in Springfield and went on to Westfield State University. He voluntarily stayed in state custody through college to retain supportive services and also financial aid through the state agency. While about half of DYS students voluntarily continue services to retain supportive services and financial aid through college, Pereira’s graduation from a four-year college is rare among those ordered committed to DYS.

Williams was Pereira’s first supervisor in an internship at Commonwealth Corporation where Williams was managing quality assurance of DYS schools.  “He would come out with me to the schools in the different DYS facilities,” says Williams. “Through that experience, he had a chance to see how a teacher’s attitudes influence their students, and he learned about inequity on a systemic level.”

His leadership abilities quickly became apparent to Williams who started asking Pereira to lead interviews with DYS youth. Pereira started mentoring other young people involved with DYS and DCF, through the AIM program that initially provided him with mentoring support.

“Jimmy’s youth advocacy work is very powerful,” says Charline Alexandre-Joseph, who led the AIM program. She says Pereira continues to volunteer with youth in Brockton.

He was recruited as a motivational speaker for new DYS teachers as he could effectively communicate what being in DYS is like for students.  “He’s very charismatic. When he presents, he’s very present, like it’s just you and him in the room. He speaks to his own story but takes full responsibility for choices he’s made. He understands redemption, and can articulate the pain and suffering he experienced and also inflicted on others,” says Williams.

By the time he graduated from college, Pereira was on a mission to become a planner in the city he grew up in, and help design community programs to prevent kids like him from falling into the same holes. Then, he would run for office. He wasn’t sure which post or when, but he wanted to make a big splash with his ideas, not a little one.

His first job out of college, he worked for Mass Bikes in Springfield, developing bikeways in downtown Springfield to encourage healthier, greener transportation in urban areas. He now works as a transportation and community planner for Old Colony Planning Council in Brockton.

“He picks issues that are atypical, such as health and immigrant communities and how to make cities more accessible and keep people moving around without cars,” says Janet Daisley, who first met Pereira when she managed the DYS Education Initiative at Commonwealth Corporation. Daisley, who now works at the Community Foundation of Western Mass, kept up with Pereira and continued to support his career.

“He understands the complexities of different policies,” she says. “As mayor, he’ll need to find advisors who can help him learn about the wide range of issues he needs to understand. But he has the intellect and the drive to pull it out.”

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Pereira has proved to be a formidable challenger for Carpenter. In their only debate and a forum, he has challenged the mayor’s claim the city has made progress on developing economic and social programs that are inclusive. Pereira emphasizes that equity is created not just through hiring but in increasing cultural competency in local government and schools. “I’m interested in everyone’s culture, not just my own,” he says. He adds that engaging people from all walks of life and cultures is critical to creating access.

Alexandre-Joseph, who lives in Brockton, says many immigrants who don’t speak English or who come from poorer neighborhoods don’t learn about programs that could help them. She says Pereira’s quixotic run has energized the community. “A lot of people of color and young people have gotten excited about Jimmy’s campaign for obvious reasons, but are they going to vote?” she asks. “That’s the question.”