Recalling how Diddy Cullinane sparked good will in Boston and beyond

The year was 1989. A group of business and community leaders in Boston gathered to search for ways to help heal a racially divided community.

Boston’s reputation was still reeling from years of contentious events brought about by the court-ordered busing of school children. Street crime was on the rise, the murder rate was increasing, and a national economic slowdown loomed ahead.

Then up stepped Diddy Cullinane, a Dorchester-born woman who, with her husband, John Cullinane, were known for their philanthropic leadership across the city.

Diddy had been asked to chair that year’s fundraising efforts for the archdiocese of Boston’s Catholic Charities, and she decided to form a multi-racial committee with 44 members – 22 black and 22 white individuals. She called it “Black & White Boston Coming Together,” and hoped that “it would be a visible demonstration that a strong element of goodwill between the races did exist.” From those inspired calculations, a multi-racial organization was established, and it carried on its work for two decades, until it was dissolved in 2008.

This summer, in a book she authored that catalogues the program’s successes, she writes, “So productive and amicable were the subsequent meetings, the group decided to continue as an entity, with a structure and form yet to be determined. From this beginning, Black & White Boston was born!”

In an introduction to the 284-page book, Diddy Cullinane writes, “During one of the City of Boston’s darkest times, a group sought to demonstrate that there existed a strong element of goodwill between the races. Through a variety of activities and drawing on political, corporate, cultural, social and religious support, they succeeded for a period of almost 20 years in proving it did exist. This book is a chronicle of their efforts.”

The Cullinanes reached out this summer to invite old friends and supporters to a reception to launch the book, and they gathered at the Harvard Club on a warm June evening to renew acquaintances, recall the many achievements, and memorialize those early supporters who have passed on.

“It chronicles the 20 years of an organization working to bring the races together around social interaction and jobs,” John Cullinane said. “It worked. For example, (Boston Globe sportswriter) Will McDonough hosted the “Black & White On Green” golf tournament one year. At his funeral service, Father Tom McDonnell, who played in the tournament every year, said Will singled out Black & White Boston as something he really liked.

“Not long after, Archie Williams, founder of Roxbury Technologies, unfortunately died as well. At his service, Bishop John Borders of Morningstar Baptist Church in Roxbury singled out Black & White Boston as something Archie really liked.

“South Boston and Roxbury linked in this way is the way it should be, and Black & White made it possible,” said John.

With participants ranging from high school students to company CEOs, the effort engaged groups from many varied sectors, with “a goal to create dialogue, promote education, encourage action, and develop employment opportunities in the community.”

Projects included golf tournaments, scholarships for caddies, a breakfast series, and business profile awards.

According to the group’s news release, “Black and White Boston Coming Together, Inc., worked with the mayor of Boston, as well as with other organizations that have similar goals. Interaction with educational institutions, business, cultural, and social services provide opportunities for networking, the sharing of experiences and goals, and possible collaborative affairs.”

The organization had a small four member staff, and was funded by private donations and fundraising events.