Subject of BINJ feature who was victim of 1981 attack by fellow firefighters one step closer to full pension
We started the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism in 2015 to report stories that weren’t being told about people who were often ignored by big media.
That’s become the leading cliché offered by many who have started grassroots journalism operations in the years since, but we have always really meant it. One prime example of how those plans played out early on is our February 2016 feature on former Boston firefighter Allen Curry, whose story chokes me up to this day like few others—even before the incredible update that inspired this post.
We met Curry’s family during one of our first pop-up newsrooms (Nieman Lab even wrote about this story coming out of an early engagement experiment). The idea was to set up a makeshift headquarters in neighborhoods for a single day, often piggybacking on an event like a block party or family film night. When people approached our desks on the sidewalk, we asked them about what kinds of happenings warranted coverage. And the Curry family had one of the most jaw-dropping stories imaginable.
I encourage all readers to dive into the long form piece from 2016. Titled “Internally Bleeding,” it’s the brutal recounting of how Curry was the victim of an unspeakable attack at the hands of fellow Boston firefighters. And how, decades later, his struggle endures, as does the BFD’s diversity problem. Written by Alejandro Ramirez, who went on to become the managing editor of the Nashville Scene, it’s a wrenching but worthwhile read about a Vietnam veteran who was wronged by the city he returned from overseas to serve. Here’s a snippet:
Forty years ago, Curry’s mother warned him against joining the BFD and said her friends in the police department faced harassment. He says despite the lack of black role models who fought fires, he applied anyway in order to give back to his community and save lives.
“I chose the fire department [instead of] the police department because I had just come from a situation where I had to use a firearm,” Curry says, referring to his time in Vietnam. “I didn’t think a fire would follow me home.”
When Alejandro caught the story, we quickly learned that what happened to Curry was an open secret, much to the shame of City Hall and outlets that ignored his crusade for a proper pension. Also, former City Councilor Charles Yancey, who had advocated for his constituent since the late-1980s, had just lost his seat in the 2015 election. The Curry family, however, kept pushing.
The fight isn’t over, but for the first time in their decades-long struggle there is hope. Last week, the Boston City Council approved a home rule petition filed by Councilor Ricardo Arroyo supporting the awarding of full benefits to Curry. Boston reps still have to usher a bill through the legislature and get the governor’s signature, but it’s already a victory considering that Curry was formally rejected by the council back in 2009.
We intend on following the story as it unfolds, but it’s already good news that the case is gaining attention. As the petition advances to Beacon Hill, you can expect significant coverage, which is what the story deserves. It’s taken years to move the needle one inch, but as the founding editorial director of BINJ I couldn’t think of something more appropriate to point to and say, This is why we do this work—from the way the story came to be, to the fact that it remains as powerful now as it was on the day it was published. As Councilor Arroyo wrote to Alejandro on Twitter, “Your article helped bring this injustice to my attention. Thanks for writing it.”