Josh Zakim is awesome. He’s funny, smart, earnest, caring, understanding, and a great listener; all of the qualities one would want in a friend. But, it is as Boston City Councilor for District 8 where Josh’s true awesomeness shines. All of those traits that make him such a great person, make him an even better voice for the people.
We were so excited to interview Josh, as he fits right into The Haute Life mantra of “Find Your Passion and Live it!” It’s clear Josh got into politics for the right reasons; he sincerely wants to make sure everyone has the same opportunities regardless of their ethnicity, religious, political, and/or sexual preference. And while that notion should be a no-brainer, in actuality, it’s a pretty heavy goal.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Josh values civil rights so much, considering who his dad was. If you’re unfamiliar with the City Councilor, we’re pretty sure you at least recognize his last name. Yes, that beautiful perennial fixture in the Boston skyline, the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge, or Zakim Bridge as we’ve come to call it, was named in honor of Josh’s Dad, Lenny Zakim. A pretty big honor, but given Lenny Zakim’s character, well-deserved.
Josh, with the Zakim Bridge in the Background
If you ask Josh about his Dad, the bridge, and his upbringing he is exceptionally humble, yet grateful. Josh says growing up in Newton, Mass, he had a typical childhood, attending summer camps, playing basketball, idolizing Larry Bird, and dreaming of being in the NBA.
Josh as a Child and his Dad, Lenny Zakim
However, while other kids were watching cartoons on Sunday mornings, Josh was tagging along with his dad to community events like a Black-Jewish Seder and other intercultural/interfaith happenings. Throughout his childhood, interesting people would come over for dinner. Visiting different local communities with his family was the norm. During these “cool adventures,” as he thought of them, he witnessed his dad care about people and the issues they faced. It was clear Lenny was working to make sure all people were on equal footing. It wasn’t just about tolerance, but also about embracing people of all cultures. He watched as his dad and his mom, Joyce, worked hard to make sure people were not discriminating against those who were different or had less.
And although at the time, it all seemed normal, Josh now realizes what a great gift his parents gave to him and his sisters. Interacting with and learning to appreciate such a broad range of people and opinions is a gift we could all use. As an adult, Josh now sees the cumulative effect these experiences have had on his own beliefs and goals. Through his parents’ actions, he learned the importance of “Do as I do, not as I say.” These experiences became the backbone of his political beliefs and part of what makes Josh so awesome.
But, as life goes, tragedy also shapes who we are. At the age of ten, Josh learned of his dad’s diagnosis of bone marrow cancer. In 1999, the man who breathed new life into the civil rights movement passed away. And for Josh, the loss of his father at 15-years-old undoubtedly also contributed to the man who he is today. Perhaps, it elevated his sense of compassion and humbleness. Maybe it solidified his work ethic and belief that all people should have equal rights. Regardless of the ultimate effects, at a difficult time, Josh kept a straight head at a young age and moved forward. Life goes on.
Josh quickly credits his mother for the strength and love she showed her children. Her guidance kept them on the right path. Friends and family stepped in and provided support, such as teaching Josh how to drive and just being there for the now single mom and her three children. Through this, Josh witnessed once again the importance of community and how essential the help we can provide each other is.
Josh Zakim is the type of guy who doesn’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable. So, when talking about his father’s death, he quickly pointed out the positives that came out of such a sad event. Dana Farber gave his father such excellent care. And now, The Leonard P. Zakim Center for Integrative Therapies and Healthy Living at Dana-Farber provides care and comfort to many patients. It was something his dad wanted but wasn’t completed until after his death. Today, Joyce Zakim works closely with the center.
So, life continued. Josh put his nose to the grindstone and continued his high school education at Buckingham Browne & Nichols in Cambridge. Staying focused in school paid off, and The University of Pennsylvania accepted him for undergrad.
That summer Josh scooped ice cream at J.P.Licks and prepared for an Ivy League education. Soon, the evenings started to cool, signaling the arrival of fall and putting Josh’s adolescence behind him. But, just like so many of us entering college, Josh didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life. But, that’s the great thing about freshman year, all options are open, and Josh loved exploring them!
The college years quickly turned. As a political science major, Josh volunteered on local Philadelphia campaigns, tried different activities, and took in all the historic city had to offer. During the summer months, Josh worked at Blockbuster Video and waited tables at Bertucci’s, while also still staying active in the community. By the end of the four years, he had a much better idea of what he wanted to do. Following in his parents’ footsteps, Josh wanted to be a lawyer. So, he permanently headed back to Massachusetts and began studying law at Northeastern University School of Law.
Saying one wants to be a lawyer is a pretty broad statement. But, luckily for Josh, Northeastern’s co-op program allowed him to step into and feel different areas, such as working for a big law firm, a federal judge, and a district attorney. It was in the District Attorney’s office where he felt excited. He wanted to work in public service, specifically as a prosecutor. Josh wanted to serve the community. So, he started by working for Greater Boston Legal Services, a fellowship sponsored by the law firm Mintz Levin. When that gig ended, fresh from passing the “Bar of the Commonwealth” Josh became part of the Mintz Levin team, working on municipal bonds transactions. (A job that prepared him for the financial aspect of being a City Councilor).
Even though he was, he didn’t feel he was serving the people. Josh was dealing with paper, not the actual people. He hadn’t yet found his passion.
Soon, the door that would lead him to his passion opened. Mike Ross, the former City Councilor for District 8, decided to run for mayor, leaving his seat open and many of Josh’s friends encouraging Josh to run.
And why not? The 29-year-old was that smart, caring, funny, understanding and awesome guy we talked about earlier. Oh, and he actually wanted to serve the public. So, Josh Zakim agreed and began his campaign.
Just like his dad, Josh knew that to find out what the problems were in a community; you have to go right to the source. And so, just like he did as a child with his dad, Josh went from community to community, from door to door to hear what the people wanted, to get to know and understand them. Josh could not have been more genuine in his grassroots campaign; the philosophy was in his upbringing. And that earnest effort to listen and engage with the voters got him the job.
On November 5, 2013, the people of Back Bay, Beacon Hill, Fenway-Kenmore, Mission Hill, and the West End elected Josh Zakim as their Boston City Councilor.
Working on that granular level during his campaign energized Josh. That was how he would operate in his new role as City Councilor. Josh has maintained accessibility to his constituents during his term. More importantly, he also still feels a sense of responsibility to work toward affording the same quality of life for everyone.
More than ever, Josh realizes how challenging that goal really is. From Beacon Hill to Mission Hill, how can one make sure that everyone is given the same opportunities? Josh isn’t looking for utopia. But, as he aptly pointed out, in Boston, the birthplace of Democracy, we should at least ask ourselves what type of society do we want to be and aim for it.
Do we want to be a society where we remain in separate silos, ignorant of each other’s problems? Shouldn’t we look at our neighboring communities, and if we can’t help, at least understand the issues?
And that is what Josh Zakim does. Even when he disagrees he tries to walk in the other person’s shoes; it’s another part of what makes Josh such an admirable person.
Josh won his re-election as City Councilor of District 8 in November of 2017. He’s now running for Secretary of State in Massachusetts.
We’re counting on him winning, not only so he can continue to provide access to the people of Massachusetts, but, so that his political career will continue to grow. I think what America needs right now is a few more awesome people like Josh Zakim on our side.
Please consider donating to the Lenny Zakim Fund. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the fund. Started by Lenny Zakim and his colleges, as stated on the fund’s website, the fund was-
“Founded on the belief that effective social change can be created at the grassroots, The Lenny Zakim Fund (LZF) identifies, supports, and connects small community-based organizations operating “below the radar screen” of other foundations and government agencies.”
Let’s keep the passion and goals of Lenny Zakim alive!