In an area known for champions, innovation and prestigious schools, there remains an undercurrent of racism in the Greater Boston area. And at times, perception is reality for those affected.
Boston Police Commissioner William Gross recounts a time when, as a young patrolman, he chased down a suspect alongside a white officer.
"Being in a foot pursuit with someone who's next to you that's Caucasian, and have them say 'Stop, n-word,' you're like, 'What?' 'Oh, not you, you're a good guy,'" said Gross.
MBTA Police Chief Ken Green also faced discrimination early in his career.
"There were times where people didn't really want to deal with me," he recalled. "They wanted to deal with the white officer I was with."
"I'm treated fantastic, with this uniform on, everywhere I go. I take this uniform off, it's not always the case," Cambridge Police Commissioner Branville Bard added.
They say it comes with the territory and the color of their skin. But they're now turning the page and writing a new chapter in this narrative.
"I think we're moving in the right direction," said Gross.
For the first time ever, three black men are leading the largest local law enforcement agencies in Greater Boston. They know it is a tremendous privilege and responsibility.
"I know I'm being looked at," Gross said. "I'm not under a microscope. I'm under an electron microscope magnified 10,000 times."
Along with fighting crime and guiding men and women from diverse backgrounds, they're still trying to process and deal with the issues of our time lingering over their agencies.
"You don't like what's going on, we don't like what's going on," said Green.
Gross says unarmed black men being shot and killed by white officers, fueling anti-police sentiment, is one of the reasons for the recent decline in candidates applying to join the force.
"At one time, if you wanted to take the Boston police exam, you would have to compete from anywhere from 8,000 to 20,000 candidates. Recent exams, we are lucky to get 2,000 people," the commissioner said.
The men were also asked about the ongoing effects of negative black stereotypes — the police leaders gave some examples.
"You don't care about anything, except sex, drugs, sports, fashion, music," said Gross.
"You only got the sergeant's position because they needed a black sergeant, not because you topped the list," said Green.
Then there's the disproportionate number of black men in America's prisons.
"My mother has two sons. One of us is in jail for life, the other one is chief of police, a police commissioner," said Bard, adding that he, Gross and Green beat the odds. "In many ways, we are all statistical anomalies, to rise to the positions that we are in."
The chief and commissioners outlined some hopes for Black History Month and looked back at the accomplishments of African Americans.
"Just educate people again about who we are, and lead by example," said Gross.
"I'm keenly aware that I didn't get here by myself and others paved the way for me to do this," Bard said.
But the law enforcement leaders added that there is still plenty of work to be done.
"You don't want to let these people down," Green said. "And we're not going to let them down."