Patricia Wen, the editor of the Boston Globe’s Spotlight Team, will be taking part in a conversation about race on Martin Luther King Day with Brookline Select Board member Bernard Greene, the first black person to serve on the elected body. The event will also include a viewing of the documentary short “Brookline, Facing Civil Rights.”

Wen, who’s lived in Brookline for more than 30 years, took over as editor of the Globe’s storied investigative reporting unit in 2017, after having worked as a reporter in various capacities for the newspaper since 1986.

She says her first major project as editor included overseeing the wide-reaching seven-part series on issues of race in contemporary Boston entitled: “Boston. Racism. Image. Reality.”

The series explored racial discrimination across industries spanning healthcare, universities, housing, politics, and sports in Boston. Using mountains of data — endless graphs and studies — the diverse team of reporters, several of whom had been brought on specifically for the project, sought to challenge the idea of a city known for its liberal politics and move beyond its reputation as unwelcoming to people of color since the desegregation of Boston schools in the 1970s and 1980s.

The reporting concluded that, among other things, while attitudes about race have improved over the years, systemic racism is still pervasive. The project was a finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in local reporting.

According to Wen, after its publication, “Boston. Racism. Image. Reality” sparked a broader regional discussion about race.

“By and large the reaction was incredibly powerful,” Wen said. “We were invited to be on dozens and dozens of panels and discussions.”

Like other cities, Wen characterized Boston as “complacent” in its progress separating itself from its ugly past.

“We hopefully put it out there that while there have been changes made, we have not made as much progress as we think,” she said.

Wen grew up in East Lansing, Michigan, where her father taught at a university. While her passion for journalism didn’t become fully-fledged until after college, she said she wrote for the high school paper and flirted with the idea while in college. She attended Harvard and majored in modern Chinese history and East Asian studies, and traveled abroad to Beijing University for a semester.

Wen remembers her interest in journalism began to grow while interning at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, finding herself in the midst of a group of former foreign correspondents, who were on fellowships writing books and op-eds. 

“I began to start to feel like what they were doing was really cool,” she said.

She says she felt less attracted to the Washington-dominated world of think tanks and foreign policy, and more compelled to write. She interned with the Star-Ledger in Newark, New Jersey, in the early 80s, and then going onto writing for newspapers in Connecticut,

“I’ve loved it from the very beginning,” Wen said. “There was no doubt in my mind that this was the right fit.”

Preceding Wen’s discussion with Greene, a 22-minute documentary short entitled “Brookline, Facing Civil Rights” will be screened to the public at the Coolidge Corner Theatre. The short film, produced and directed by’s Harvey Bravman, melds first-person testimony from prominent black community members, as well as an account from former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, to paint a complete picture of the wealthy Boston suburb, often touted as a bastion of liberal values, during the civil rights era.

By Tanner Stening