On Friday, February 5, 2021, GBH News and the Boston Globe shared the results of a yet-to-be-released disparity study, which was commissioned by the City of Boston in 2018. The results are disturbing, however unsurprising.
The study reveals what BECMA members and community leaders have been saying for decades: The City of Boston does not value Black businesses or the Black community. The 703-page report lays out in stark detail that despite the pronouncements, public statements, executive orders, and policies, Mayor Martin J. Walsh and his administration have failed to deliver fair and equitable procurement for Black-owned businesses, as well as for other minority- and women-owned businesses. Bold leadership is required to immediately correct this systemic problem.
According to the Boston Globe, the study analyzed over 47,000 contracts awarded by the City over a five-year period (2014 - 2019) worth over $2.1 billion. Of those contracts, 11% were awarded to minority- and women-owned businesses. Only 0.4% -- or $9.4 million -- reached Black businesses. This puts Boston, which only recently committed itself to defeating racism, far below its counterparts in public spending with minority- and women-owned businesses like New York City (19%), Chicago (29%), and Philadelphia (31%).
These statistics make the sworn testimony delivered by Mayor Martin J. Walsh to the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on Thursday, February 4, 2021 where he said, “...during my administration, businesses thrived, attracting $43 billion of investment and creating 77 million square feet of new development,” misleading. Only those businesses owned primarily by white men actually thrived under his mayoralty.
The results of the disparity study are not unexpected, even to Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s administration. A spokesman for the Office of Economic Development confirmed as much when he said, “While the results of this study are not surprising, they reaffirm our belief that more work needs to be done.” It is enraging that the City of Boston paid $1 million to an out-of-state, non-minority owned consulting firm to tell them what Black business owners and community leaders have repeatedly said for free over the entire tenure of Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s administration.
Whatever “actionable items” come from Mayor Martin J. Walsh and his administration, we can no longer accept executive orders and weak policy measures, nor can we tolerate the same members of his administration who presided over this abysmal disinvestment in Black communities remaining in their roles. The study misses a transformational opportunity to redress decades of intentional efforts by the city to turn its back on Black-owned businesses.
Therefore, we demand the following substantive actions be carried out to address this crisis:
Immediately set spending goals of 15% for Black-owned businesses and a combined 40% for women- and minority-owned businesses.
Immediately remove from their positions the Chief Financial Officer and Corporation Counsel, all who have been stumbling blocks to progress.
Immediately enact policy tying performance evaluations, compensation, bonuses, and future employment for all cabinet-level positions, department heads, procurement officers, and other staff across citywide departments to achieving equity and diversity goals.
Immediately direct all City departments and quasi-city agencies to unbundle large contracts that are set to become available in 2021 and beyond.
Immediately make the Equity and Inclusion Unit an independent entity with strong enforcement and oversight powers and a full staff that allows the monitoring of all projects across the city and spending across all departments, including quasi-city agencies.
We will not accept the notion that these demands cannot be accomplished immediately. Seven years was long enough to move the needle on issues that are hardly new.
Additionally, we call on the broader business community to join us in compelling the City to follow through on these demands. In response to the lynching of George Floyd, corporations across the Commonwealth rushed to declare their commitment to supporting the Black community and rooting out the scourge of systemic racism. This disparity study adds fresh paint to the image of Boston as one of the most racist cities in America. This negates the effort of the business community to cast Boston as a welcoming place that embraces diversity and rejects hate. Therefore they must join BECMA and our partners in pushing the City beyond symbolic movement toward more substantive action.
Immediate implementation of these solutions will put the City on an improved, albeit delayed, course. This is necessary as the economy of neither the City nor the Commonwealth can survive without a strong and vibrant Black economy. We must urgently address this issue. Truly modern cities understand their unique ability to build the capacity of Black businesses and invigorate the broader economy. We look forward to the swift fulfillment of these demands so that Boston can become a truly modern city.