The recent WGBH investigative series, “The Color of Public Money,” reinforces what our 250+ members and the broader community have known all along, which is that the economic well-being of Black businesses and communities continues not to be a top priority for our elected officials. The series discloses for the Commonwealth what a Boston City Council hearing told us in May 2019: that despite the pronouncements and policies from government officials, these efforts are not working and urgency is required to immediately correct this problem.
According to 2012 U.S. Census data, more than 14,000 Black-owned businesses earn over $1 billion annually and pay out over $350 million in payroll to employ 12,000 Massachusetts residents. It is clear that the success of Black businesses is paramount to the long-term economic health of, not just Black communities, but the Commonwealth overall. Knowing this, it is appalling that the share of public contracts to these businesses is at or below 1 for both the state and the City of Boston compared to higher levels 20 years ago.
In just a few days, state and local leaders will gather at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center to celebrate the life and work of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. There is no doubt that Governor Charlie Baker, Senate President Karen Spilka, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and Mayor Martin Walsh will deliver remarks declaring how far we have come since the assassination of the Civil Rights leader, all against the backdrop of our current national crisis. What will be evident is the lack of self-awareness on the part of these elected officials. For, in 1968, while the nation also faced multiple crises, local and state leaders were quick to declare that their city or state, too, had made similar strides to improve conditions for Black residents. This is the attitude Dr. King faced as he entered cities like Chicago and Memphis while pushing for economic justice for Black businesses and communities.
In 2020, we can not allow our elected leaders to get away with extolling the virtues and values of Dr. King while not also integrating the principles he quite literally died for into their policies, practices, and priorities. We can no longer allow their substitution of symbolism for substance. It is time for immediate and impactful action.
Therefore, we are calling on Governor Baker, President Spilka, Speaker DeLeo, and Mayor Walsh to publicly declare their plans to ensure greater and immediate access for Black businesses to contracting opportunities, along with a budget that reflects this new priority, at the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Breakfast on January 20, 2020.
It is imperative that these plans include the following:
The Office of Supplier Diversity must be made an independent entity with strong enforcement and oversight powers and a full staff that allows the monitoring of all projects across the state and spending across all departments, including quasi state agencies, by the 2021-2022 budget cycle.
The Legislature must fully fund this initiative in the 2021-2022 budget at a total of $1 million, $2.5 million, and $5 million for the first three years and commit to level-funding.
Achieving equity and diversity goals must be tied to performance evaluations for procurement and other staff across statewide agencies.
Every state and quasi-state agency must adopt the “Massport Model” for all future projects by the 2021-2022 budget cycle.
The Legislature must increase technical assistance grants and invest in existing initiatives to support the growth and sustaining of Black businesses and fully fund these initiatives in the 2021-2022 budget of $5 million, $10 million, and $15 million for the first three years and commit to level-funding.
The Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, the Black Advisory Commission, and other stakeholders must be given oversight authority over the Office of Supplier Diversity and these initiatives, and given quarterly updates on their progress.
The “Massport Model” must be adopted for all future projects, not just those in Black communities, by the 2021-2022 budget cycle.
MBE contracting goals of 7%, 14%, and 20% must be established and enforced starting in 2021.
Achieving equity and diversity goals must be tied to performance evaluations for procurement and other staff across citywide departments.
The Equity and Inclusion Unit must be made 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's, by the 2021-2022 budget cycle.
The Mayor and City Council must increase technical assistance grants and invest in existing initiatives to support the growth and sustaining of Black businesses and fully fund these initiatives in the 2021-2022 budget at a total of $1 million, $2 million, and $3 million for the first three years, and commit to level-funding.
The Office of Economic Development must comply with the City Council ordinance to submit quarterly reports of its spending across all categories.
Immediate implementation of these solutions will set us on a new and better course. Black businesses locate in Black neighborhoods, hire Black people, and reinvest in those same communities. This is why it is crucial that we urgently address this issue. Public contracts are key to stabilizing small businesses and helping them expand. This allows them to hire more people at better wages with benefits – thus reducing the racial wealth gap – and it also increases their contribution to the state economy. Every public dollar spent should be an investment in our collective future.
Governor Baker, President Spilka, Speaker DeLeo, and Mayor Walsh have all stated that their idyllic views of the future include equity across the board and the Beloved Community of Dr. King’s dreams. But, if they are unable to make these commitments to their constituents on January 20 th , then it will be a clear indication to all that their commitment to the economic justice Dr. King fought to bring about, is -- much like our “progress” as a state -- in name only.