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Walsh vows new avenues for minorities

Business, Cabinet opportunities cited

At a Black History Month event, elected officials and business leaders pledged Monday to work together to boost opportunities for minority-owned businesses, and ensure that people of color hold positions of responsibility in city government.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh reiterated his campaign pledges to help build new avenues for minority-owned businesses and make sure that half of the Boston Police Department’s command staff and half of his Cabinet are people of color.

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“We have a long way to go. But if we don’t start in City Hall by setting the bar high, then how can I as mayor, or we, as a government, expect other people to do the same?” he said to the crowd of about 200 people.

Many speakers at the event at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center emphasized that the city has a long road ahead in bolstering businesses owned by people of color.

Businessman Darryl Settles, who helped organize the forum, cited statistics about minority-owned businesses in the state, including that among all of them, “less than 1 percent have revenues in excess of $1 million.”

“This is disturbing and it’s not about lack of smarts. It’s not about lack of capability. It’s about the lack of opportunities,” Settles said.

Attendees of the Black History Month business forum also included US Senator Edward J. Markey and state Senator Linda Dorcena Forry. She encouraged businesses, particularly those looking to work with the state, to employ a diverse workforce at every phase of a contract.

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“We want to see diversity and we want to see it real. We want to see inclusion and we want to see it up front, not at the end of a project,” Dorcena Forry said to applause.

Markey spoke about the history of African-Americans in Massachusetts from the 1600s to the present.

“In the 21st century, the final barriers to come down are economic opportunity — ensuring that [minority-owned] businesses have the same access to capital as white businesses have had since the beginning of the founding of our country,” Markey told the crowd, pledging to work with US Senator Elizabeth Warren to secure federal support for the effort.

Dorcena Forry, who endorsed Walsh’s mayoral bid, also assessed the mayor’s efforts at City Hall expanding opportunity for people of color at City Hall and in Boston more broadly. “I think he’s doing all right,” she said in a short interview before the event. “We still have work to do, but Marty’s doing a good job.”

She praised three of his recent appointments of people of color to high-profile positions.

Before he was sworn in last month, Walsh tapped Felix G. Arroyo, a former city councilor and former mayoral hopeful, to be the city’s chief of health and human services. Walsh later announced the Boston police superintendent-in-chief would be William G. Gross, the department’s first African-American second-in-command.

And last week, Walsh tapped former school committee member John F. Barros, another former mayoral rival, to be Boston’s first chief of economic development.

Walsh has faced criticism, including in a Bay State Banner article, for not making swift enough strides toward a more diverse City Hall. The majority of people in Walsh’s Cabinet are white.

In an interview as he was leaving the event, Walsh noted that some of his appointments are interim, and that living up to his Cabinet pledge would not be immediate: “Over the course of the first year or so, I want to be there,” he said.

Speaking broadly about increasing economic opportunity for people of color in Boston, the mayor said his actions would live up to his rhetoric.

“I can say everything, all the right words, but if I’m not proving by my actions, then it’s just words,” Walsh said.

Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos.

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