For years, Colette Phillips has helped highlight the contributions of people of color working in Boston’s business and civic life. Now she has turned that attention on the deep, broad pool of talent that can go overlooked in the region’s suburbs.
On Thursday, Phillips’s Get Konnected! networking group and the Newton-Needham Regional Chamber announced the first-ever Newton-Needham MetroWest 50 Most Influential Business People of Color. It’s a list recognizing the leadership of professionals in a wide range of fields, including business, politics, arts, sciences, education, and philanthropy.
Phillips, who is also the president and chief executive officer of Boston-based Colette Phillips Communications, Inc., worked closely with Greg Reibman, the president of the regional chamber, to assemble a selection committee. That group chose the honorees from more than 200 business leaders, she said.
She refers to these suburban professionals of color as “hidden figures” — a nod to Black women like Katherine Johnson, whose work in mathematics was vital to the nation’s success during the space race, but whose role was downplayed for decades.
“It’s important for people to know that there are people of color ... who are contributing to the social, economic, and political fabric in their community,” Phillips said.
Reibman said that the city’s suburbs are becoming more diverse, and issues of racial equity are very important to those living there. He hopes companies and organizations looking to fill leadership roles and board positions will use the list as a resource to help connect with a diverse group of candidates.
“Our goal here was to make sure that we shine a spotlight on what is happening in our region,” Reibman said. “There are some really extraordinary business leaders who are really leading companies, and leading change.”
This year’s honorees hold senior leadership roles as business executives, entrepreneurs, and administrators. They represent large corporations like TJX Companies, Inc., International Data Group, and Staples, all based in Framingham; and Thermo Fisher Scientific in Waltham.
Among the honorees is Natasha Espada, the founder and principal of Studio Enée, an architectural firm she founded in Needham seven years ago that has completed commercial, residential, and civic projects. (The firm’s name refers to her initials, and to Aeneas, a figure in Greco-Roman mythology.)
Espada lives in Needham with her husband and two children. She is the first Latina president of the Boston Society of Architects, she said, and is active in her town’s civic life and is a member of the Needham Unite Against Racism Initiative.
As part of the architects' association, she has focused on issues confronting women and minorities, two groups disproportionately impacted economically by the pandemic. In her professional and volunteer roles, she said she wants to serve as a bridge connecting underrepresented communities with the region’s civic and business institutions.
“We want to make sure everyone is aware that there is a diverse population that wants to have representation, and wants to contribute positively to our community,” Espada said.
Bobbitt, who is Black, said he still remembers seeing a person of color perform on stage when he was a child. That moment had a huge impact on his life, and he has spent his career as a choreographer, playwright, and director.
The arts encourage people to envision a different world or a different perspective, Bobbitt said.
“Some people just hate because they’ve been told to hate,” Bobbitt said. “If we can counterbalance that with love, and celebrating people ... maybe we will get closer to being undivided.”
Because of COVID-19, the New Repertory Theatre has postponed indoor productions until next year, and officials have been exploring how to better implement anti-racist efforts within the institution. Part of that work is ensuring its productions tell stories from a diverse set of perspectives; another is drawing a broad audience to the theater.
Bobbitt lives in Cambridge with his husband; their adopted son is a student at the University of Florida. His goal, he said, is to encourage children of color to become lifelong patrons of the arts.
“People have to continue to cultivate imagination if you want progress, social justice, medicine, and science,” Bobbitt said. “We want to create more empathy, and sometimes when you see art about other people, you can learn about them, how they feel, [and] what they are thinking.”
Eneida Román is being recognized for her work as an attorney focusing on civil cases and for The Latina Circle, a networking organization she cofounded. Also known as Amplify Latinx, the organization focuses on promoting and supporting Latina professionals in leadership roles.
Román, who lives in Wellesley with her husband, moved her law firm’s office to the town from Boston earlier this year.
Throughout her career, Román said, she has focused on “opening doors” — nominating people for professional recognition, offering guidance, and helping others who are navigating their careers, Román said.
“I always want to make sure that there is representation, whether it’s women, or people of color,” Román said. “As a lawyer, I have this lens for justice, and I want to make sure I’m always involved with organizations that want to do the right thing.”
Also named to the list was Jay Kim, chief operating officer at the Foundation for MetroWest, which helps connect nonprofits with individual donors and businesses. He lives in Sherborn with his wife and two children.
In January, the foundation released Impact MetroWest, which detailed the strengths and challenges facing the suburban towns west and south of Boston. While the region is home to a well-educated workforce with high median incomes, the cost of housing and growing gaps between rich and poor are becoming more of a concern, the report found.
Kim, who is Asian-American, said the project will be expanded to delve into the rising disparities in income, education, and housing experienced by some residents of the area.
Resolving these issues requires people to start talking about the problems from a wide range of viewpoints, he said.
“We are stronger when we can bring diverse voices and perspectives to the table,” Kim said. “There are people of color here in our community trying to contribute, trying to make things better for everyone.”
For the complete list of honorees, go here.
John Hilliard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.