During the early days of the pandemic, the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts helped Black-owned businesses get personal protective equipment, advocated for equitable pandemic aid programs, and highlighted long-running disparities in the awarding of state contracts.
BECMA did this with just one full-time employee, executive director Segun Idowu, who was hired by its board in 2018.
Over the past year, the pandemic, coupled with a national focus on addressing racial inequity, fueled unprecedented support for the nonprofit. BECMA beat its 2020 fund-raising goal of $1 million, raising $1.5 million in pledges.
Now, the Boston-based group is determined to capitalize on that momentum. BECMA announced Tuesday that it has hired three more full-time employees to help it expand, a move Idowu said will “show people that we are serious about addressing this issue.”
BECMA was founded six years to advance the economic development of Black businesses. Its early advocacy efforts grew out of a much-cited 2015 Federal Reserve Bank of Boston report that found the median net worth of Black households in the city was $8. Last year, it called on the state to commit $1 billion to help reduce racial inequity. It also played a role in getting the state to work toward awarding contracts to a more diverse pool of applicants.
Now, the group is bringing on Samuel Gebru, as is director of policy and public affairs, Christopher Sonnie Jr. as executive assistant, and Jessicah Pierre as director of strategic communications.
“It’s not just about hiring people full time, it is about who we are hiring,” Idowu said. “Our full-time team is all millennials . . . we can’t keep saying young people are the future if we don’t give them opportunities to lead.”
BECMA also has three interns and three contracted workers. Pierre, who worked as a contractor for BECMA in the past, noted that Idowu “got no sleep last year,” so it was vital that the group add people in such a time of need.
“It was a very traumatic time for our community,” she said. “It was also an important moment for BECMA to step up and serve.”
Pierre added that for those who thought BECMA was “loud” in 2020, this year it “we will be louder.”
Michele Courton Brown, executive board member of Boston’s Quality Interactions, an 11-person company that coordinates health care diversity training, said BECMA played a key role in helping it receive early funds from the federal Paycheck Protection Program. Quality Interactions has been a member of BECMA since 2018, and Brown credited the organization for creating a network that connects members of the Black business community.
“It brings us all together, and that is important,” she said. “BECMA and Segun are really meeting the moment, and I’m super excited about their expanded capacity.”
Later this month, the organization plans to launch a chapter system across the state so its advocacy and programming, including newsletters and events, can better focus on communities outside of Boston. For now, Idowu said, there will be a chapter established in every congressional district.
“The issues impacting business in Boston are way different than the issues businesses are fighting in Springfield, Worcester, and Brockton,” he said. “We want to push back against this notion that we don’t exist or can’t be found.”
BECMA will also fund an effort to help Black-owned businesses organize their internal operations, such as by making sure they’ve filed the proper paperwork with the state and have systems in place to track expenses and taxes.
Idowu said that to keep pursuing its agenda, the organization is setting an even more ambitious fund-raising goal for 2021: $2 million. And while he’s not certain there will be the same level of corporate support as there was in 2021, he said his organization plans to double down on its mission regardless.
“We are not shy [about] telling the truth, no matter who it hurts or whether it hurts our bottom line,” he said. “We are not going to lower our voice to raise our profits . . . this is not an organization seeking corporate charity.”