Board members at the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts are eager to expand ULEM’s geographic footprint and restore its operations to their former glory — and they believe they’ve found the perfect person to pull that off.
On Tuesday, ULEM will announce that Rahsaan Hall has been tapped to be the group’s next president and chief executive, in time for its annual breakfast on Thursday. Hall takes over in early June for Darnell Williams, who stepped down in 2019. But Hall also takes over for former UMass Boston chancellor Keith Motley, who took on an interim role leading the group after Williams left. For various reasons, including the COVID-19 pandemic and a lengthy vetting process of Hall by ULEM’s national counterpart, Motley’s interim period as a chief executive lasted more than three years.
Now, it’s Hall’s turn. Ever since attending law school at Northeastern University, Hall says he has been driven to find roles in public interest law that allowed him to give back to the community. Those included a job in the Suffolk district attorney’s office under then-DA Ralph Martin, working in its Safe Neighborhoods Initiative, as well as subsequent positions with the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and Lawyers for Civil Rights. Most recently, Hall unsuccessfully challenged longtime incumbent Tim Cruz last fall for Plymouth district attorney.
Hall said he decided to run for DA in part because the ACLU sued Cruz’s office over being charged $1.2 million for a public records request. Despite the loss last November, Hall said he believes his campaign had an impact on the public policy debate around the roles that prosecutors and other law enforcement officers should play. Plus he made numerous connections and relationships across Southeastern Massachusetts.
As ULEM president, he’ll be making many more.
“I’ve heard people say, ‘I didn’t come to make friends, I came to make a difference,’” Hall said. “That’s kind of harsh. My approach is, I’ve come to make friends by making a difference.”
Part of his goal, and the board’s, is to ensure the group expands its presence well outside Boston, to include other cities in the region with large concentrations of people of color.
“I continuously say the only other Urban League in Massachusetts is Springfield’s, so the rest of the state is ours,” said Joseph Feaster, an attorney who chairs the ULEM board.
Hall’s plans for the group, which provides workforce training and job placement services to people of color, are still evolving; he hasn’t even started yet. He’ll lead a staff of nine, with a budget of $1.4 million. It’s a far cry from the time in the 1990s when ULEM was a roughly $4 million-a-year operation under Joan Wallace-Benjamin’s leadership.
Feaster is convinced Hall can restore ULEM’s size and scope.
“We think we have the right person,” Feaster said. “We’re going to get back to that level of support.”
Competitiveness was the word of the night
The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce drew a huge crowd to its annual gala last week at the Omni Hotel in the Seaport, as expected. But there was something different about the tone this time around.
Usually, these events celebrate what makes the region great. And there was plenty of that, to be sure, including kudos for the night’s three honorees, the chamber’s newest Distinguished Bostonians: Bank of America chief executive Brian Moynihan, WGBH host Callie Crossley, and developer John Drew.
But this year, there was something else in the air: concerns about the state’s economic competitiveness. Chamber chairman Ron O’Hanley, the chief executive of State Street Corp., rattled them off from the stage: high housing prices, problematic public transit, surging perceptions of “Taxachusetts.” “People are voting with their feet,” O’Hanley added, noting that Massachusetts was one of only four states where the population declined from 2020 to 2022.
Mayor Michelle Wu told the crowd that she recognizes the challenges, and will do what it takes to “win” on all fronts. Same for Governor Maura Healey, who concluded with this applause-winning phrase: “As I look around this room, my money is on Massachusetts.”
Suffolk Construction owner John Fish, there to bring Slack chief executive Lidiane Jones and O’Hanley’s chief of staff Yvonne Garcia to the stage, reminded Wu and Healey to focus on competitiveness. “If business is going to be successful,” Fish said, “we absolutely need City Hall and the State House behind it.”
Breaktime benefits from Bancel fortune
Moderna chief executive Stéphane Bancel has made millions off the success of his company’s COVID-19 vaccine. Now, Bancel says he’ll give much of that money away.
One of the latest beneficiaries: Breaktime, an organization that helps young adults struggling with homelessness. Thanks to $375,000 from Bancel Philanthropies, a foundation Bancel founded with his wife Brenda Bancel, the Boston nonprofit is announcing the creation of its Breaktime Community Fund, a program to help Breaktime members manage a financial emergency by providing them with up to $1,000 a year.
“We started to see many gaps where our young people needed just a little more support in areas where existing resources weren’t covering it,” said Connor Schoen, Breaktime’s executive director.
Schoen said he was first introduced to Brenda Bancel through John Finley, the head of the Epiphany School.
“I’ve been very inspired by the Bancels,” Schoen said. “The way they stepped up so quickly to support Breaktime was one of the most incredible things that ever happened to our organization.”
Drawing up a better future
Can architecture save the world? The Boston Society for Architecture might soon find out. The trade association recently held a contest to seek the best ideas for ways of using the built environment to confront equity issues or climate change, and narrowed the list of winners down from 30 applicants to five finalists. Now, all five groups will spend the next six to 18 months working on academic projects that flesh out the ideas they submitted to the society, ranging from using more recycled materials in affordable housing construction to rethinking how public benefits are negotiated via Boston’s development approval process.
The society, which will provide funding and networking to help the project teams, raised more than $650,000 for this initiative. The two biggest funders by far, at $250,000 apiece, were architectural firms CBT and Elkus Manfredi.
“We just thought by combining forces and resources, we can make a bigger impact,” CBT principal David Nagahiro said. “They’re going to use this as an incubator to come up with some provocative ideas to address climate [change] and equity.”
Bed Bath & Beyond’s demise could be TJX’s gain
Bed Bath & Beyond fans are upset about the chain’s closure. But is anyone crying at Framingham rival TJX Companies?
Analyst Chuck Grom, from Gordon Haskett Research Advisors, asked TJX chief executive Ernie Herrman on an earnings call last week about what kind of benefit TJX’s HomeGoods division might see from Bed Bath’s liquidation.
Herrman offered a hopeful response for TJX, even though he seemed reluctant to respond at first. Who wants to be seen as publicly gloating at a rival’s demise?
“We never like to name the other retailers when it’s happening,” Herrman said. “But we do strongly believe that creates market share opportunities and market grab for us.”
TJX is reordering inventories at certain HomeGoods stores near Bed Bath locations that are closing, Herrman said. “So we are taking advantage of that situation, to your point,” he added.
No word on how Herrman feels about the bankruptcy of former Bed Bath affiliate Christmas Tree Shops, or the real estate potential of that quirky store with the windmill on Cape Cod next to the Sagamore Bridge that will soon be vacant.
Jon Chesto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.