Black women get a seat at the table with growing Queens Dinner
They just needed a girls’ night out. But not the kind that involves happy hours and hangovers.
Jessicah Pierre and her friends wanted self-care for their sisterhood.
It was just eight of them, sharing their dreams and career goals over dinner at Maggiano’s. They called it The Queens Dinner.
“We came into our own together,” says Pierre, 27, a media specialist at the Institute for Policy Studies. “We were having fun together but wanted to know how we could be more intentional in supporting one another in our professional development and personal growth.”
That was three years ago. On Saturday, when they meet for the third anniversary of that first dinner, 80 women will join them at District Hall in the Seaport. It sold out weeks ahead.
Some of them will be friends of friends. Others will be strangers. The gathering is no longer just for them; it’s a night for networking and nurturing the bonds between black women. The Queens Dinner, held every few months, is meant to be a place to cast off the armor one needs to survive in a world that so often dismisses and stereotypes black women.
The $50 tickets include dinner, networking, a minority-women-owned pop-up shop, and a keynote speech by Taisha Crayton, CEO of NotyArc Management Group, a Bridgewater construction management company. In the past, they’ve had Liz Miranda, the recently elected state representative from the Fifth Suffolk District, and Berklee assistant professor and artist Berlisha R. Morton as guest speakers.
“We posted about our first dinner on Snapchat and decided we would meet quarterly as a way to check in with each other and hold one another accountable,” Pierre says. “Other women saw the pictures and were messaging us like, ‘This is cool. I want to do this.’ So when we did our next dinner, it was at ZAZ [in Hyde Park] and there were 20 women.”
What Pierre realized is that black women in Boston were looking for safety in solidarity.
Growing up in Hyde Park, Pierre took for granted the benefit of a community that looked like her, places where a Haitian-American woman, a black woman, isn’t a unicorn in the room.
“I was always around people of color,” Pierre says. “I lost my mother at a young age, so I had so many aunties, uncles, family, my father. If it wasn’t for my community I wouldn’t be able to survive.”
And then she went to the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she and her Honduran best friend were the only two black girls in their entire dorm.
“They were not rocking with us,” she says of the white students.
It was culture shock, but one that taught Pierre the importance of creating safe spaces and making community. In college, she joined groups like the Haitian American Student Association, the African Student Association, and organizations for students of color.
But for most people of color, once you graduate from college and into the corporate world, it’s not easy to find those networks.
“Being able to be in a room with black women who are successful, they’ve found their own, and established their own, and it shows you what you can do, too,” she says. “There are powers in numbers and what you see.
“Growing up, the struggle was the norm to me, surrounded by hard-working people working two or three jobs to pay their rent was the norm. I graduated college and worked two jobs. Now I know I can be a CEO. I can be financially stable. But you build that ecosystem of support.”
Knowing that, by the time she hosted her third dinner in 2016, she was determined to do more.
Pierre and her friend Valentina Arecy applied to the Fairmount Innovation Lab Launchpad, a program dedicated to helping Boston entrepreneurs turn their ideas into businesses. They created Queens Co., dedicated to empowering black women in Boston.
Tricia D. Young, founder of TLE Consulting Group, was one of the mentors helping develop Queens Co. during their time at Fairmount Innovation Lab. The women have a business that is rooted in togetherness and giving back, she says.
“I’m in awe of [Jessicah] and her energy and team,” she says. “She is relentless in her pursuit of not just excellence but getting stuff done, and she cares about her community, and that’s what really makes her a joy to work with.”
Over the past three years, they’ve added financial planning workshops, wellness seminars, vision board parties, and networking opportunities to their dinner.
Pierre is the president of Queens Co. Arecy, the company vice president, recently moved to Washington, D.C., where she does education grant work. But she remains dedicated to Queens Co.
“It’s a necessity for our community as well as for me,” says Arecy, 27. “Growing up in Boston as a young woman of color, it was very hard to find certain information and resources I needed to succeed. All of us are first generation to go to college and first-generation Americans. Our parents are immigrants. That being said, it was very difficult to find social spaces that catered to us, and it is central to why Queens Co. is so special.”
In 2019, they are building more relationships with businesses in an effort to create diverse networking opportunities. They recently introduced a membership program ($65 annually), and their first ever out-of-town Queens Dinner will be held this summer on Martha’s Vineyard.
Jenny Geffrard, founder of Surplus Financial Consultants, leads Queens Co. credit repair workshops.
“Jessicah and all of the board members are committed to community over competition,” Geffrard says. “To support another woman does not diminish our access to success or our uniqueness. That is important to share not just for our generation but for the generations after. Black women in business are fighting everything from stereotypes to glass ceilings so you want a space where you don’t have to fight, or be on the defense. Queens Co. gives us a safe space.”
Every dinner, the women come up with a theme. On Saturday, it’s James Baldwin’s quote, popularized by Maya Angelou: “Your crown has been bought and paid for. Put it on your head and wear it.”
But it’s partially inspired by newly minted congresswoman Ayanna Pressley.
“I used to feel the need to shrink myself when I was the only black woman in the room,” Pierre says. “But Ayanna Pressley has given me permission to be my whole self in any space. And this is what we want to inspire black women to do — to know their mere presence is enough, to reclaim their narrative. Look at these black women winning. They are us.”
Queens are rising.