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Minority economic empowerment mustn’t fall victim to virus

Minority economic empowerment mustn’t fall victim to virus

No one can argue that times are tough and the future uncertain as the coronavirus continues to spread. We are venturing into uncharted territory in many ways, but we are also learning new and valuable lessons about how to cope now and in the future.

It’s common knowledge, backed by statistics, that when the economy is bad for most folks, the minority community gets hit extra hard. There are many reasons, chief among them a historical lack of investment and ongoing and downright systemic discrimination.

It is why I appreciated being part of the focus group held earlier this year by The American City Coalition under the leadership of Christine Araujo designed to jump-start and expand both the economic and cultural assets of Roxbury’s Nubian Square commercial district and Roxbury as a whole. The minority community has always embraced the edict of doing more with less out of historical necessity. At the same time, we must also stay the course to progress and not let empowerment opportunities — often rare — fall victim to coronavirus or a “last hired first fired” mentality that still exists. We must keep fighting and work even harder for our scarce and hard-fought gains, resources and opportunities, even in a time of pandemic.

It is why I appreciate Rep. Chynah Tyler for supporting Pure Oasis, Boston’s black-owned first recreational marijuana dispensary and small business, currently shut down as a result of the coronavirus crisis. The owners overcame many obstacles to finally open their shop just a few weeks ago.

I appreciate greatly Mayor Marty Walsh’s humane treatment of our city’s most needy. We must remember that Dudley Square — now Nubian Square — was needy long before COVID-19 hit.  And still is.

I believe we need a new game plan for the Square that establishes a permanent support structure for small businesses, especially in areas that have been systematically locked out of the economic mainstream. The area just lost the opportunity to develop Parcel 3, which, if it had been developed, would have contributed mightily to the local economy

I remember a vibrant Dudley Square. As a teen, I loved hanging out there whether at Woolworth’s relishing the hot dog special or buying West Indian bangles and Afro-centric greeting cards for my friends at Nubian Notion. I purchased my first piece of furniture at Ferdinand’s, one of the only places back then that would give blacks and other minorities credit or even layaways. Ferdinand’s, now the Bruce Bolling Building, houses the school department. Unfortunately, the businesses in the Bolling Building are suffering because of the lack of economic synergy around them.

Today, three of the brightest lights in the Square are Black Market, Haley House, recently reopened after an economic downturn led to a temporary hiatus, and Hamill Galleries (now Nubian Galleries). All are actively supporting the community.

I believe we need to create a kind of permanent linkage fund to support small businesses in the Square and other neighborhoods going through crisis. The fund could be based somewhat on the linkage model that my husband created for affordable housing in 1983, which continues to fund thousands of units of affordable housing, contributes to job creation and higher educational access. The Community Preservation Fund could add a few dollars to this newly created fund and the many banks that surround the Square could add money to it as part of their Community Reinvestment Act requirements.

Right now, there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel for the Square. The respected Black Market and Hamill/Nubian Gallery are part of a team that has submitted a comprehensive and community-centric proposal with the goal of reinvigorating the area’s cultural and economic opportunities. It is a proposal from two respected local groups in the Square who are already operating on-the-ground there, and who understand a struggling economy because they are currently operating in one.

The coronavirus pandemic will put many things on hold, and the community has weathered many delays — but to deny a once-in-a-lifetime  opportunity to a community long in need of an economic lifeline would be a travesty.


Joyce Ferriabough Bolling is a media and political strategist and communications specialist.

Published at Wed, 01 Apr 2020 04:58:44 +0000