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Community needs raised at Hub stimulus money meeting

St. John Barned-Smith | 3/4/2009, 4:06 a.m.

Last Thursday’s community meeting at English High School in Jamaica Plain began as a call to ensure equality and fairness in the distribution of Massachusetts’ portion of the federal stimulus package. It quickly evolved into a broader discussion about a host of issues that continue to plague minority communities, both in Boston and around the Commonwealth.

“It’s time to talk,” said Horace Small, executive director of the Union of Minority Neighborhoods, which hosted the gathering. “We have to gain a seat at the table.”

About 100 people gathered to voice their concerns and to discuss the best ways to ensure that the state’s minority communities are not skipped when Massachusetts’ slice of the $787 billion federal pie is allocated for work opportunities, infrastructure projects or community programming. Gov. Deval Patrick has estimated that the state could receive between $6 billion and $9 billion in direct funding assistance through the stimulus package.

City Council President Michael Ross attended the English High event, as did City Councilor-at-Large and mayoral candidate Sam Yoon. Others in attendance included Ron Marlow, assistant secretary for access and opportunity in the Patrick administration, and state Department of Workforce Development Director Michael Taylor.

As the invited government officials looked on, community members and leaders of Boston-area nonprofits came forward to press for assistance on a host of issues.

Greater Four Corners Action Coalition Executive Director Marvin Martin said that most of the stimulus money will go toward projects like new construction and repairing bridges, and that those jobs were ones that typically did not go to minority workers.

“We need the state government to listen to us,” Martin said, calling for every project to be looked at through the lens of social justice.

Equity in the division of construction funding was a major concern for several attendees.

Kerrick Johnson, director of the Roxbury Builders’ Guild, an alliance of local minority construction workers, said one danger of the stimulus package was that it could trigger old inequalities. He argued that any project that employs only union members would guarantee low rates of participation for women and minority workers.

“There can be no excuse for letting old failures continue,” he said.

Johnson suggested barring developers with a poor history of employing minority workers from receiving stimulus funds. He also called for the inclusion of local communities in all aspects of the construction process, from hiring to building and project oversight.

Other builders echoed Johnson’s concerns. Wayne Smith, a member of a local pile drivers union, demanded the city vigorously enforce its equal work ordinances.

Brandishing his union card, Smith said, “I’m a member in good standing,” before demanding that the city crack down on the unions.

“People from outside of the city — Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island — come in here and work on these projects, while people like myself are not working,” added Smith, who said he hopes that “people in my community who are qualified, certified, able and available get the same opportunities as people who are non-residents and working on a continual basis.”