Boston’s bad reputation on race troubles firms

Hub image hinders recruitment; business community sees role to play in reform

Jule Pattison-Gordon | 5/18/2017, 6 a.m.

“Boston is overdue for more open, intentional conversation on race,” Walsh said. “We can’t pat ourselves on the backs, and call our work done. We saw some of this evidence [of] why that is in recent incidents at Fenway Park last week. Greater Boston does have a long way to go in rooting out racism and healing the wounds of history. But we can’t treat these as isolated incidents. We must recognize overt racism as a sign of ongoing systemic injustice.”

Walsh suggested that President Trump’s administration has encouraged those holding racist beliefs to bring them to the surface.

“I, too, believe that divisive and cruel rhetoric from national leaders emboldens these hateful actions and attitudes,” he said. “We can change that here in the city of Boston. We are better than that.”

Boston’s business sector image

In a previous role running the Boston Convention and Exposition Center Rooney struggled to persuade minority groups to come to conventions held in Boston, and he said Boston’s image has dampened firms’ ability to recruit people of color.

“People who are from other cities and state certainly either know of the history around the busing years, the Charles Stuart years, or other more recent incidents — certainly the Fenway Park incident went national which reinforces the brand of an unwelcoming city,” Rooney said. “We need to create moments that demonstrate to people that by and large, most people here are not like that.”

While with the convention center, Rooney arranged conversations between leaders of color and organizations to discuss what the city could offer. Ultimately, the National Society of Black Engineers, the National Association of Black Journalists and National Urban League agreed to come to Boston, marking for some of the groups the first time in decades, or ever, that they had come to the city, Rooney said. To improve Boston’s image, it is critical to create positive experiences to balance out the negative accounts, Rooney said. He recalled that during the Black Journalists’ event, a Los Angeles-based attendee said this was the first time he’d left his family behind on such a trip, but after three days in Boston, his opinion had changed, and next time he would bring them.

As another ray of hope, Rooney noted is that many foreign-born immigrants who come to Boston do find their personal and professional needs met and choose to stay.

Chamber of Commerce’s role

Sullivan spoke of the importance of all members of Boston finding ways to tackle racial inequity.

For members of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce this means finding ways to use the particular skill set of such a business group, Rooney said. Their efforts include work to connect small businesses, especially those with diverse leadership, to supplier opportunities with larger businesses. Other significant areas to address, Rooney said, are education opportunity and transit access from minority neighborhoods to job centers. He said he believes the business community can bring its influence to advocate for transportation infrastructure investment.