As an entrepreneur and a tradeswoman, Ronnette Taylor-Lawrence has been a trailblazer. Starting as a young single mother in the 1980s, she worked her way up from laborer to journeyman plumber, becoming the first woman of color to receive her plumber’s license from the Plumbers and Gasfitters Local 12 Boston union. Today, she is a master plumber and fire sprinkler contractor running her own business, Fire Code Design, a Boston-based full service fire extinguisher and fire safety company offering sales, repairs and service to commercial and residential clients.
Santander Bank this week announced “Cultivate Small Business,” a pilot initiative designed to assist women-, minority- and immigrant-owned businesses in food-related industries. The program’s focus is on helping to fill gaps in networking, mentorship, training and access to capital in order to smooth the path to business success, a path that can be particularly rocky for entrepreneurs starting out with few resources.
When Eddy Firmin was ready to start his own restaurant after spending years in the corporate world and as a restaurant co-owner, he created the kind of place he would want to go to. “This is me,” he says, sitting recently in the dining room of Savvor, the restaurant and lounge he opened in downtown Boston in 2014. “It’s stuff I like to eat — good food, nothing crazy. Our recipes come from all over — from my mother, from family members, borrowed from a lot of places.”
Inside Out Fitness Concepts founder Joe Sumrell traces his interest in physical fitness way back, probably to age 6 when his mother started him in judo classes. Throughout his school years, he played just about every sport available. Later on, he took up competitive bodybuilding and earned the shelves full of trophies that line IOFC’s walls and storefront on Dudley Street in Roxbury. And at 58, Sumrell still competes in track and field, where he is ranked nationally and internationally in multiple events.
Jamaican food chain’s next Boston site will be in Dudley Square
Mattapan residents, Greater Boston’s Caribbean community, local elected officials celebrated the grand opening of Boston’s first Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery & Grill on Saturday.
For Domingos DaRosa, the record-breaking 2015 winter sowed the seeds for a new business. He started DaRosa Property Maintenance LLC in 2015. The 39-year-old father of four had been helping his parents, neighbors and friends for years with snow removal and other odd jobs. When those extraordinarily snowy months hit, his phone started ringing. He purchased snow blowers and gathered some helpers, mostly family members. Within two weeks, he says, he had customers across eastern Massachusetts — Taunton, Easton, Billerica — all through word-of-mouth referrals.
At Eye & Eye Optics, owner Bobin Nicholson wants the experience of choosing the right eyeglass frames to be as enjoyable and relaxing as the reggae music he loves. In 2010, the Dorchester resident purchased the former Peters Optical business in the Lower Mills neighborhood and retrofitted the shop to reflect his style and create a full-service eye care facility with an ophthalmologist on staff.
Entrepreneur takes a DIY approach to building a business
Inside a tiny storefront on Jamaica Plain’s South Street, the light-filled interior of Faith’s Naturals feels surprisingly spacious. White walls, a high white tin-paneled ceiling and light-toned wood shelves, coupled with a few deep-pink accents, create an inviting look to the narrow space. Neatly arranged on the shelves are jars and bottles of face and body scrubs, oils, soaps and hair care products, all handmade by owner Faithlyn Scarlett with plant-based ingredients such as flaxseed extract, arrow root powder, aloe vera gel extract, coconut oil, honey, lemon juice and crushed oats.
While the Greater Boston area has grown more diverse over the past five years, the region remains racially and economically segregated, a new report shows, with the average income 18 times higher for the highest-earning fifth of households than for the lowest fifth, and widening income and wealth gaps disproportionately affecting blacks and Latinos.
In Boston, 18,709 woman-owned businesses employ 26,209 people, account for more than $4 billion in sales and provide more than $208 million in tax revenue, according to Women Entrepreneurs Boston (WE BOS). Yet by many accounts, women face greater challenges in raising capital and attracting investment for their businesses and in finding mentors and supportive networks. A program of the city of Boston’s Office of Small Business and Office of Women’s Advancement, WE BOS was launched in 2015 to help convene and support women entrepreneurs.
The logo of La Fábrica Central, the new Spanish Caribbean restaurant and live music spot in Cambridge’s Central Square, features a trapiche, the type of wheel that grinds sugar cane into molasses. La Fábrica means “the factory,” and the symbolic logo, along with an actual 400-pound steel trapiche shipped from the Dominican Republic to Cambridge to adorn La Fábrica’s dining room wall, pay homage to the workers who toil in the Caribbean islands to produce sugar, molasses and rum.
Berklee students learn music business basics from John Kellogg in for-credit classroom and online courses. But in 2014 Kellogg opened the door for people anywhere to be schooled in basic legal and business aspects of the music industry at no charge, by developing the first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on music business.
The Ujamaa Bazaar, a pop-up market organized by the Black Economic Justice Institute, Inc., will be open every Saturday this month from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the large hall at 61 Columbia Road in Dorchester. BEJI recently moved its headquarters into the lower floor of the building, which is home to the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers, Inc. (MAMLEO).
Organization helps people of color rise through corporate ranks
The Partnership, a nonprofit with a mission of diversifying Boston’s corporate leadership pipeline, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Since 1987, the Boston-based organization has offered leadership development programs to nurture the talent of African Americans and, increasingly, other people of color traditionally underrepresented at the highest levels of business and industry. Over the years, the organization has worked with some 300 partner organizations and now has a network of more than 4,000 alumni.
Outside the Box Agency President Justin Springer’s path has always been nontraditional, and his entry into entrepreneurship is no exception. A few years ago, when he was frustrated by a string of unfulfilling jobs and job searches, a friend mentioned Future Boston Alliance, the organization known for championing innovative ideas for Boston, but less known at the time for its new business accelerator program. To his surprise, he received word that he’d been selected for Future Boston’s accelerator cohort.
A jury of design experts, city officials and residents of Roxbury’s Garrison Trotter sub-neighborhood is evaluating six development proposals submitted as part of a city of Boston pilot Housing Innovation Competition launched last November.
Boston has 40,000 small businesses that provide some 170,000 jobs, nearly half of all employment in the city, according to the city’s Small Business Plan released last May. And the vast majority of the city’s small businesses — both downtown and in Boston’s many neighborhoods — are “micro-businesses” with fewer than 10 employees and less than $500,000 in revenue. The Mayor's Office of Economic Development (OED), formed in 2014 by the incoming Walsh administration, has been ramping up its efforts to support existing and new small businesses, providing a range of services to help them get a foothold, survive and thrive.
Memory cafes are new to Boston, but the model was developed in the 1990s in Holland, and over the past decade has spread across the U.S. In some areas they are called “Alzheimer’s cafes,” but memory cafes are not Alzheimer’s education sessions or support groups. A 2005 evaluation of memory cafes in the United Kingdom observed that the cafe setting provides “a safe space in which to ‘re-story’ the experience of dementia.” Organizers say cafe participation can open a path to starting difficult conversations about dementia.
Increase in extreme heat days poses threat to already-vulnerable residents
Boston is in for more severe storms, damaging floods and dangerously hot days in the coming years, experts say. While all Bostonians will feel the impacts of extreme weather and increased flooding, the impacts may be felt hardest in the city’s communities of color and lower-income neighborhoods. These residents already face a slate of challenges and inequities that will make it harder to withstand heat waves and bounce back after disasters.
From the MBTA’s recent outsourcing of its cash-counting operations to the heavily-funded campaign to lift the cap on charter schools, Massachusetts is witness to a push for greater privatization of services that traditionally have been public, or government-provided.
Opportunities seen for local job seekers
A strategy for boosting economic development along the Fairmount Corridor by attracting and retaining businesses and jobs — and particularly, connecting corridor residents to those jobs — appears to be gaining traction.
The city is offering several Roxbury land parcels for sale to developers as part of a pilot competition to encourage the creation of “compact” multifamily rental or ownership housing with a range of affordability.
Population increases present challenges
Hosted by Imagine Boston 2030 and the Boston Planning and Development Agency’s research division, the Boston by the Numbers series is an opportunity for Bostonians to see and discuss the data and trends that help guide long-range city planning.
Parents, students turn out for weekend sessions at Bolling Bldg.
Boston Public Schools Superintendent Tommy Chang last weekend shared some of his department’s efforts to acknowledge and address systemic racism.
The Bolling Municipal Building in Dudley Square was transformed Monday evening into a marketplace for local entrepreneurs and a site for thoughtful discussions on creating an inclusive innovation ecosystem and supporting local entrepreneurs who have already taken the leap.
BPS teachers say budget shortfalls are cutting critical services in their schools and causing them to dig deeper into their own pockets for classroom supplies.
North Carolina minister and political leader Rev. Dr. William Barber II electrified an overflow crowd in Boston last week as he hammered out an agenda for a “moral revolution of values” in times of pain, injustice and outrage.
Optometrist combines art with eye care in Dudley shop
When optometrist Lesa Dennis-Mahamed opened her new full-service eye care shop in Dudley Square’s Bolling Building last fall, she chose a name infused with multiple layers of meaning.
Hundreds served by training programs
Developer “linkage” fees on large-scale commercial developments in Boston have led to job training and higher incomes for city residents in need, according to a new report from the city’s Office of Workforce Development.
A Boston nonprofit known for combining baseball training and competition with academic and life skills support for boys has launched a new girls’ baseball program. The BASE, headquartered in Roxbury, started with a focus on boys. Founded in 2013 by Robert Lewis Jr. as an evolution of the longstanding Boston Astros team, The BASE’s vision statement includes “combining sports and academic opportunities to transform the lives of black and Latino boys.” In late 2014, a girls’ softball program was added, growing quickly to 200 participants. But The BASE’s core program remains baseball — and now baseball is for girls, too.
Affordable housing and homelessness advocates, along with a majority of Boston city councilors, are calling for the next city budget to allocate $5 million for a new “housing first” voucher program. The city-funded vouchers would provide rental assistance for homeless families and individuals in Boston in the face of continued funding cuts and long wait lists for federal and state voucher programs.
Seeking like-minded gym partners? He has an app for that!
“Gyms don’t keep people. They’re just not good at it,” says Joel Edwards, founder and CEO of Boston-based Fittus. “I’ve quit gym memberships myself — it’s hard to stay motivated.” To tackle the problem, the 32-year-old Dorchester native created the Fittus mobile application to connect gym members and link personal trainers with clients.
Dudley Sq, Dorchester to be among first service areas
Over the next six years, Boston business and residential consumers will gain a new option for high-speed broadband internet access. Mayor Martin Walsh and Verizon announced last week that Verizon is launching a $300 million effort to replace its copper-based Boston infrastructure with a new fiber optic network.
Summit covers prosperity barriers and solutions
Latinas Think Big, a global network and online platform aiming to advance Latinas’ ventures and careers, held a national summit last week in Cambridge. The event centered on the topic of racial and ethnic wealth disparities and potential pathways to economic prosperity for Latina women in light of the wealth gap.
Affordable housing, immigrant issues take center stage in coalition-run forum
A new coalition of Boston Asian-American organizations hosted a forum March 16 to introduce candidates in the First Suffolk and Middlesex State Senate race to a Chinatown audience. Less than a month remains before the April 12 primary election that will determine which one of seven Democratic hopefuls will advance to the May 8 special election necessitated by the recent resignation of Sen. Anthony Petruccelli.
Infrastructure seen lacking in planning area
The BRA’s Plan: JP/Rox process has involved an unprecedented degree of community participation and inter-agency cooperation, by many accounts, yet has left some JP/Rox community members, including those on the appointed advisory group for the plan, feeling nervous and not fully heard or empowered. Worries abound, from loss of JP’s neighborhood character, to lack of affordability and displacement of existing residents, to a feeling of the processed being rushed or not fully thought out.
A design and branding leader that talks truth by design
How do you rebrand a religion? Daren Bascome, 46-year-old founder of Proverb branding agency, says shepherding the Universalist Unitarian Association toward a new image to engage the Millennial generation counts among the more unusual projects tackled by Proverb, recently ranked as one of the “Inner City 100” fastest-growing firms.
Funds would go to transportation, education
Supporters and opponents testified at the State House last week on a proposed constitutional amendment that would impose an extra 4 percent state tax on annual income over $1 million in order to generate funds for public education and transportation projects.
Hakim Cunningham, a Dorchester native who cut his organizing teeth as an economic justice and jobs advocate, has taken on the newly-created role of social justice policy coordinator at Transportation for Massachusetts, a coalition formed in 2010 to advocate for safe, reliable, equitable transportation systems, adequate revenue, and transparency and accountability in transportation decision-making.
A Boston-based private funder collaborative has launched a competition for innovative strategies to increase the supply of permanent affordable housing for the lowest-income Massachusetts families. In the competition, announced at the Massachusetts State House Nov. 19, Home Funders plans to offer cash awards of $10,000 to $25,000 to organizations or teams that propose “well-crafted, innovative, feasible and sustainable” solutions to build or preserve housing for Extremely Low Income families.
Boston Public Schools has hired an Assistant Superintendent of Social Emotional Learning and Wellness, a new position intended to enhance offerings in non-academic skills such as collaboration, self-advocacy, anger management and conflict resolution.
“Eyes With Wings,” the title of Arni Cheatham’s photography exhibit at the Piano Craft Gallery, is a metaphor for birds and their superior visual acuity — and it also reflects the artist’s approach. Out in nature with a camera, he lets his own eyes “take wing” and then works to share the joyous experience through photographs.
How will Bostonians get to work and move around the city in the future? Looking ahead to 2030, how might transportation improvements address challenges already evident today — a growing, diversifying and aging city population, increasing income inequality, congested streets and an overburdened public transit system? The City of Boston has been pondering these questions, with the help of an advisory group and public input from thousands of Hub residents and workers, for much of 2015. Last week, its “Go Boston 2030” initiative reached an interim milestone as Mayor Martin Walsh and the Boston Transportation Department released a report outlining a vision and goals.
Dudley to Mattapan, Harvard seen as feasible routes
The addition of “Gold Standard” Bus Rapid Transit lanes could cut travel time by nearly half between Dudley and Haymarket or Harvard, and by more than one-third between Dudley and Mattapan, according to a report on BRT by the Barr Foundation, a Boston-based private foundation that focuses on education, climate, and arts and culture.
Bills would require police to report data on pedestrian stops
The proposed legislation, introduced by Rep. Byron Rushing and senators Sonia Chang-Diaz and Linda Dorcena Forry, aims to prohibit racial profiling during motor vehicle and pedestrian stops, and to require increased data collection and review to identify racial disparities in policing practices. The law would apply to all state, municipal, college and university law enforcement officers.
Massachusetts may be a national leader in K–12 education, but it is falling behind in pre-kindergarten education, according to many of the education and children’s advocates, parents, officials, and legislators who testified at a State House hearing last week.
Bank Day educates teen workers to take charge of their money
Hundreds of Boston area young people streamed into the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center on July 27 for the city’s first-ever Youth Bank Day, an event that brought teens face-to-face with representatives from financial institutions and organizations that help navigate the hurdles of getting into and financing college.
The city of Boston’s Department of Neighborhood Development and community members from Roxbury’s Garrison Trotter Neighborhood Association have forged a set of design principles to guide residential development on some city-owned vacant land parcels. As part of a new Neighborhood Homes Initiative, the DND plans to offer reduced land pricing and subsidy funding to spur the creation of home ownership opportunities affordable to a range of income levels.
J.P. liquor store staff finger UMass prof. as perp in cognac heist
Robert Johnson, chairman of Africana Studies at UMass Boston, was falsely identified as the thief who made off with 20 bottles of cognac from a Jamaica Plain liquor store earlier this year and taken to the Area E police station for questioning. Johnson says he bears little resemblance to the suspect depicted in grainy stills from a surveillance video and says he is considered filing a complaint with the Mass. Commission Against Discrimination.
Over the coming weeks, more than 400 Read Boston events will be held in 80 locations around the city, including neighborhood parks, community centers, summer camps and library branches.