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Berkshire Black Economic Council Announces Debut Event

Berkshire Black Economic Council logo shows a hand holding a plant blooming in soil in gold against a green backdrop
Berkshire Black Economic Council

Next week, the newly formed Berkshire Black Economic Council is holding a kickoff event.

The nonprofit’s stated goal is to serve as an advocacy group for the economic development of Berkshire County’s Black community.

“Right now, there's a lot going on in our community, and there's good momentum. And still, there's ways that businesses that are here can further themselves, if they have the right support networks to get them up and running. And so, what we're trying to do is be that anchor institution that creates that foundation for businesses to thrive," said Berkshire Black Economic Council President AJ Enchill. “We talk often as board members about the unique needs that Black businesses face. And I would say the number one need is access to capital. Access to capital is crucial. It's oxygen to a business. And if a business wants to get off the ground and turn an idea into a profit, they're going to need access to capital. Number two, I would say access to customers. You need to get people to patronize what you have started. And your company itself has to also be embraced by the community. That way people can be confident and comfortable buying from a minority-owned business. The question however, is, are people comfortable buying a product or a service from a Black or minority-owned business? If not, why? That said, regardless of the answer, however, our job is to get people in businesses to feel confident to spend their money with the Berkshire Black business community.”

Enchill says a recent survey of Black Berkshire businesses conducted by the Berkshire County NAACP yielded more than double the number of responses he was expecting.

“We’ve increased the number of our directory to 50+ at this point, which was shocking to me, because me, being a Black native of this area, didn't even know that there were this many Black businesses," he told WAMC. "So that was exciting to collect. And I believe that there are more that are out there. But we need to get our name out there and let people know that we're here to support them. And who knows, maybe there's more that will pop out of the woods.”

The council’s goal isn’t strictly about economics.

“So long as we can keep a momentum centered around D.E.I. – diversity, equity and inclusion – but also social and economic justice, I think that there are other anchor institutions in this community and throughout the state that are looking to do the same," said Enchill. " And if we can be that conduit between the Black business community as well as the larger companies in our area, then that's how we'll get there.”

On September 18th, the council is holding its first formal event – a speed networking get-together in Dalton.

“We’ll have Black businesses and their tables," explained Enchill. "And they'll be grouped together based on industry. And then what we'll do is, we'll have our larger Berkshire business community there as well, entailing both nonprofits and for-profit businesses. And then we'll introduce them to the Black businesses via our board members who will act as facilitators, and asking questions to engage conversation between the business community as well as – and I'm going to put it quite frankly, the white business community, predominantly speaking – and the Black business community, and just seeing where there are connections, because there are folks who are looking and really excited to fulfill their D.E.I. missions and values, and this is a way of doing that. We’re going to have as many of the Black businesses as we can under one roof to celebrate them, but also to share with the community their stories, and how we can together improve their business models. And in doing so, this will spur economic development, not only for the Black businesses, but for those predominantly white-run businesses too, who are looking to enhance their work, enhance and expand their work in these areas.”

The council already has a follow-up event planned to capitalize on the outcome of the networking.

“After the speed networking event, our next step will be to organize the Black businesses for a webinar session where they can learn about different certifications that minority businesses can get," Enchill continued. "And that will hopefully incentivize other business partnerships.”

A partnership with the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation is also underway. The two bodies are preparing a survey targeted at the region’s arts and cultural institutions to explore how to better address the Black community’s needs for inclusion in the sector.

“We’re confident our ability to create a new approach for our cultural nonprofits here in the region, through our innovative survey questions, our network, and collaboration with other community organizations, like the C4 Arts Initiative," said Enchill. "So our hope, anyway, is by increasing the participation of our Black residents here in the region and understanding what they expect of their cultural institutions, this will further the number of patrons who participate at cultural gatherings here in our in our Berkshire County.”

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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