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Mass. leaders speak on importance of minority diversity

In honor of Black History Month, James Rooney, executive director of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, and entrepreneur Darryl Settles held a business forum Monday to share information about the future of diversity and minority leadership in Boston.

“Black History Month is about recognizing the contributions that African Americans and people of color have made to our nation, our state and our city,” Walsh said. “What you’re doing here tonight goes one step further. You’re calling us to honor the past by ensuring a bright future.”

Steven Rogers, Harvard University professor of entrepreneurship, was the master of ceremonies.

Panel speakers included U.S. Sen. Edward Markey; Boston Mayor Martin Walsh; Massachusetts Sen. Linda Dorcena-Forry; Rooney of the ECEC; Kairos Shen, director of planning for the Boston Redevelopment Authority; Beth Williams, co-chair of the Economic Development Committee for the City of Boston; and Richard Taylor, chairman of Taylor Smith Properties.

Walsh said he took the first steps to promoting diversity in city leaders through his appointments in the cabinet, the police department and several city departments. He hopes to create a city whose leaders reflect the diversity of the city’s residents.

“If we don’t start in City Hall, by setting the bar high, then how can I, as mayor, or we, as a government, expect other people to do the same?” he said.

Minority populations have grown dramatically in Boston over the past several decades. In 1950, whites represented 94.7 percent of Boston’s population. Today, that number has shrunk to 58.9 percent, Rogers said.

“The minority community has grown exponentially, but sadly, as the population has grown dramatically, the city’s dollars spent with minority businesses has been embarrassingly low,” he said. “Minorities are the citizens of Boston. They pay taxes, and therefore, they deserve the opportunity that everyone else deserves.”

Markey said the business leaders of today must continue to fight for the same equality that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm Little fought for in Boston 40 years ago.

“We have now, on the 40th anniversary [of MLK being assassinated], an African American governor of the state of Massachusetts, and we have an African American President of the United States,” he said. “We’ve come a long way in 40 years, but we have not come as far as we have to come if we are going to provide the economic opportunities that allow each and every person within our country to be able to maximize those god-given abilities which they have.”

Several attendees of the business forum said this year’s Black History Month is an opportunity for minority entrepreneurs to have conversations with the newly elected city and state leaders and create plans to enhance diversity in the city.

Jeannette Collymore, 48, of Roxbury, said it is important for Boston’s leaders to share their goals and ideas with the residents who will be affected by their actions.

“I want to hear what vision business people have for Boston in this age and time,” she said. “I want to hear what agendas could be helpful to the people in Boston, especially in the poorer neighborhoods.”

Jason Goins, 34, of Newton, said the business forum creates an opportunity for minorities in Boston to celebrate Black History Month, while planning for the future.

“Black History Month is often a time of useful backward reflection, but it’s also an important opportunity to collect as a community and think perceptively, as opposed to retrospectively,” he said.

Kathy Taylor, the wife of one of the panelists, said she hopes Monday’s forum will serve as the beginning of a strong relationship between Walsh and minority businesses in Boston.

“Even though Menino has been a very good mayor, I have to say that under his leadership, black businesses did not fare very well,” he said. “He was good in terms of making diversity better, but not in terms of business. Boston, being a major city, there’s very few black wealth in Boston. I know that one day doesn’t change it, but I’m hoping that today will be the beginning of a dialogue.”

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