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Op-ed: These programs would lift up the disenfranchised among us

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Boston Business Journal

July 23, 2020

By Bruce A. Percelay

The outrage over George Floyd’s death has sparked a reaction the likes of which we have not seen since 1968. From cries for reform to protests in the street, the collective expression of anger has resonated across the country. Unfortunately, all the handwringing and eloquent statements of support will not change the systemic problems in our system at the root of our current crisis.

The most effective source of reform may well come from the same place where many people feel the problem emanates: the business community. While well intentioned, the natural reaction from corporations around the country may be to change the name of a product or apply money to the problem, but simply funding minority-based charities may only serve as a Band-aid in healing a much deeper issue.

The highly talented business community in Boston can be an effective tool and an enormous resource to help provide meaningful opportunities for people of color. Real change can be achieved if the business community, in collaboration with the efforts of Mayor Walsh, will roll up its sleeves and develop programs that will provide people of color with the opportunity to compete and advance in an economic system that has either placed them at a serious disadvantage or locked them out entirely. Such programs would not only provide lasting benefits but also open the eyes of those interacting with people of color as to their unique challenges and frustrations. The following ideas can begin to empower disenfranchised members of our community and help provide the tools to achieve their own success:

Microloan Initiatives: The best way to help people appreciate capitalism is to make them capitalists. We should establish a microloan program for those with business ideas to enable them to participate in the system in a way that currently eludes them. Additionally, to ensure that they have the best chance of success, we should develop a mechanism that provides business mentorship to help the new entrepreneur navigate the myriad challenges of establishing a new business.

Mentoring Programs: Every major company in Boston should be asked to develop business mentoring programs, internships and specific training programs for people of color designed to recruit, train and assist them succeed.

Retraining Education Fund: Advances in robotics and other forms of technology have and will continue to put people out of work. A comprehensive program should be established to help reposition people from the old economy to the new economy with targeted outreach to people of color.

Rental Subsidy Program: For those participating in the retraining, internship and other similar programs, a rental subsidy fund should be established to help them meet the costs of the Boston housing market while they are participating in the program.

Expanded Summer Job Initiatives: Few better programs introduce young people to opportunities that they may not otherwise have than to create a robust summer jobs program. Companies should be asked to hire a specific number of summer employees based on a percentage of their total employment, with the ultimate goal of full-time employment down the road.

Early Entrepreneurship Education: Teaching children at an early age how to think like an entrepreneur is the best way to encourage the development of future business leaders. By having businesspeople volunteering in inner-city schools and sharing their experience and planting the seeds of entrepreneurial thinking among young people could pay significant dividends in the future.

With the help of the Walsh administration, these ideas and others — developed in partnership with minority community leaders — would provide a powerful set of economic tools that could yield permanent change. As we work to correct the problems associated with inequality and discrimination, business leaders should offer their time and considerable intellectual capital to help level the playing field once and for all.

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