It is the intention of this summary of recommendations to direct investments to those recommendations, initiatives, programs, and areas in need of further study that will have the most significant potential impact on developing a reparations strategy and “ecology of ownership” for the Black community in Berkshire County. Investing in any individual proceeding recommendation will; buttress investments across other recommendations, attract further investment and develop a legacy of resiliency that can weather unforeseen challenges. This reparations and ownership ecology strategy will establish the Berkshires as the hub of Black business, culture, and educational opportunity, within a regional Inclusive Economy.
The Black Economic Council explores best-practice approaches from other regions that will inform the development of their collective vision and goals. These learning opportunities will engage key community stakeholders who share this vision to build a more robust shared understanding of this work’s critical importance. Also, to build a shared understanding of the concept of developing and creating supportive ecosystems and actionable strategies to accomplish common goals that provide more significant economic opportunity for Berkshire Black and African-Americans residents and increase the region’s overall economic vitality.
Socioeconomic advancement through business, ownership, and asset building is vital for our community. We believe the Berkshires can be a destination for Black entrepreneurs and business owners to support their lives through the city and services. There is a rich and diverse grouping of Black and African American talent in the Berkshires that can be tapped into, cultivated, and supported to help the Black community and the Berkshires as a whole prosper. Recruiting, employing, and supporting Black entrepreneurs will help the community increase wealth and provide investment and capital building opportunities for other black-owned startups.
- Funding and Investment for Black Businesses
Local Covid-19 Business Impact Funding.
Mobilize patient capital and technical assistance resources
More Research and Development funding to determine needs for Black Business Success
More Investment towards culturally relevant Black Entrepreneurship Education and Mentorship programming:
- Digital Place-Based Marketing, Media, and Commerce:
- A digital media space and directory to promote black business and Black Culture in the Berkshire
- Economic Justice Initiatives
Supplier Diversity Program/ Inclusive Contract Procurement
Creative Business Financing Products for the Black start-up businesses
More Inclusive Networking Events for Black Business in Berkshire County
Beneficial Outcomes Expected
An ecosystem of support for Black-owned businesses that increases overall economic vitality for the Berkshires. Increased opportunity for investments.
From the beginning of the Black experience in America, education is the pathway to opportunity. From Phyllis Wheatley and Elizabeth Freeman to Frederick Douglass and Rev. Samuel Harrison. From W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington to Angela Davis and Fred Hampton. The traditions of Black thought is connected with the improvement of America. For Black thought was born in rebellion and tempered in hope. It is fundamentally revolutionary. From its inception to our shores, its vision for the future has unfolded with a halting determination. And for the betterment of our Union.
Yet today, we face challenges–as ideals must. Empowering education that leads to opportunity is; Diversity—challenging and honest curriculums. Holistic learning models. Diverse access points. These are the proven strategies and where we must target our investments.
- Double down on existing DEI programs in Public Education
- Expand the diversity pipeline initiatives within Berkshire County to attract more Black Educators in elementary and secondary education
- More funding for rights of passage programs such as ROPE and Sessions
- Online educational platform: Seed investment for the development of hybrid online/offline educational platform with programing and support forums run by and for our Black and African American student-families
Beneficial outcomes expected:
Increased diversity within the school system. Less disparate disciplinary outcomes. Holistic educational programming that intimately involves parents/guardians. Higher academic quality (in terms of results and student fulfillment).
III Arts and Culture
Berkshire County is unique compared to other rural New England counties. Where else can one gaze upon a Monet and milk cows at the same time? Or visit the home of the first free Black women in Massachusetts and the home and church of the man who secured equal pay for Black chaplains during the Civil War? The success of this sector of the economy is broad and deep enough to be shared. Targeted investments in Black and African American Creative Ecosystem infrastructure through education, programming, and a dedicated fully funded Black Arts Organization for the benefit of, and informed by, the Black and African American community are not only required. Still, they will also serve to benefit the entire industry. These investments may be one of the quickest ways to eradicate the disparity of income and wealth between Black and white Berkshire County residents. How better could we honor the legacy of Reverend Samuel Harrison?
- Investment In Creative Skills Based Education for
- Establish and fund a Black Artist Collective and Cultural Council
- Funding for Exclusively African American community-based arts programs
- Build a Black/African American Multicultural Arts Center
- Design and Market Black Cultural Heritage Tourism Program for the Berkshires
- Develop and Launch a Regional Black Cultural Heritage Event
- Fund Additional Research and Data Collection from Black Artists
Beneficial Outcomes expected
Better insight into the gaps–and how to alleviate them–in Black residents’ involvement in the Arts and Culture sector, as producers, consumers, and owners. Increased opportunity for Black participation in the creative economy. Attract additional Black creative talent to the Berkshires. Increase in Black tourism dollars spent in Berkshire County. Increased cultural awareness and collaboration–Arts and Culture in the Berkshires are for everyone.
IV Neighborhood Revitalization
Long-term planning is crucial to sustainable development that empowers current residents. It recognizes their immediate needs by establishing Black Westside residents’ spaces to connect, converse, and guide their community and neighborhood’s redevelopment. It requires the establishment of community-owned organizations that coordinate on the neighborhood scale—increasing the impact of any individual project by placing it within the context of future neighborhood developments. Beginning this work from a place of mutual recognition and collaboration between Black Westside Residents and the City of Pittsfield will create an uplifting spirit throughout the city. We can progress from a place of healing to a place of shared abundance.
- Establishes a Westside Reparations Commission
- The City of Pittsfield formally recognizes the detrimental impact housing segregation and Urban Renewal projects have had on Black residents of the Westside.
- Westside Land Trust and Westside Community Development Corporation
- Full start-up funding and investment, and transfers/donations of land for neighborhood development initiatives:
- Develop a comprehensive Neighborhood Revitalization Plan:
- Design Lounge Funding: a community place-based space in the Westside to plan, design, and implement neighborhood development projects and programs.
- Black Homeownership Idea Jam Session: with neighborhood residents on Barriers and Strategies to increase Homeownership among Black and African Americans
Beneficial Outcomes Expected
The outcome is a decrease in financial, educational, and health disparities between Black Westside Residents and the greater City of Pittsfield; Collaborative leadership guided by Black Westside Residents. Residential development does not have to mean further displacement of neighborhood residents. Lead from the front, as our country grapples with redressing historical inequalities. A healthy Westside Neighborhood is a vital Downtown.
V. Recruitment and Retention
In short, investing in the recommendations contained across all the 2020 Berkshire SUCC3SS Idea Jam Reports is the surest way to retain and attract Black and African American young professionals, families, and retirees. A common theme across reports indicated by Idea Jam participants was claiming space in the Berkshires for the Black Community. How do we do that?
- Black and African American Welcoming Committee
- Funding research into the unique experiences of Black and African-American youth in Berkshire County:
- Fund and sponsor events that offer alternatives to existing social and cultural events celebrate Black History and provide safe spaces for the enjoyment of outdoor recreational activities.
- Blackshire’s Digital Empowerment platform
Beneficial Outcomes Expected
Promote regional cooperation between businesses, spurring workforce development strategies that attract young Black and African professionals. Implement Innovative recruitment pipelines to market and attract Black talent to the Berkshires. To provide a more extensive and more diverse talent pool for local businesses to hire. Easier for new to the area Black and African Americans to find community. Brings together the brightest minds in the Black Berkshire County Community to welcome new business owners, families, and new friends and neighbors to the Berkshires.
VI. Leadership Development
A crucial part of implementing the recommendations across all of the 2020 Berkshire SUCC3SS Idea Jam Reports is accelerating leadership development Within Black circles, more collaborative approaches, new funds for organizations, and inclusion at pivotal decision-making meetings. Outside of Black circles, continued work on cultural competency, the importance and value of diversity, active and enforceable DEI initiatives, and the imperative importance of aligning themselves and their organizations in allyship with Black Berkshire County leaders, organizations, businesses, non-profits, and industries.
- Black Community/Economic Empowerment Leadership Accelerator
- Neighborhood Leadership Program in Urban Areas
- Inclusive Economy Leadership Think Tank for
- Funding support of the Blackshires Platform
Beneficial Outcomes Expected
More vital collaboration within the Black Berkshire County Community, with allied organizations, will rapidly increase the range of impact investments, programs, and initiatives, the speed with which they are implemented, their efficacy, and community support for them.
VII. Emerging Domains
FOOD SOVEREIGNTY and CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM
Through the virtual Idea Jam sessions, the jammers identified two areas of dynamic investment opportunity, Food Sovereignty, and Criminal Justice Reform. These emerging domains represent the confluence of the past and the future to an extent. The criminalization of marijuana distinctly contributed to negative stereotypical representations of young Black men throughout the United States and put many Black people behind bars. Berkshire County was no exception. Stereotypes that, among other things, often refuted that Black men and Women engaged with nature–one of the defining characteristics of Berkshire County.
Our county, specifically the District Attorney Office, has recently been pursuing progressive policies that promote diversion from the judicial system to the appropriate support programs. There is a direct connection between criminal justice reforms and the Black Community’s economic success, given the judicial system’s disparate treatment.
As for Food Sovereignty. This intersectional domain touches upon land reparations, health outcomes, the medical and recreational cannabis industry (and the history of disparate treatment under previous criminalization), and the history of industrial pollution specific to the Housatonic River Watershed and the Westside Neighborhood in Pittsfield. This complexity offers the Black community a range of opportunities to engage in restorative justice initiatives from many different access points.
- Reparations in the form of land and land trusts;
- Community Garden and GreenHouse projects
- Increase Educational Opportunities for Black Farmers
- Invest in your local, Black-owned CBD and THC company
- Cannabis and Community Farming educational Program
- Ex, Soul Fire in the Berkshires
- Green Business Accelerator Program and Mentorship in Agriculture
Beneficial Outcomes Expected
Spur economic investment in a rapidly growing industry in Berkshire County–marijuana. Counteract harmful and reductive depictions of Black people, especially necessary in a county known for its outdoor recreational opportunities. It establishes programs that spur organic growth of a community forum for Black Berkshire County residents who currently enjoy the outdoors, attracting new hikers, bikers, and paddlers. Aside from the potential to market outdoor recreation to a new market, being active in nature leads to a diverse range of better health outcomes.
A unifying theme of the 2020 Berkshire SUCC3SS Idea Jam Reports is the immense opportunity for community stakeholders to invest in tangible strategies that spark the emergence of a Black Ecology of Ownership within Berkshire County. This unique moment in time presents us with a rare window to alter the trajectory of Berkshire County. If we holistically collaborate our approach, we can dismantle the pernicious inequalities of structural, institutional, and systemic racism. Consider this the “Black Economic Agenda” for Berkshire County.
Black Economic Council of the Berkshires.
Black Economic Council of Massachusetts.
Berkshire County Rights of Passage and Empowerment Program (ROPE).
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Berkshire County Branch.
Rusty Anvil LLC.
Schumacher Center for a New Economics.
Greylock Federal Credit Union.
Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation.
City of Pittsfield Department of Community Development, Pittsfield Economic Revitalization Corporation.
Barrington Stage Company.
Mass Mocha, Assets for Artists.
Williams College Museum of Art.
Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.
Berkshire District Attorney’s Office.
Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development.
United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, Community Development Block Grant Program.
United States Department of the Treasury, Community Development Financial Institutions Fund.
Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, MA.