An annual convention that seeks to tackle Massachusetts’ wide racial wealth gap kicked off Friday.
The three-day Mass. Black Expo at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center brings together hundreds of Black entrepreneurs, business owners and community leaders to network and share ideas.
The event features panel discussions, an exhibition space where businesses can showcase products, and information about ways attendees can participate in Massachusetts’ growing electric vehicle industry.
“This expo is access,” said Daniel Laurent, CEO and founder of Black Dollar, which trains other Black-led businesses in customer service. “Whether it’s talking to someone that has a venture capital company … you have access to them. And afterwards, you can talk to them. You can follow up.”
The fifth annual convention, hosted by the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts, comes as recent studies emphasized the significant racial disparities in families’ net worth and access to credit around Boston. As a result, event organizers are prioritizing panel discussions about how Black families can build generational wealth and overcome systemic barriers to accessing capital.
Anthony Davis Jr., who’s attending the expo for the second straight year, runs a grassroots organizing firm called The Davis System. He noted that city and state officials have made progress toward providing minority-owned businesses more contracts for services and professional goods. As an example, he pointed to Boston’s sheltered market program, which reserves certain city contracts for women- or minority-owned businesses.
Still, Davis Jr. said many businesses led by people of color continue to lose out on funding opportunities because they can’t meet strict grant application requirements.
“A lot of times your organization or business needs to have been established for a longer amount of time or have a certain amount of money or have a certain amount of staff and infrastructure,” Davis Jr. said. “These are all things that you want, [but] you aren’t able to do until you are given an opportunity.”
Organizers say the Mass. Black Expo was conceived when someone at a Boston hearing testified that they couldn’t find entrepreneurs of color do business with. Tasha Kitty said the expo helps solve that. She’s using the event to market her 1-year-old Jamaica Plain wellness shop called Body, Stone and Soul to people who may not yet know about it.
“People walk into the shop, the first thing they say is, ‘You’re Black-owned?’ And we’re like ‘Yes!’ And they’re like ‘I didn’t you were here,’” she said. “So that tells us people are looking for Black-owned businesses in our space.”