Black advisory commission recommendations on Baker's to-do list

More than a year and a half after convening a group of black community leaders to advise his administration, Gov. Charlie Baker said Wednesday that he was prepared to put $10 million behind new skill building programs and educational initiatives recommended by the group in a new report.

Baker signed an executive order in early 2017 creating the Black Advisory Commission to advise his administration on ways it can extend economic prosperity to black communities across the state.

That commission, led by former Neighborhood Health Plan CEO Deborah Enos, reported back Wednesday with it first set of recommendations. The report calls for improving opportunities for black students, expanding pathways for advancement for black workers and helping black-owned businesses become more competitive.

"I stand here as an example of someone who when given opportunities had the privilege of achieving and living an incredible life, both professionally and personally," said Enos, who shared that she grew up with a single mother on 139th Street in New York City's Harlem neighborhood.

"There are so many people just waiting to get in, so thank you governor for helping us open this door," Enos said.

The commission report focused on the three main areas of education, workforce advancement and business development, but Enos said it was "only a start" and over the next two years the group would look at health care, housing and public safety.

On education, the commission recommended improving college and career pathways for black high school students, launching a campaign to recruit and train black teachers and school administrators in communities of color and improving early literacy curricula.

The report also called for internships and apprenticeships in science, technology, engineering and math fields for black youth, increased recruitment efforts of black candidates from outside of government for public sector leadership roles, stronger diversity requirements in public procurements to benefit black-owned businesses, and improved access to business capital.

Baker used his time to talk about the contract bidding process used by Massport for the Omni Hotel project in the Seaport. Though he didn't identify the contractor, the governor shared a story about how the process used to award the contract forced the bidder to seek out partnerships with minority business owners that he had never worked with before, but plans to work with again in the future.

The governor said that he plans to start right away implementing the recommendations of the Black Advisory Commission and will "bake it into" his fiscal 2019 supplemental budget filings, and his fiscal 2020 budget proposal due in January, as long as he and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito win re-election.

He said he envisions an initial investment of $10 million annually that could grow as the state learns which programs work well.

Baker, who is in the midst of a re-election campaign, found himself being lavished with praise from Democrats, including Reps. Russell Holmes of Boston and Bud Williams of Springfield. Both men credited Baker with listening to and challenging black and Latino lawmakers to work with his administration on issues important to minority communities.

"He represents all communities and he's acting like he represents all communities, black or brown," Williams said.

Williams said that it's important to incorporate black individuals in all corners of the society to inspire the next generation, whether that means more black executives in the board room or laborers on the construction site.

"You can be in the projects but in your mind be going to Harvard or BC," Williams said. "People have to see us."

Holmes also spoke about the importance of having black voices at the table when public policy decisions are being made, and credited the governor for both creating the commission, but also meeting with the Black and Latino Caucus monthly.

Holmes said that even though Massachusetts appears to be doing well economically and is rated among the highest in the country for education and public safety, that is not everyone's reality.

"You can't say you're safe when unfortunately in Boston we had five murders on this weekend," said Holmes, thanking the members of the commission for their work.

"We're going to make sure that in every space in this commonwealth that we are spending billions of dollars, blacks and Latinos are now a part of this conversation," said Holmes, of Mattapan.

The event to release the commission report Wednesday was held at the downtown offices of The Boston Foundation. THE BASE founder Robert Lewis Jr. emceed the program, and concluded the celebration with a reminder of the work still to be done.

"Execution matters," Lewis said.