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A Pittsfield elementary school needed to help pandemic-weary kids get along. Here’s how they changed the vibe

PITTSFIELD — When students at Crosby Elementary School were having a difficult time returning to school after a year of virtual learning, school leaders decided to launch a diversity, equity and inclusion read-aloud program.

Staff say the program has reminded students that school is a place where they are loved and celebrated. 

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Cam Stockton promoted to program director at Boys & Girls Club

PITTSFIELD — Cam Stockton has been promoted to program director of the Boys & Girls Club of the Berkshires.

In this role, Stockton will be responsible for all youth programming at the Boys & Girls Club and will also serve as camp director at Camp Russell in Richmond. 

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Avie Maloney was a popular waitress at Once Upon A Table in Stockbridge. Now she owns the place

STOCKBRIDGE — For Avie Maloney, it’s been a long, complicated journey from her native Grenada in the West Indies to Stockbridge, where she’s the town’s newest restaurant proprietor. 

After eight years as a waitress at Once Upon a Table — down an alley at 36 Main St. in a shopping plaza called The Mews — Maloney has a clear vision for the popular down-home dining spot, which was founded in 1996 and subsequently owned by Alan and Teresa O’Brient for 23 years.

“I want to give people good food for the money they’re spending, serving a $30 steak that tastes like $60,” she said. “I want everyone to feel welcome here. For patrons, irrespective of possible dietary restrictions, we’re going to take care of you.”

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At the place in Great Barrington where Elizabeth Freeman won her freedom, a street sign in her honor

GREAT BARRINGTON — Roughly 70 years before W.E.B. Du Bois was born, just down the street, Elizabeth Freeman became the first slave to successfully sue for her freedom in Massachusetts.

That historic event took place at a courthouse where Town Hall sits at the corner of Castle and Main streets. 

Now, plans are in motion to honor Freeman by designating the area “Elizabeth Freeman Way.”

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Spectrum news

Pittsfield announces $5.9 million in American Rescue Plan Act grants

PITTSFIELD, Mass. – After months of getting community feedback on how to spend millions of dollars in American Rescue Plan Act funding, the city of Pittsfield announced the first round of grants on Thursday. 

A total of $5.9 million is being given to 18 different nonprofits and cultural groups.

One of the biggest grants went to the Berkshire Black Economic Council, which will use the money to develop programs to support local Black business owners.

“We’ve been working for almost three years as a volunteer-based organization,” said A.J. Enchill, the council’s president and executive director. “And now that we have this capital, we can really begin to look into our future.”

For groups hit especially hard by the pandemic, the funds will help them get their operations back to normal.

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A walk through Pittsfield’s West Side

PITTSFIELD — On the map, this bit of Pittsfield high ground, home to the Powell and Hamilton families, is inked in red. 

“Hazardous,” a label says.

The hazard isn’t crime, including the arson that destroyed the house at Robbins Avenue and Division Street, next to where Courtney R. Hamilton is raising four kids.

The hazard isn’t all of the people going in and out of drug houses, some of whom drive recklessly through this neighborhood and have struck children, spurring parents to holler “Car!” to children playing outside.

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Groundbreaking report exposes ‘redlining’ in Pittsfield’s past

PITTSFIELD — In 1940, residents in an area of the West Side neighborhood petitioned the city in complaint of housing conditions that were dirty and unsafe. 

“A menace to life,” they wrote.

In 1956, the situation had only worsened. Philip Ahern, a Planning Board executive assistant, wrote in an Eagle column that year entitled, “Minorities and Bad Housing,” that the city had both “blighted housing and segregation.”

Commonwealth Magazine

Using art to address social issues

LeLand Gantt’s performance of Rhapsody in Black was an entry point for people in an overwhelmingly White region to talk about race. This compelling one-man show exploring racism, identity, and self-image was presented virtually in 2021 through a Berkshires community collaboration.

Clinton Church Restoration is revitalizing a historic Black church as an African American cultural center rooted in the life and legacy of civil rights pioneer W.E.B. Du Bois, whose hometown was Great Barrington. This relatively young nonprofit partnered to host Rhapsody in Black with Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, a Great Barrington institution dating to 1904 that is making strides to engage a broader audience with work that fuels community interaction and dialogue. 

Rural Intelligence

MOMMA LO’S BBQ RELOCATES SOUTHERN STYLE COOKING TO SOUTH COUNTY

Lotetta “Momma Lo” McClennon says running her own restaurant has always been a dream. Even though it took a long time and a lot of struggle, she says Momma Lo’s BBQ, now open right in the middle of Great Barrington, Massachusetts, is that dream come true.

Tucked into the back of the well-trafficked Great Barrington House Atrium at 24 Main Street, Momma Lo’s may be humble in size and appearance but is serving up authentic southern-style barbecue the region has been missing.

McClennon is soft spoken and isn’t one to brag about her cooking. Luckily she has two of her sons, Attarilm and Ahmed, working with her. Ahmed, a talented rapper who performs under the name Buddha da Great, is more than happy to serve as his mother’s hype man. It’s clear the men take a lot of pride in their mother’s success.

“We’ve got the flavor, the sauce and the love,” Ahmed says. “This has been a dream of hers for so long. We’re really blessed to be here.” 

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Being a small business owner is difficult, especially for minority-owned businesses. Berkshire Black Economic Council hopes to change that

PITTSFIELD — Warren Dews Jr. has lived in the Berkshires for 11 years. He has been involved in numerous business ventures and serves on several area boards. He knows local bank presidents by their first name.

Yet, when Dews recently tried to obtain a loan to open a cigar lounge in Pittsfield, he found no takers.

Berkshire Magazine

ADVOCATING ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

The Berkshire Black Economic Council (BBEC) is a newly incorporated 501 c(3) organization furthering economic justice in Berkshire County. Our mission is to aid and advocate economic development with respect to education, neighborhood revitalization, arts and culture, business ownership, social programming, environmental justice, recruitment, and retention of business in connection with Berkshire Black entrepreneurs.
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Meet the man who Pittsfield city officials hope will champion its diversity, equity and inclusion work

PITTSFIELD — For the better part of two years, Pittsfield has been on a path to transform city business into a more diverse, equitable and inclusive process. That journey may cross a critical milestone this week with the hiring of a chief diversity officer.

The candidate Mayor Linda Tyer is bringing to the City Council for approval this week is a rising political star in North Adams: Michael Obasohan.

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Xavier Jones, the former BiggDaddy’s owner and chef, will open a new restaurant at Adams

ADAMS — Xavier Jones is coming back to Adams, this time to start a restaurant at Park Street’s historic Firehouse Cafe.

Folks might remember the 38-year-old chef from BiggDaddy’s Philly Steak House, which Jones owned and operated in Adams from 2017 to 2018 and in Pittsfield from 2018 to 2019. 

Now, he is returning, alongside business partner Warren Dews Jr., to try something new: a Mediterranean-infused small plates restaurant with a menu that will reflect the cuisines of up to 30 countries.

“This building is a landmark, and we don’t want to be just a restaurant — we want to be a destination,” Jones said. “People go to Lenox for great food. People go to Williamstown for food. We want people to go to Adams and know they can get the same quality of food, even better.”

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Kamaar Taliaferro, a Pittsfield community leader, will be recognized at Black Excellence on the Hill event

PITTSFIELD — Kamaar Taliaferro, of Pittsfield, is among the Black leaders across Massachusetts who will be honored Monday at an event organized by the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus. 

The caucus holds the Black Excellence on the Hill celebration annually to recognize Black community leaders. Anyone can register at bit.ly/3swxZrb to attend the virtual event at 6 p.m. Monday.

Taliaferro chairs the housing committee of the county NAACP chapter and is a member of Westside Legends.

In a news release, state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, who nominated Taliaferro, described him as “often in the background, but very much a leader and team player.”

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New oral history project aims to preserve Black history in the Berkshires

GREAT BARRINGTON — Preserving Black history in the Berkshires often begins with recording people’s stories, and a new oral history project will advance that work.

Oral history interviews are sometimes “the only lasting artifact that we have of a person’s life,” said Frances Jones-Sneed, a professor of history emeritus at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. 

“Most African Americans, most working-class or poor people, don’t have the archive or family papers that our senators or presidents or people who have money to get someone to write their biography have,” she said.

“Quilting Our History: African American Voices of Wisdom and Memory” is a collaboration between Clinton Church Restoration, the Berkshire County chapter of the NAACP and the Housatonic Heritage Oral History Center at Berkshire Community College.

Mass live

Celtics award $25,000 small business grant to Pittsfield’s Elegant Stitches

Elegant Stitches Inc, a family-owned custom embroidery and screen-printing company based in Pittsfield, MA was the recipient of a $25,000 grant, one of 13 awards the Celtics Shamrock Foundation and Vistaprint distributed to Black-owned small businesses across the New England region.
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“Ain’t I A Woman”

PITTSFIELD — When the Barrington Stage Company approached Shirley Edgerton last year with an idea for a festival celebrating Black voices, she knew what to do. 

Edgerton revisited a piece she’d co-written more than a decade ago with Felicia Robertson that brought audiences face-to-face with the African American women who had shaped this country but were forgotten by its history books.

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Executive Spotlight: Alfred ‘A.J.’ Enchill Jr./Berkshire Black Economic Council

PITTSFIELD — It’s hard to imagine a more qualified local candidate to lead the recently formed Berkshire Black Economic Council than Alfred “A.J.” Enchill Jr.

The Pittsfield native’s father, Alfred Enchill, runs Elegant Stitches, a small Black-owned business in Pittsfield that has been operating for over 20 years. Enchill and his three brothers grew up in the family-owned business and saw firsthand the obstacles that Black-owned businesses in the Berkshires face while trying to develop and sustain themselves.

Berkshire Black Economic Council Announces Debut Event

Next week, the newly formed Berkshire Black Economic Council is holding a kickoff event.

The nonprofit’s stated goal is to serve as an advocacy group for the economic development of Berkshire County’s Black community. “Right now, there’s a lot going on in our community, and there’s good momentum. And still, there’s ways that businesses that are here can further themselves, if they have the right support networks to get them up and running. And so, what we’re trying to do is be that anchor institution that creates that foundation for businesses to thrive,” said Berkshire Black Economic Council President AJ Enchill.
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Slammed by pandemic, small-business owners of color can tap into new fund

PITTSFIELD — The coronavirus pandemic has further tilted the economy toward large corporations, but a new local fund seeks to offer small businesses and nonprofits a lifeline.

Starting Dec. 1, Berkshire County businesses with up to 25 employees can apply for grants of up to $15,000 to cover costs experienced during the pandemic.

“We have struggled to keep the lights on and gas going,” said Penny Walker, who with Frank Walker owns Smokey Divas, a barbecue restaurant at 239 Onota St. “Everybody’s gone but the people who own it. I can’t afford to hire any staff right now.”

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Shirley Edgerton: ROPE offers lifeline of mentorship to young women

The Rites of Passage and Empowerment program is a holistic mentoring program that emphasizes the development of mind, body and spirit and supports adolescent girls in discovering their inner voice. 

Our mission is to celebrate and honor their entry into womanhood via mentorship from women who are culturally aligned, as well as provide them with the skills and knowledge that they need to be successful, independent and responsible women.

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Berkshire Black Economic Council

Find out more about the Berkshire Black Economic Council and the upcoming Speed Networking Expo on September 18th!