Stay current with BBEC news & events by subscribing to our List Serve here.
For Ciany Conyers, the long journey from Valentine Road in Pittsfield to Hoosick and Cornwall-on-Hudson, N.Y., has paid off.
Conyers, who helped Taconic win a Western Massachusetts Division II championship in 2020, signed her National Letter of Intent back on Nov. 10, to play Division I basketball at Siena College, over in Loudonville, N.Y.
PITTSFIELD — For the formerly incarcerated, the first 72 hours of freedom can be as difficult as the sentence they’ve just finished.
This is the period when ex-cons are most likely to take the steps that lead them to re-offend, according to law enforcement authorities. They have two choices: Return to the environment that got them into trouble in the first place, or choose an alternative path that allows them to become a productive member of society.
NORTH ADAMS — Jean Clarke-Mitchell, an assistant professor of social work at Lesley University in Cambridge, has been nominated to the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts’ board of trustees.
A 2000 graduate of MCLA, Clarke-Mitchell is currently serving her second term on the college’s foundation board.
PITTSFIELD — Local officials and civic leaders Thursday were paid a visit by Kimberly Budd, the chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.
Budd was appointed chief justice by Gov. Charlie Baker months into the pandemic, in 2020, when she became the youngest chief justice of the high court in the past 150 years and the first Black woman to lead it.
So much for the slow buildup. The come-up for young fighters is tough and there’s a need to have an impressive win-loss record. So it’s commonplace for up-and-comers to avoid each other. Because an early loss might end your career before it begins.
Steve Sumpter (6-0, 6 KOs) got the memo, but he doesn’t care.
I write frequently about the Reconstruction period after the Civil War not to make predictions or analogies but to show how a previous generation of Americans grappled with their own set of questions about the scope and reach of our Constitution, our government and our democracy.
The scholarship on Reconstruction is vast and comprehensive. But my touchstone for thinking about the period continues to be W.E.B. Du Bois’ “Black Reconstruction,” published in 1935 after years of painstaking research, often inhibited by segregation and the racism of Southern institutions of higher education.
PITTSFIELD — Today, Governor Charlie Baker, Lt. Governor Karyn Polito, Undersecretary of Community Development Ashley Stolba and MassDevelopment President and CEO Dan Rivera were joined by state and local officials in Pittsfield to announce more than $143 million in grant awards to support 337 local economic development projects in 169 communities. The grant awards were made through Community One Stop for Growth, a single application portal that provides a streamlined, collaborative review process of 12 state grant programs that fund economic development projects related to community capacity building, planning and zoning, site preparation, building construction and infrastructure.
PITTSFIELD — About 15 years ago, Hayford Osafo started Integrity Tax and Accounting Services from his basement after he noticed that people around him needed bookkeeping help.
Now his office on Tyler Street offers accounting and financial services and help for those starting businesses, he told a group of about half a dozen people representing other Berkshire businesses potentially interested in his services.
Frances Jones-Sneed, the celebrated scholar and educator, joked that on Sunday she was surrounded by her “roadies.”
And, indeed, at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, where she was an honoree in the 2022 Governor’s Awards in the Humanities, Jones-Sneed of North Adams had her support crew with her. In tandem to the award itself, her wide and varied crew served as testament to the mark she has made on the world.
LENOX — During that tumultuous era of civil rights struggles that was the 1960s — and perhaps still is — carloads of Black and white women drove Cadillacs around the American South talking with women in their living rooms about voting and standing up to the injustices in their lives.
Award-winning Boston playwright Tori Sampson turned this little-known story into the play “Cadillac Crew,” now receiving only its second professional production by WAM Theatre at Shakespeare & Company’s Tina Packer Playhouse through Oct. 29.
STOCKBRIDGE — Samuel Donkor heard his phone ring with what his caller ID warned him was “potential spam.” He still took the call. “Hello?”
“Congratulations, you’re now an American citizen!” said the voice on the other end of the line.
GREAT BARRINGTON — Twenty years after they first met, things have come full circle for local hip-hop artists Quintavious Walls, Regi Wingo, Eric Shuman and Jackson Whalan.
Together, as BRK BRD, Walls, aka Carolina Black, Wingo aka Dominik Omega, Shuman aka D.R.A.M.A.T.I.C., and Whalan recently released the full-length album, “Corona Diaries” featuring 10 songs and three interludes, with themes spanning the importance of family, racial identity, politics and the pandemic.
PITTSFIELD — Born and raised on the West Side, I have had the opportunity to see the changes in the area over the years.
As a kid, I remember the West Side as a place full of family and friends. There was always music playing, the smell of a grill going, kids playing in the streets or at the parks.
PITTSFIELD — A taste of West Africa has arrived on the West Side of Pittsfield.
Raissa and Mathieu Doumbia, a married couple originally from the West African nation of Ivory Coast, recently opened House of Seasoning Grill at 117 Seymour St., the site of the former Friends Grille.
Trey Carlisle and Todd Mack / The Black Legacy Project
Victor Blackwell shows us two champions tapping into music’s power to evoke empathy, spark collaboration and promote racial harmony. Trey Carlisle and Todd Mack started The Black Legacy Project to form racially diverse groups of musicians who build understanding by creating modern interpretations of historically Black songs. Through roundtables and performance, The Black Legacy Project enables musicians of different backgrounds to listen to one another, recognize their interdependence and inspire their audiences to do the same.
At the heart of “Brake Run Helix” is a rideable sculptural roller coaster. Filling Building 5’s 100-yard-long gallery, the exhibit also includes paintings, a stage for performances, and freestanding sculptures inspired by the form and function of roller coasters. Hill’s practice focuses on experiences that intermingle public struggle, endurance, trauma, and joy, whether within athletics, religion, the American education system or amusement parks. In the United States, amusement parks were contested sites throughout Jim Crow-era desegregation efforts for equitable access to pleasure, leisure and recreation.
One year ago, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art was honored to receive a $300,000 award from the Wells Fargo Foundation to support its rapidly expanding Assets for Artists program. The two-year grant supports a broad spectrum of the Assets for Artists program activities in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut needed to meet more-than-doubled demand for their artist support services at this time of high need.
SHEFFIELD — A roundtable of Black history scholars will talk next week about the way Elizabeth Freeman’s legacy has been mythologized in a way that confines her story to a narrative that might not be entirely accurate.
Freeman never told it herself, and there might not be enough historical material to work with.
On August 19 the W.E.B. Du Bois Center for Freedom and Democracy will present this first in a series of events to honor Freeman’s journey as a way into a larger conversation about ethical storytelling of African American history.
Contributed by the Mahaiwe. Photos by Julia Kaplan.
Friends of the historic Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington gathered on July 30 to celebrate the organization’s past, present, and future with — what else? — gorgeous music. Some 600 people attended the Mahaiwe’s 2022 gala, which included dinner under a tent on nearby Memorial Field and a multiple-standing-ovation performance by world-acclaimed vocalist Renée Fleming, who performed a range of arias and modern numbers, from Händel’s “Bel piacere e godere” from Agrippina to “Climb Every Mountain” from “The Sound of Music.”
Berkshire Bank recognizes the importance of financial growth opportunities for both individuals and businesses. As a community bank, we are driven by our sense of purpose to help raise the economic potential of our surrounding communities. During Black Business Month in August, we celebrate the more than 2 million Black-owned businesses in the United States, including many of our customers and community partners. In Berkshire County, MA, the operational hub of Berkshire Bank, the Berkshire Black Economic Council (BBEC) is working with Black-owned businesses and future generations of Black entrepreneurs to help them reach their dreams while paying it forward.
As Governor Charlie Baker signed legislation barring discrimination on the basis of a person’s natural hairstyle or hair texture into law in his office Tuesday afternoon, twin sisters Deanna and Mya Cook, 21, smiled with pride and joy.
“I never thought we’d be here,” Deanna Cook, in tears, told the dozens of legislators, activists, and reporters gathered for the historic moment. “To be here and know that no one will go through what we did again, it means more than the world.”
Grant programs are laced with cumbersome red tape. The high cost of housing makes it difficult for laborers to live in the communities where they work. Smaller farmers have a hard time accessing capital.
Those are among the challenges some Berkshire County farmers say they routinely face. And Wednesday, they’ll have a chance to talk about those issues with the state’s top agriculture official.
GREAT BARRINGTON — Tucked in among the downtown’s commercial buildings is an old, shingle-style church with peeling white paint and a 30-foot tower out front.
Its dilapidated condition belies its historical importance. The Clinton AME Zion Church served as a gathering place and spiritual home for Black Berkshirites for nearly 130 years, a refuge from discrimination, its pulpit a platform for pastors’ antilynching campaigns, and its basement hall a venue for social events. A National Register of Historic Places landmark, the church closed in 2014 and fell into disrepair.
STOCKBRIDGE — Berkshire County has several well-known cultural venues. But what those sites don’t have is a lot of Black visitors.
According to a survey conducted by the Black Arts Council of the Berkshire Black Economic Council 47 percent of the respondents had never been to Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, 43 percent had never gone to Tanglewood in Lenox and 33 percent had never traveled to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams. And those weren’t the highest numbers.
TYRINGHAM — Protecting the vote of Black citizens involves a lot more than ensuring their ballots are counted.
It involves deeper work by entire communities to encourage people of color to vote by showing them that their opinion matters, that they are counted as people, that they have a stake — and that even subtle barriers to their running for office are removed, said panelists at a “Protecting the Vote” discussion at the Tyringham Union Church Saturday.
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.
PITTSFIELD — Responsibility isn’t a choice for Ludwig Jean-Louis, it’s a necessity.
After his mother, Roselie, died at age 51 in March 2021, Jean-Louis became in charge of the finances for his four younger siblings. That’s a big task for anyone at any age, let alone someone who is 26.
But Jean-Louis had always been interested in becoming an entrepreneur. That passion is what motivated him to recently purchase Cravins Soft Serve & Frozen Yogurt, a small, popular ice cream stand on Elm Street where he, his siblings, including 18-year-old twin sisters, and two of his cousins are all part of an eight-member workforce.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.