Understanding the Racial Wealth Gap (With BECMA's Nicole Obi)

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This is a podcast episode titled, Understanding the Racial Wealth Gap (With BECMA's Nicole Obi). The summary for this episode is: <p>In 2015, the Federal Reserve Bank of Massachusetts found that the average net worth of Black households in Boston was $8.00. The average net worth of white households was $247,500.</p><p>$8 for Black households, $247,500 for white households.</p><p>This disparity was enough to make Nicole Obi spring into action in a new way and commit to a career in nonprofit. Nicole is the president of BECMA, which stands for Black Economic Council of Massachusetts, and it's focused on policy and advocacy around elements and efforts that need to be made to advance the wellbeing of Blacks in Massachusetts.</p><p>In this episode, Nicole helps Elias understand why these disparities exist, what needs to be done to close the racial wealth gap, and how a background in urban planning helps her to lead BECMA today.</p><p>Be sure to hit the subscribe button to get new episodes when they drop every other Tuesday.</p><p>In the meantime, be sure to leave a ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ review and share the pod with your friends. You can connect with Elias on Twitter at @eliast and @DriftPodcasts, and Nicole on LinkedIn.</p><p>For more learnings from Elias, check out his quarterly newsletter, The American Dream. You can subscribe at https://www.drift.com/insider/learn/newsletters/american-dream/</p>
BECMA: What it is and why Nicole was drawn to the foundation
06:29 MIN
How BECMA and Drift are working together to support BECMA's members
02:25 MIN
Why there's still a disparity between black and white businesses
03:15 MIN

Elias Torres: Hola. I'm Elias Torres, co- founder and CTO of Drift. You're listening to a special episode of The American Dream Podcast. I'm able to host this podcast because of the people who took a chance on me and listened to what I had to say. Now it's my turn to return the favor. In this episode, we highlight a small business in the BIPOC community. Make sure to support the underrepresented voices in your own community and explore the list of BIPOC- led businesses I have included in the show notes. Spanish. It's February, which means it's Black History Month. I'm highlighting the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts, BECMA, today, but I want to remind you that just like Hispanic Heritage Month, celebrating diversity shouldn't be limited to one month. I encourage all of you to take a look at the blog linked in the show notes to learn how you can celebrate Black History Month all year long. BECMA's mission is to advance the economic well being of Black businesses, organizations, and residents in Massachusetts through advocacy, business, and leadership development, as well as strategic partnerships. I'm talking to BECMA's president and CEO, Nicole Obi, about how she came into the role and what BECMA is focused on for 2022. Thank you so much, Nicole, for being on the show.

Nicole Obi: Thank you for having me. Thank you for having me. I'm so happy to be here.

Elias Torres: It is my pleasure. You're connected with one of our directors of engineering, Bernard, and you've been working together with Drift, so it's really a pleasure to work with you with the work that we're doing with Drift, but as well as to get to know you and to really share who you are with our community, with our audience, and tell the story of amazing individuals that are thriving despite inequities and injustices in our society. But a society, and a culture, and a country that we all love, so thank you for being here. Tell us a little bit about your journey, your career, where you're from, how you ended up here, and what's your mission? Personal mission.

Nicole Obi: Yeah. Thank you for that. I am actually from Massachusetts, so my family is from Jamaica on my mom's side, and they came to America in the'60s en masse, so my mom, her sister, her best friend, and they sort of moved across the nation and settled here in Massachusetts, and I'm the first- born American on my mom's side of the family. Started off in Boston, ended up going up to the suburbs and growing up in Framingham, and went there, stayed there until I finished high school. Went off to a Historically Black College called Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia, and came right back and went to MIT for grad school, where I studied urban planning and design, but also business. And while I was at business school, I met some classmates. We started working together and I followed that path of business and started my first venture- backed startup and went from there. So, the rest is sort of history. I've spent most of my career either starting up a company with others or running my own company, and after many years of doing that, decided to join Fidelity Investments and ended up doing a project for Abby Johnson, whose family owns Fidelity, and was asked to startup a new function within Fidelity, and that's what I did. And I left Fidelity after 12 years, so my work experience is pretty evenly split between being senior management in a corporation to also being part of multiple startups, venture backed and otherwise.

Elias Torres: Wow. That's unbelievable. There's so much to unpack there. The experience that I can relate the most to is the founder of a VC- backed startup, and my shoulders just started feeling pain, so I definitely respect a lot what you've done. Tell me a little bit about Hampton and MIT. Those are two amazing accomplishments, right? It's something that we struggle in getting Latinos and Blacks to finish school, to get accepted, to get the funds to be able to go to colleges, finish them, and then MIT. Extremely impressive. I'm sure it wasn't easy.

Nicole Obi: No, it wasn't easy. It's actually a great story. Had several choices coming out of high school about where I wanted to go to college, but having been one of the few Black people not only in my school, but in my town, I really had a yearning to go to a Historically Black College and ended up choosing Hampton and really happy that I did. Just had never been in that environment before and I really took off there and it really felt like home, and that I was supported. By the time I finished at Hampton, I had confidence and a perspective on what I wanted to do. I wanted to go to business school. I wanted to continue thinking about and working towards improving... At the time, we didn't call it inclusion and diversity, but making progress so that kids like me could have the opportunities that I had. And so, MIT was a really good choice for that, because they had both urban planning as well as business schools, and I again was fortunate that I landed in a place at a time where I was given the opportunity to walk into the dean of the urban planning program at MIT and say, " I'd really also like to go to business school," and have him shepard me through that process and help me to make that happen. So, it was fantastic experience sort of going from Historically Black school and all that that brought to me to round out myself as a young person, to then finishing it off with some what I think are really good, solid business skills, and a lot of the work that I do today, while I've never before BECMA worked in the nonprofit space, a lot of how I work, especially with startups, came from my work in urban planning. A lot of that community development, engagement, negotiation and dispute resolution, what a lot of people would call soft skills of how to make progress in economic development I have found really helpful throughout my career as an entrepreneur and in business to really get buy- in and engagement from our team, from our partners, and it's been really, really helpful to me throughout my career what I learned in urban planning and design.

Elias Torres: You must be a great leader. I tend to be impatient. I just want people to like, " Let's go. Let's agree and disagree and move on."

Nicole Obi: That's decisive. That's fine. That's good.

Elias Torres: Oh, okay. Good. Good. And what was Framingham like? What was the demographics there when you were growing up? Because it's a lot of Brazilian now, right?

Nicole Obi: Yeah. That was now, so when I was there, there were three Black kids in my grade. There were just a handful in the school in total. Our school did participate in the METCO program, as well, but it really was not a very diverse community at that time. And like I said, that created a yearning in me to be around more Black people and just now grow in a different direction, in a different way.

Elias Torres: Yeah. No, that's wonderful that you had the opportunity to do that and grow yourself, and your identity, and Jamaica is a very diverse place, right?

Nicole Obi: Yes.

Elias Torres: I've never been, but I've heard. I have a lot of Jamaican friends and they say it's a very wonderful place because such a blend of so many cultures there.

Nicole Obi: Yes. Yeah. I mean, don't tell my mom because I'm probably going to botch this, but believe the country's motto is one land, many people. So, just to your point, there really are quite a blend and diversity of people from Jamaica.

Elias Torres: And so, then you do MIT, you do business, you do urban planning. Did you go into urban planning, your startups? Or they were-

Nicole Obi: No. My startups, my first startup that I co- founded with an MIT classmate and others was a software company. Don't know anything about software. My role in these ventures is as the strategist. I was also pretty good at breaking ties, again going back to some of those soft skills from urban planning, between our chief technology officer and our other development, tech development officer. So, we had two chiefs that were in charge of technology and who's really doing what? I would help with things like at the time we used to do the work that we could sell, and that was inefficient for us to do that, and I helped the organization to make the decision that we're going to have to fire some of our clients so that we can focus on doing the things that we were good at doing. So, things like that are the type of work that I helped the team with. We were able to sell that first company, which was a knowledge management firm, to the New York Times for the New York Times Digital as they were about to bring all of the great New York Times, all elements of the New York Times online, right? And the next startup was a subsection of the first team, and we had an opportunity to do a joint venture with the international retailer, The Body Shop. So, the VC that backed us for the first deal backed us for the second deal, which was... That firm was called SoftBank. They're still around today. They're a Japanese VC.

Elias Torres: I've heard of those. They usually just write like billion dollar checks.

Nicole Obi: Yes. Yes. Well, hopefully I don't look as old as I am, but back in those days they weren't writing checks like that, but they still were the ones that funded our deals, and so we did a joint venture with The Body Shop and we created a new entity called The Body Shop Digital, which had the eCommerce rights to The Body Shop brand and products internationally. And so, my role there was head of strategy again, really working on which country were we going to roll out to after the U. S., what's the approach when digital was really second, third, or sometimes fourth channel in a market. So, I oversaw those types of efforts, as well as our business development.

Elias Torres: That's incredible. Did you ever do anything in urban planning?

Nicole Obi: Never.

Elias Torres: Never.

Nicole Obi: Never.

Elias Torres: Any regrets?

Nicole Obi: No. But I'm doing it now sort of in the work that I'm doing with BECMA.

Elias Torres: Oh, let's talk about that.

Nicole Obi: Right, so-

Elias Torres: Let's talk about BECMA.

Nicole Obi: Yeah. We'll fast forward to BECMA. So, BECMA, again, stands for the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts, and as you said, our mission is to advance the economic well being of Blacks across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the organization was born out of the 2015 Federal Reserve Bank of Boston study, The Color of Wealth study in Boston, that found that the average net worth of Black households in Boston was$ 8 compared to-

Elias Torres: What year was that?

Nicole Obi: 2015.

Elias Torres: $8.

Nicole Obi: $8 compared to$247, 500 for white Bostonian households. So-

Elias Torres: Oh my God. A stat that I have is like the average small business revenue is like close to a million for a white small business. For Latino business it's less than$ 100, 000.

Nicole Obi: Yeah. Yeah.

Elias Torres: And so, $100, 000 doesn't even pay one salary.

Nicole Obi: Yes. Yeah.

Elias Torres: And so, like a single owner, single employee, one- employee business is so tough, so you're talking about that recent, the net worth of-

Nicole Obi: Household.

Elias Torres: Oh, wait. Household.

Nicole Obi: Black Bostonian households.

Elias Torres: And what does that measure, like the value in equity in the home, or the savings, or the salary?

Nicole Obi: Yes. All of the above, so compared to, offset by your debt.

Elias Torres: All of those.

Nicole Obi: So, how much do you owe versus how much do you have in assets.

Elias Torres: Oh, the debt. Right. Oh my God. $8. What are we doing?

Nicole Obi: $8.And so, that reaction that you're having led to hundreds of Black people coming together and an outcome of that convening was several Black business leaders decided to form this Black Economic Council of Massachusetts, really. And since its inception, BECMA has been very much focused on policy and advocacy around elements and efforts that need to be made to help to advance the well being of Blacks here in Massachusetts. Those issues, though, have been very macro and important. Housing, policing, transportation, health. In 2018, the organization got Segun Idowu as our executive director, and he did so much to continue to advance the organization on policy and advocacy. Really put the organization on the map for such a young organization. I joined BECMA in May of'20, so after 12 years at Fidelity I left in'18. I heard you have a puppy. We got a puppy. And in walking our puppy in the neighborhood, someone pulled up next to me, a Black woman, and said, " Do you live around here?" I said, " I do." And we found out that we'd been neighbors for years. At the time for six years, and we never met each other, and as we got to know each other, she was one of the original co- founders of BECMA. She's the current chair of the board. She's the chief operating officer of OneUnited, which is the nation's largest Black- owned bank and my neighbor, and as she told me about BECMA and its mission, it really resonated with me because in my seven years of running my own company, I only had one Boston- based client, and that was a Black woman who hired me. Otherwise, when I went to work running my business, whether it was at Johnson and Johnson, or Visa, or Commerce Bank, I had to get on a plane and get out of town to do my work. So, when she told me about BECMA, it just made all the sense in the world to me that this is an organization that I want to be involved in. It was also a time where COVID had begun and I knew, we all knew, that the whole nation was being devastated by the pandemic and being in lockdown, but Black and Brown businesses in particular were really struggling. And so, upon learning about BECMA, meeting Segun Idowu as the executive director, I decided to join the organization and help on the member front to complement the policy and advocacy work that Segun was spearheading for the organization. I got to work in understanding who our members were, whether they're individual non- business owners, whether they are business owners across a broad spectrum, going from micro businesses who earn less than $100, 000 a year to larger Black- owned businesses. A few months later, George Floyd was murdered and the awakening, the national awakening occurred, and now we have ally organizations coming to BECMA wanting to know what can they do, how can they get involved. And there I define what does allyship mean for us. It's more than a statement. Have to be willing to take action, certain action. Whether it's hiring Black people into your management, onto your boards, buying from Black businesses, discounting, donating your goods and services like Drift has done with your Bot and other services, joining us in the advocacy work that's aligned to your organization's mission, underwriting some of our programming. So, there's no one silver bullet, one single way to be an ally, but we wanted to make sure that someone who wanted to say they were an ally was actually also taking the actions and engaging as an ally.

Elias Torres: Yeah. And that's wonderful. So many questions in my mind. First of all, you're a person to commend for that decision. I feel like a lot of people are just focused in just going up in the professional ladder, and the career ladder, in the entrepreneurial ladder, and you've been extremely successful, but making the decision... You're full time, right? On BECMA, right? You stepped away, stepped down from the corporate world, and says, " I'm going to go run this full time."

Nicole Obi: I love this story. I didn't... I had already stepped down. Yeah, so I had left Fidelity when I met the chair of the board.

Elias Torres: Okay. But I mean, but you could have gone back to that world.

Nicole Obi: I could do other things. Yes. Yes, I could.

Elias Torres: Absolutely. It's still like... I think that's something that I'm in my own journey, right? I think I've been working, I don't want to tell you my age. I'm really, really old. I don't want to date myself. But it's time for at some point, it's like, " Do we continue this?" Or my heart, what it's telling me is like how can I help? How can I make an impact to individuals?

Nicole Obi: Yes.

Elias Torres: How can we solve these problems? And so, part of this is a selfish reason to interview you, to hear about those two things, right? You have the member side and then you have the macro, the police, the policy, the government, the housing. Which one makes a bigger impact?

Nicole Obi: It's not an either or, it's an and.

Elias Torres: I know. I know. I know.

Nicole Obi: I believe that the secret sauce of BECMA is that we have this policy front end where we have stated positions. We work to support the things that we believe in through policy, through legislation, through advocacy, but we also get to work and do the work that we can do directly in supporting our community. So, whether it's during the lockdown period, making sure that we were able to get PPE, masks, and other equipment to families. People were hungry, so working to hire Black- owned restaurants to do catering to feed people during that time. Business owners needed help, especially a lot of our micro businesses that don't have a lot of back office capabilities. Getting them set up because they were missing out on opportunities to get COVID relief funding, right? A lot of that funding, a lot of those dollars, PPP and other things went out the door on a first come, first serve basis. That entrepreneur that's still working out of a shoebox for their accounting doesn't... haven't really done their taxes, or they haven't separated their personal from their business yet because it's a side hustle, that entrepreneur missed out on a lot of that funding. And what that did at a critical time, it set them off on a dire path. Those people that were able to quickly get that funding, it set them off where they could keep their employees, pay their bills, keep things going. Maybe they weren't making as much, but that's very different than those that got nothing and had to close their doors and had to still pay bills. And so, just back office capabilities were lacking, were already not in place, and so that was a problem. Saving businesses that were already behind the eight ball was very challenging. And unfortunately, a recent statistic that I've heard is that 40% of Black- owned restaurants are closed. Many of them are not going to reopen. I hope that's not accurate, but it's... Anecdotally, I've seen that those that weren't in a position to pivot, they really suffered.

Elias Torres: Wow.

Nicole Obi: I would like to share with you something that we're doing with Drift which I find so incredibly generous and helpful. A lot of our smaller businesses in particular, they don't have that back office capability as I said, right? Some of them have a day job and they have this job that they're trying to get off the ground. And Drift approached us in 2022 and said, " We'd love to help." There was a little bit of a learning curve there because most of Drift's customers are multinational firms, or huge firms, and we're talking about in many cases Black- owned businesses where it's one or two people. Maybe 10 people. But what I have enjoyed about working with Drift and around sort of product development's gone on, where the Bot service has actually really helped our entrepreneurs in many cases because they are too busy to read their contact us page inbound inquiries. And all those opportunities just get wasted.

Elias Torres: Just go out the window.

Nicole Obi: They're too busy. They don't realize that somebody's on the website ready to buy something and just has a question, so these are things that, fine, I don't think your product was made to do that in particular for such tiny businesses. But it is something that we know is really helpful to small businesses who are short staffed. And so, it's been really a good journey. A lot of businesses are not tech savvy and they're not completely comfortable, and there's more handholding, and there's not a technology group or department to help them with this, and so those are some of the challenges. But at the end of the day, for those organizations that are able to adopt technology like this, it's helpful. And it does answer a part of the challenge that they have around being small.

Elias Torres: Yeah. I think that you'd be surprised. We could use you literally for product marketing material because you absolutely nailed the essence of Drift, right? And how it helps them connect to every visitor on the website, especially when you don't have the time or the ability. The customer is on the site. The buyer is there. And we do not know that, so we bring this awareness on the site to the company, to the owner, and I'm really glad. I'm really proud of the team coming, that initiative, from the team itself, right? Not something that I had to do. I cannot take any credit for it. And so, it makes me even prouder that we can use our company, our IP, our software to help these businesses progress to help. We interview one of your businesses. How many businesses do you have, are you impacting, are you connected to?

Nicole Obi: Well, we have members, so we are a member- based organization. But for BECMA, we are agnostic as to whether someone has paid a membership fee when we give them our support. So, there are 2, 000 Black- owned employer- based firms, over 10,000 sole proprietorships, there are hundreds of thousands of residents, and we represent... We don't always agree on everything because we're not a monolith, but we give support to them all regardless of whether they've paid a membership fee.

Elias Torres: I know you're working with the members, you're working with policy. What do you think is one of the... Such a complex question. It's like what's causing the most disparity in these businesses compared to white- owned business?

Nicole Obi: The most simple answer, because it is like you said, it's complicated. The most simple answer is systematic racism. And what that means is the system itself is just set up against making progress. So, whether it's housing, policing, even something as simple as right now the BECMA and a few other organizations are party to a lawsuit against the City of Boston. A disparity study was done in 2020 and found that the City of Boston spent over$ 2 billion and only 1. 2% of it went to Black and Latino- owned businesses. That's systematic. An example within that situation is white men can apply for a bid and go straight through a process. Women and Black and other non- white people have to get certified. And not only do they have to get certified to win a bid. It's not simply saying, " Yes, I'm a Black person and I'm a woman. Thank you. And this is what I do." Certification, you have to bring your taxes. You have to talk about your business in great detail, which shouldn't be necessary. White men don't have to do that.

Elias Torres: inaudible

Nicole Obi: White men don't have to do any of that. And even if what you wanted to do is to be sure that you can certify who I am, why do you need my taxes? Why do I have to give all these details about my businesses? The buyer should be doing their due diligence on everything that they buy, but why do I have to do that up front? So, what happens is that women and it's called minority businesses, but essentially not white people have to go through this very onerous process. It's a tax of its own. Six weeks of effort if you want to do it for free. Who knows how much it would cost you if you wanted to pay for it. But that's just one example of how things are not fair. If you take an entrepreneur's time, a white man doesn't have to spend his time doing any of these things, and everybody else does. That's just... I hope that's a clear example of what I mean by systematic. It's not even necessarily about the people, and people are racist, but just the system itself, there's a huge problem just baked into the system. There's an example.

Elias Torres: The sun came up and now I'm ready to cry. Wow. So, hold on. Just let me see if I can connect the dots. I've been joining more events and participating with the Latino community and the business community, similar to yours, and I always hear this thing from the community leaders to the Latino business owners. Please register your business as a minority. Did you do it? Did you do it? They're always trying to help, right? And so, I'm like, " I didn't register for that. I don't know. We just launched and we're national." And I'm like, " Why do I need to do that?" Everybody's always asked me, " Did you do it? Did you do it?" And I'm like, " I don't know what that's for." So, help me educate, right? Why do you have to register your business in Massachusetts? To get what?

Nicole Obi: To get the right to bid.

Elias Torres: To bid what? To bid for what?

Nicole Obi: For government contracts.

Elias Torres: For government contracts. Example of a government contract?

Nicole Obi: What's that?

Elias Torres: Examples of government contracts for a small business?

Nicole Obi: The municipalities, so Brookline, maybe you want to sell office supplies to Brookline. Yeah.

Elias Torres: Okay, and so you're telling me that if I'm Black, I walk into there and I say, " I want to sell this to you." And they're going to ask me, " Where's your certification?"

Nicole Obi: They want you to be certified because they want to get credit for the work that you're going to do. So, yes, you're asking the wrong person, and I'm probably going to get in trouble, but my approach is to not start with certification first.

Elias Torres: Right.

Nicole Obi: Start with the demand side, the buyers. It's easy to pick on the municipalities because we're all taxpayers and they should be fair in their practices, and so that's easy, but I'll tell you private companies, anchor institutions like universities and hospitals, they spend a lot more than any municipalities.

Elias Torres: Right. And they also do the same?

Nicole Obi: Many of them do the same, but they're not in many cases required to do so. So, what I'm saying is that the problem... Yes, the practice is, " Hey, you have to get certified to get an opportunity." That's not fair but that's the way it is, especially for municipal or state or government contracts. Private companies often have their own criteria around it as well. I think at the end of the day, some folks are trying to do a good thing. I don't necessarily think that certification is the best approach for accomplishing the goal. If you're going to do it, there are more efficient ways of saying, " Nicole is a Black woman entrepreneur." Why don't we just do that and keep it simple and clean?

Elias Torres: Right. No, I agree. I agree. This is something that I've been educating myself, that it's like my experience as a Latino is not the same as an experience of a Black person in the United States. So, there was a lot of commonalities that I think we intersect really quickly and we feel some similar pains, but I've been educating myself, right? I watched this movie 13th, right? I don't know if you watched that but it was teaching me about systemic racism in that. Systematic, systemic, and it's like how it's so dark because it just keeps evolving, and it keeps changing, and there's nowhere to point the finger at, and then things are masqueraded as good, like certification, where it's like, " Well, we want to track it. We want to help it. We want to promote it. We want to give maybe priority." But then that results in friction that is just when you look at it, just makes no sense. The other day somebody was asking me, " What's your framework for diversity?" Like, " Elias?" And I'm like, " What framework?" It's like whites are looking from frameworks for diversity, but I said to them, " It's just simple." If a woman comes to Drift and applies for this job that says director of sales, and I have a man working in that position with similar experience as that person, then the framework is that they should get paid the same, right? It's like I don't want to and I've been paid less in other places, in other situations, because of who I was. Not because of what I accomplished. I've accomplished more than most people in the positions that I've been in. But I got paid less. And so, I go, " Because of that, I don't need a framework. It's pretty simple." And so to me, here, what you're saying is basic, right? It's like I should be able to if a white male comes into the municipality or hospital and can offer their business and their services to that business, to that organization, I should be able to do the same, right? It should be efficient.

Nicole Obi: It's good to acknowledge that in 2022, you should be able to walk in and offer the same services, but also know that another element of systematic racism or just things ingrained, the issues being ingrained in the process, sometimes the requirements are, " Oh, you have to have experience in doing this." Well, how am I going to get experience? Because I've never been hired to do this because you're saying I have to have experience. So, you asked earlier about the policy, and advocacy, and what's more important. And this is where the and comes in. So, this is where we can push on the policies, the laws, and advocate for change in things like this. We at BECMA are pushing around more data transparency. Share the information on what you're doing, whether it's around wage equity, or it's around your spend, and let the data speak for itself, right? So, the Federal Reserve found that the average net worth of Black Bostonian households is$ 8. Different groups are going to be able to do different things with that information. And that's because the data's available. And so, we at BECMA, we're advocating for transparency as a key element of what's next.

Elias Torres: No, that's-

Nicole Obi: I'll also share with you, as you spoke about framework, BECMA's framework for closing the racial wealth gap in Massachusetts is based on four things since folks do like a framework and it helps us to organize the efforts that we're doing. Those four things are ownership, I'll go through each one. Ownership, placement, commerce, and entrepreneurship. All of those are enabled by data, capital, strategic partnerships, and policy and advocacy work. So, start with entrepreneurship. We all know what that means. Yes, we have to spur more entrepreneurship. That is for sure here in Massachusetts. But as I said, we also have existing businesses that we need to support. How do we get them the support that they need to grow? Ownership. You indicated, and you were right to say, that the level of home ownership is a key driver in determining net worth. And in Massachusetts' Black households, the level of home ownership is lower. So, that will be helpful to encourage and support more ownership. And BECMA, we can't help with mortgages, but we can connect our members and others to Mass Housing and other organizations that that is exactly what they do, or with our member banks. But the other side of ownership is also business equity. For those businesses that were able to get COVID relief funding at all, a lot of it passed straight through to landlords, and we learned from that, and we know it's really important to help Black- owned businesses buy the businesses that they've been renting when it makes sense to do that. It might make sense to look at other ownership structures. Could this be a cooperative or employee stock ownership model? Because you have so many small businesses, the majority of the 2, 000 Black- owned businesses are micro or small. What about partnerships? Joint ventures? That's another area that we're very much focused on. Another pillar, the third pillar is around placement. That's another two- parter. The workforce, we can pound the table all we want, but we have to make sure that we have people from adults and high school age in the pipeline getting the skills that they need to go into digital careers, life sciences, clean tech, and others. The other side of placement that we're focused on is about putting Black people, actually Black and Brown people, in decision- making roles. On boards, in management, in commissions, and once those people are placed, giving them the training to support them in being successful in those roles. Because as you know, being on the board is not the same as your regular job, and being successful there is a whole different set of skills, and we want to make sure that they don't just get there, but that they do well.

Elias Torres: Right.

Nicole Obi: The last area, the last pillar is commerce, and that is whether it's B2B or B2C, making sure that our businesses have Drift and other tools, that they have the operational support, the right people, place, or things, making sure that they have access to funding sources, whether it's loan financing, grants, venture. So, that's our model for closing the racial wealth gap in Massachusetts.

Elias Torres: That's absolutely very familiar with all those different challenges. I live with some of them every day. Hiring, and placing, and training, and investing in students, in scholarships, so I really, really appreciate your dedication. And maybe if you can leave us with some tips, I would say like for people that want to learn more about this, you said that you have allies coming and asking for help. What's the best advice? How can they find you? What do you want to say for people that want to raise their hand?

Nicole Obi: Oh, thank you. I say reach out to BECMA to learn more about the work that we're doing in those four pillars, supported by those four enablers, and I would also say that as you said, don't wait. Just do. Just try it. Try to be the change that you're looking for in your day- to- day life in your community. At your job. That's what I would really say.

Elias Torres: Absolutely.

Nicole Obi: It's there's no one way. If you're looking for the one answer and this is the way it's going to be, and then you can act, I say no. Really, it depends on you, what you feel comfortable with doing, what makes sense for you, but do something towards being more inclusive, more fair, more aware. And that's a great start.

Elias Torres: Yeah. Absolutely. I echo, ditto, 100%, everything in that. And we shouldn't judge and we shouldn't question everybody's different intent and ability to help, but we should just all get started and encourage everybody to get started. Doesn't matter how little it is, right? But take action, not just say you're going to be an ally, right?

Nicole Obi: Yes.

Elias Torres: That's the key. Do something.

Nicole Obi: Do something. Do something.

Elias Torres: GSD. Get stuff done.

Nicole Obi: Yes. Yes.

Elias Torres: Well, thank you very much, Nicole.

Nicole Obi: Thank you.

Elias Torres: It's been great to hear. I feel like I sometimes interview more Latinos on the other side through my network and my connections and my familiarity with the issues, but it's good to hear about what your organizations are doing for the Black community in Massachusetts, especially, right? Thank you so much for what you do for them, for the businesses, and what I say, it's like the podcast is I feel like what we want to do is help people achieve their own version of their American dream, right?

Nicole Obi: Yes.

Elias Torres: Which, it could be a home, it could be a business, it could be helping, it could be working at a nonprofit, it could be starting their own venture.

Nicole Obi: I love it. Thank you so much for having me and thank you for being a great ally with BECMA. I really appreciate that and the work that you do. And I hope the rest of your day goes very well.

Elias Torres: Thanks for listening to The American Dream Podcast. Make sure to hit subscribe so you never miss when a new episode drops. If you like this episode, please leave a six- star review wherever you listen to your podcasts, and if you're interested in learning more about my American Dream Mission, subscribe to my newsletter. Link in the show notes.


In 2015, the Federal Reserve Bank of Massachusetts found that the average net worth of Black households in Boston was $8.00. The average net worth of white households was $247,500.

$8 for Black households, $247,500 for white households.

This disparity was enough to make Nicole Obi spring into action and commit to a career in nonprofit. Nicole is the president of BECMA, which stands for Black Economic Council of Massachusetts, and it's focused on policy and advocacy around elements and efforts that need to be made to advance the wellbeing of Blacks in Massachusetts.

In this episode, Nicole helps Elias understand why these disparities exist, what needs to be done to close the racial wealth gap, and how a background in urban planning helps her to lead BECMA today.

Key Moments:

  • (2:34) Nicole’s background
  • (13:24) BECMA: What it is and why Nicole was drawn to the foundation
  • (24:32) How BECMA and Drift are working together to support BECMA's members
  • (29:00) Why there's still a disparity between black and white businesses
  • (33:24) What it means to register your business in Massachusetts
  • (44:50) How you can help close the racial wealth gap

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Learn about how you can celebrate Black History Month all year long: https://www.drift.com/blog/celebrate-black-history-month/

Today's Host

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Elias Torres

|Co-founder & CTO, Drift

Today's Guests

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Nicole Obi

|President & CEO, BECMA, Inc