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Blackshires Leadership Accelerator Program goes forward for a second year

“It's important in the community at large to leverage those community members that have been historically disenfranchised and not supported,” Blackshires President and lead facilitator of the Leadership Accelerator Program Dubois Thomas said.

Pittsfield — Community organization Blackshires Community Empowerment Foundation launched a second round of its 12-week Leadership Accelerator Program earlier this month.

According to its website, the mission of the foundation is to provide resources and networking support to community leaders to expand their community impact. The organization is led by members of the local Black community with the goal of building a strong economic ecosystem and providing empowerment opportunities.

The leadership accelerator program has been funded through a $100,000 Urban Agenda Grant from the state’s Office of Housing and Economic Development, along with funds from the Hughes Foundation, 1Berkshire Strategic Alliance Foundation, Berkshire Bank, and the Crane Foundation.

“The program is designed to provide skill capacity and networking opportunities to emerging and active BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and Other People of Color) leaders in the Berkshire community,” Blackshires President Dubois Thomas told The Berkshire Edge. “The program is designed not only to provide skills, capacity, and networking opportunities, but through interacting with a series of partners, it provides interaction with community stakeholders and entities. It’s a way for representatives from organizations like the city of Pittsfield, Berkshire Bank, and some of our arts and culture organizations like Jacob’s Pillow to have a two-way conversation about community engagement in the BIPOC community in Berkshire County. This is also a way we can discuss with organizations how they can make the most out of community assets and resources, and how they can have opportunities to have a support network in place.”

According to organization Vice President Ari Zorn, one of the main goals of the program is to support members of the BIPOC community and to provide them with tools to be successful. “Collaboration and connection are important, especially in the BIPOC community,” Zorn said. “When you go and look at systematic racism in America, you look at a population that has been beaten down for 400 years. After a while, at a certain point, you could just feel that there’s no hope. You feel that you’re all alone. Then all of a sudden, you get amongst a group of like-minded people within a room who all have been trying their best to get out there and make something of themselves. And they all say to each other, ‘Oh my God, you have a story just like mine!’ This is very healing to me and makes them help process what’s going on.”

Zorn emphasized that, while there are many educational facets to the program, there are also parts that emphasize healing. “When I sit in a room amongst a bunch of people of color, talking and sharing their stories and some of the struggles that they went through, it’s almost like you got therapy going on,” Zorn said. “It’s nice to be in a room and realize that you are not alone in this community.”

Participants in the Blackshires Leadership Accelerator Program at the March 8 kick-off event at the Berkshire Innovation Center. Photos by Justin Allen and Devin Shea.

“It’s important in the community at large to leverage those community members that have been historically disenfranchised and not supported,” Blackshires President and lead facilitator of the Leadership Accelerator Program Dubois Thomas said. “There’s a stark, disproportionate gap between opportunities for BIPOC community members to succeed economically. We need to be intentional about establishing a network amongst leaders and community stakeholders to make sure that there is an ecology that supports that. This program helps to create a pipeline for new and emerging leadership for sustainability for community lives.”

Blackshires co-founder John Lewis said that this is the second year for the program. “It’s already helping the BIPOC community,” Lewis said. “This has provided the community with a lot of technical skills and resources for emerging leaders, entrepreneurs, and community-based projects. We’re not doing this by ourselves, but we’re also doing this with 14 partners. There are so many problems, gaps, and spaces where members of the BIPOC community are not being served. We want to find opportunities to empower them and to give them opportunities for their entrepreneurial aspirations, community development, and project aspirations.

Click here for more information about the program.

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