Uprise RI: RI Black Business Association issues state a failing grade after Disparity Report release


A study completed in November of last year but released to the public on Tuesday drew a harsh response from RIBBA, the Rhode Island Black Business Association on Thursday. The State of Rhode Island paid Mason Tillman Associates half a million dollars to conduct the Disparity Study

, which finds evidence of discrimination against Black and women owned businesses by the state.

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WJAR 10: Report shows Rhode Island has failed Black and minority owned businesses

Rhode Island’s Black Business Association issued a failing grade to the state and called for elected leaders to take urgent action to fix a broken system that minimally awards contracts to Black and minority owned businesses.

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WPRI12: Black Business Association calls RI’s disparity report ‘disappointing and painful’

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Following the recent release of a disparity study in Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Black Business Association (RIBBA) is calling on state leaders to respond, while also issuing the state a failing grade.

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PBN: R.I. Black Business Association slams state for noncompliance with minority contracting law

PROVIDENCE – The Rhode Island Black Business Association had harsh words for state officials after a recent report revealed continued noncompliance with the state’s own regulations around contracting with minority-owned businesses.

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Rhode Island Black Business Association Issues a Failing Grade and Call to Action to the State of Rhode Island

In Response to the ODEO Disparity Study and Inaction to Comply with State Law, RIBBA issues a Failing Grade and Urgent Action Demand to the State of Rhode Island.  
Providence, Rhode Island – July 28, 2021 – The Rhode Island Black Business Association (RIBBA), a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the business opportunities and vitality of Black-owned and minority businesses in Rhode Island, calls on state leaders to respond to the Disparity Study conducted by Mason Tillman Associates and released by Office of Diversity, Equity & Opportunity (ODEO). The Disparity Study, first authorized by then Governor Gina Raimondo, was commissioned to examine State Agency’s procurement activities for any evidence of discrimination in the award of contracts to available minority and women owned enterprises. The release of the study by ODEO on Tuesday, July 20, 2021, came eight months after completion and cost a hefty $499,029 of taxpayers’ money.
The Disparity Study states that there is evidence of discrimination in the state agency’s contracting with MBE/WBE prime and subcontractors. The Rhode Island Black Businesses Association calls on the State of Rhode Island to enforce its 35-year-old Rhode Island General Law 37-14.1. This law centers Minority business enterprises targeted for participation in all procurement and construction projects and shall be awarded a minimum of ten percent (10%) of all dollar value of the procurement or project. In 35 years, the state has only complied with its own law two times, once in 2018 and again in 2019.
“The Advocacy and Policy Committee has studied the disparity report produced by the ODEO, and while the results are not surprising and reflect the gap we work to fill, the data is disappointing and painful to see,” said RIBBA’s Advocacy & Policy Committee in a joint statement. “While the report highlights data points between 2014 and 2017, current economic trends have displayed that the treatment of MBEs and WBEs has not received the systemic changes it desperately desires. With the untimely and tragic death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter Movement, Rhode Island went through the symbolic process of denouncing systemic racism and inequities by officially changing our name last year – that is not enough. Rhode Island must rid itself of the vestiges of structural and systemic racism and inequality by taking actionable steps to ensure an equitable economy for Black and brown Rhode Islanders. There is a great opportunity within this data, and the Rhode Island Black Business Association looks forward to being a trusted part of the solution.”
The report notes that state agencies did not maintain data on the subcontracts awarded by prime contractors. This data had to be reconstructed by the consultant conducting the study. Based on the findings, the State of Rhode Island failed to maintain the required data to measure the effectiveness and compliance of the law. The state failed in its support of Black and minority owned business owners.
“The real problem is there are so many moving parts to the State of Rhode Island’s procurement process that it is difficult to point the finger at a single person or source of the problem,” said Casby Harrison – owner and litigator at Harrison Law Associates. “Without one general, one powerful person that can be held accountable for the program’s success, the program is doomed to failure and without a mandate from the top, there is no incentive to make the MBE program work.”
Black and minority owned businesses have been historically, disproportionately impacted by systemic racism and a lack of broad base support by private or public entities. The lack of generational wealth or liquid capital brought about a rapid decline of these businesses with the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) working paper estimates that between February and April, the number of Black businesses nationally decreased by 41 %, the largest change of any racial group included in the study. In contrast, the study estimates that the number of white businesses saw a 17 % drop-in activity over the same period.
“Why did it take 8 months after the study’s completion before it was released to law makers and the public? Why wasn’t Mason Tillman Associates personnel available to answer questions regarding the study upon the State’s release of the Disparity Study? The state’s inability to follow its own law enacted in 1986, the late release of the study 8 months after its completion, and the lack of depth to a study of this importance is both unacceptable and reprehensible,” said RIBBA’s Executive Director – Lisa Ranglin. “After six Governors, absolutely nothing quantifiable has been done to improve the lives of Black and brown people in Rhode Island. The data we do have provides evidence consistent with a system hell bent on upholding the pillars of systemic racism and a lack of commitment by state leaders to changing the outcomes of Black and brown Rhode Islanders. RIBBA demands that given the inequities that COVID 19 has exposed, plus the findings of this limited Disparity Study, that Governor Mckee rights this wrong and enacts real and quantifiable change.”
The Executive Office and the General Assembly ‘sit on their hands’ when it comes to encouraging Black entrepreneurship and investing in Black businesses. Systemic racism and structural poverty continue to drive gun violence in areas devoid of investments. To address these disparities and the spiraling decline of communities, Black businesses must be fully and intentionally supported in order to create jobs and build stronger communities.
The Rhode Island Black Business Association, (RIBBA) agrees with the Disparity Study that there is evidence of discrimination in the state agencies contracting with MBE/WBE prime and subcontractors and is issuing a Call to Action to all stakeholders: elected officials, public and private sector entities, and civic leaders to make this a real turning point in closing skills and opportunity gaps disproportionately affecting Black Americans and communities of color in Rhode Island.
Based on the status of Black and minority-owned businesses in Rhode Island, the findings of the Disparity Study, and the State’s inability to follow its own law enacted in 1986, RIBBA issues a Failing Grade to the State of Rhode Island.
RIBBA and its supporters have identified several solutions in addition to the recommendations cited in the disparity study.
  • Establish a Contract Compliance office outside of government to monitor and enforce compliance to MBE commitments
  • Mandate when a prime contractor fails to meet the goal of awarding 10% of the prime contract to a M/WBE, that prime contractor must submit good faith documentation indicating efforts to engage and hire minorities or women, a requirement existing as far back as 1996
  • Investigate complaints of non-compliance and develop corrective action plans as needed
  • Implementation of MBE/WBE tracking of comprehensive data on the subcontracts awarded by the prime contractors
  • Increase the government procurement participation goal for Black and Latino contractors to reflect the increased minority population in RI
  • The state must set up, and financially assist organizations that provide support to Black businesses so that they too can grow and thrive
  • Issue an Executive order to establish preference in state contracts where Black and brown people are the predominant group to be served or when contracts are cited within a neighborhood where the population is 20% or more minority
  • Commit at least 20% of funding to economic development in Black and brown communities
  • Intentionally work with organizations led by Black and Latino leaders
  • Increase loan funds available through Black and Latino organizations
  • Establish clear lines of authority to the office of the Attorney General or other legal entity to ensure enforcement
  • Implement a Pay Audit System to be used by Prime Vendors and their Subcontractors to independently report payments from Prime Vendors to the Subcontractors on state contracts.
About the Rhode Island Black Business Association (RIBBA):RIBBA is a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the business opportunities and vitality of Black-owned and minority businesses in Rhode Island through access to capital, contracting, business development resources, entrepreneur training, business advocacy, meaningful investor services, and workforce development.

Business Feature: Level Up Construction, LLC

RIBBA’s mission is made possible by a stellar community of businesses, staff, volunteers, and supporters. We’d like to place a spotlight on one of the members of this incredible network: Level Up Construction, LLC. 

Urcella Isom is the founder and president of Level Up Construction, LLC, a Black and women owned business that focuses on general contracting in both the residential and commercial realms. Urcella’s journey to business ownership in construction consisted of many twists and turns along the way between pursuing different business paths as well as working as a laborer, which lends to her expertise and commitment to changing the landscape of the construction field. As is the case with many businesses, and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and other people of color) owned businesses in particular, a barrier for Level Up Construction, LLC is access to critical financial and operational resources to help propel the business to the next level of growth. Some additional obstacles as a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and other people of color) entrepreneur is that in some communities, there is more questioning about competency and ability to deliver high quality results.  

Photo by Leo Selvaggio, RIBBA Volunteer Photographer

Urcella is grateful for the support of RIBBA, as the opportunities afforded to her and her business through the organization have been meaningful and impactful. As a busy and highly mobile business owner in construction, her time is limited, but as a next step she would like to explore more ways to get involved with the organization. Additionally, as some particular areas of need in terms of support, Urcella has identified business counseling and capacity building resources as the next step to facilitate growth and advancement. As someone who began the entrepreneurship journey officially just months before the pandemic, Urcella is very aware of the challenges associated with balancing life responsibilities and taking this narrow path of business ownership that requires deep courage and tenacity. Her recommendation to those aspiring to a similar journey is: “although it is not as easy as people think [to run a business], if there is a fire burning within, it is achievable, just follow the necessary steps and go for it”. She also believes and practices the adage “it takes a village” knowing the power of community; and is deeply grateful to her family for their support and partnership and belief in bringing her vision into action. 

For more information about Level Up Construction, LLC, please visit: https://www.facebook.com/100412291766287/posts/320363819771132/ 

For more information about RIBBA, please visit: https://ri-bba.org/  

About the author: Stephanie Mireku is RIBBA’s volunteer Content Writer and works with businesses, volunteers, and community members to highlight their and RIBBA’s work. Her passion for writing of all kinds, and background in English and Business Administration fueled her interest in combining these areas through the Content Writer role. Stephanie first became involved with RIBBA through the LEAP Mentoring program as a mentee in the 2021 cohort. She is enthusiastic about relationship building, mission centric creativity, social impact, and philanthropy, and puts this into action through various outlets including her work as an Assistant Director of Alumni Relations at Providence College.  



RIBBA’s LEAP Initiative Receives $15,000 Grant Award from BayCoast Bank

Funds will support LEAP Initiative which trains and supports young adults through their academic and early careers. 

Providence, RI – July 15, 2021 –  The Rhode Island Black Business Association (RIBBA), a 10-year-old non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the opportunities and vitality of Black-owned businesses and professionals in RI, is pleased to announce a charitable contribution in the amount of $15,000 from BayCoast Bank. This funding will be used to train and support young adults through their academic and early careers by providing well-informed programs and services that strengthen their skills and support the complex challenges they face.  

“RIBBA’s innovative LEAP initiative provides a comprehensive suite of services to truly enable young adults reach their potential and succeed.  We are honored to partner with them and support this important work,” explained Nicholas M. Christ, President and CEO of BayCoast Bank.  

RIBBA and their charitable arm, the Institute of Economic Empowerment & Development (IEED), have worked over the last 10 years to create a more equitable business environment in Rhode Island through business and career development programs, as well as through their advocacy & policy work.  This greater investment in RIBBA comes on the heels of a national reckoning that structural racism exists and holds back many Black and brown communities from achieving access to opportunity and economic prosperity. 

There isn’t one type of program or service out there that can address all the barriers that systemically exist. The LEAP Initiative provides multi-layered programs and services, such as: mentorship, financial literacy, workshops, trainings, scholarships, and more.  

“We thank BayCoast Bank for this generous funding and for supporting our work of advancing racial and economic justice. Though institutions are working much more aggressively to create a more inclusive environment, there are barriers within the systems that are being navigated by underrepresented individuals daily. This commitment from BayCoast Bank signifies a confidence in RIBBA’s historic and groundbreaking work over the last 10 years and will help support young adults who are navigating these barriers,” said Amanda Roman – Director of Program Development & Operations at RIBBA.  

The LEAP Initiative completed its first program year in July 2021 and will begin offering programs and services again in September 2021. To learn more about the mentor program and workshops being provided, go to www.ri-bba.org  or contact amanda@ri-bba.org. 


The Rhode Island Black Business Association (RIBBA) is a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the business opportunities and vitality of Black-owned and minority businesses in Rhode Island through access to capital, contracting, business development resources, entrepreneur training, business advocacy, meaningful investor services, and workforce development.

The Institute for Economic Empowerment & Development (IEED) is the charitable arm of the Rhode Island Black Business Association. IEED provides education and access opportunities to individuals throughout their academic and career journeys. 

About BayCoast Bank: BayCoast Bank is mutually owned, serving the needs of consumers, businesses, non-profits and municipalities through 23 branches and three loan offices throughout southeastern MA and RI. Additional services are offered through the Bank’s affiliates:  BayCoast Financial Services, Plimoth Investment Advisors, Partners Insurance Group, LLC, BayCoast Mortgage Company, LLC, and Priority Funding LLC. Nicholas M. Christ is the Bank’s President and Chief Executive Officer. Visit baycoast.bank or call 508-678-7641 or 888-806-2872.