Every week in February, Groundswell is recognizing individuals who are making major contributions to Black, Green communities and initiatives. This week, we sat down with Suncatch Energy Founder Brad Boston, who builds up his employees, even as he installs solar panels.
Boston is a third generation contractor who has installed solar panels at Groundswell solar host sites in Washington DC, Illinois, and Maryland. His commitment to improving the lives of his team and the communities in which he works sets him apart. For Boston, installing solar panels isn’t just about a job: it is about connecting people with life-changing training and opportunities.
Groundswell: So, tell me a little bit about yourself.
Boston: I grew up in a family business in Los Angeles, and my grandfather was a person who gave people second chances. I grew up in an environment with people who maybe had gotten out of jail — and even some people who had mental problems. He had a soft heart for people who needed help. So, it's an environment that I grew up in and one that I'm comfortable in. And, lo and behold, I wind up doing the same thing. If you've worked with everybody early on, you see them for what they can be versus what they've been.
Groundswell: If you wanted to introduce your community to a stranger, how would you describe your community?
Boston: Typically, they have not had a lot of gainful employment modeled in their life. If you don't grow up in an environment where people have gainful employment, it tends to rub off on you. If your school wasn't a good school, if nobody encouraged you, or you didn't see opportunities, it's just a lifestyle that you can repeat if you don't know anything else.
Then if you're very low on skills, the amount of money that you would get in the job market is very discouraging. So, you can look at minimum wage, and some people feel deprived, but if that's where your skills are, that's where you follow them.
Groundswell: How is what you are doing right now impact the lives of people in your community?
Boston: It is sort of like Christmas when they get their first set of tools. It's something that allows them to earn a decent living, a living wage, and the opportunity to advance is there for them if they choose. It helps get people on the right track. Whether or not they stick with this, it's an eye-opener as to what you can do in the job market if you get out there.
Groundswell: What efforts or initiatives would you like to see grow in the communities you do work in, and why?
Boston: If you look at it on a community college level or what the city or county may be funding, the emphasis of most of the solar training is an immediate academic emphasis. Unfortunately, in many cases, if they were good students, they wouldn't be in the position that they're in. I think getting them to work as fast as possible is a more successful model long term. Academics are good, but this is construction. You can get out there and learn everything with your hands and learn the intellectual part of it as you go.
Groundswell: What role would you like to see solar energy play in communities in the future?
Boston: What I would really like to see is that as solar begins to saturate, that the people who are installing solar would reflect the demographics of the communities in which they live. There are so many employment opportunities out there. Especially right now, there's so much unemployment. It's just a real, no-nonsense way to create jobs.
Groundswell: What is the greatest need in the communities where you work?
Boston: I think it's the training. We need more training, and we need different types of training. People who have fallen on bad luck, or people who are in poverty — they may not be academically inclined, so an opportunity that gets them into the field working most immediately — I think that's the best model.