Black History 365: Edson Hilaire
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Black Electrician Opens Shop In Waltham, Hopes To Set Example
WALTHAM, MA July 9, 2021— Edson Hilaire didn’t always know he would own his own electrical company, but he got the spark back about 17 years ago. He was called to help a woman who wanted a three-way switch in her dining room. She left him to it, and when she came home to exactly what she wanted, she was over the moon.
“It was a good feeling,” he said. “And I thought, ‘let me put a smile on another customer’s face.'”
In May, nearly two decades after becoming an electrician and a decade after starting his business EH Electric and HVAC from his kitchen table and running it there, he opened a brick and mortar in Waltham. He’s one of only a handful of Black-owned electrical companies in the commonwealth, according to a listing in BlackBoston.com.
Hilaire was born in Haiti and came to the US with his dad when he was about 8 years old. They landed in Brockton, but after an abusive relationship with his stepmother, he moved to Dorchester to get away from “that madness” and lived with a family member for a couple of years in a part of town that wasn’t considered a safe as a place. By the time he was 11 his dad got divorced, and they moved to Arlington to start a new life. It wasn’t perfect, and he spent time with social services, and institutions before being adopted by a friend’s family, but he credits the move with setting him on the path to owning his own business.
“It was a completely different environment, from the school, the education, the people,” he said.
He was sometimes the only Black kid in his classes, but he doesn’t remember thinking much of it.
“Throughout my life, I never considered myself a minority, I just didn’t really care that I was the only Black kid in my classes, it was just about making friends and chugging along,” he said.
That’s not to say he didn’t encounter racism along the way, he said.
“I hate to talk that way, it’s always around me, being a Black person,” he said. “But I never really dwell, once I have a mission I put my best foot forward and keep going.”
In high school he worked for a friend’s dad’s electrician company, learned pieces of the craft, then went to work for different companies after high school and tried to better himself, put himself through school to get his license.
In 2005, he created the business from side work and word of mouth. He prided himself on being thorough and thoughtful. He named his business EH Electric, and he was the sole employee, and worked nights while he worked his 40-hour day job. Sometimes he wouldn’t come home until 11 p.m.
“I had to make sacrifices,” he said,”because I just knew the company would get to this point.”
He put his money aside, hoping to start his own business one day. Every three years or so, he was able to add employees. And then, earlier this year, his side business got so big that he was able to open a brick and mortar with 10 employees in the city where he’s lived for the past four years with his wife, and now two young children.
Lack of diversity
Only some 8.9 percent of the 700,646 businesses in the state are owned by people of color, according to a new report by business.org
He joined the electricians union in 2015 and noticed right away that there was not a lack of diversity in union workers, but there was in top leaders.
“I’m not blind to what’s out there and the color of my skin,” he said. “I know from some of the studies, there’s just not a lot of minority electricians or tradesmen that are out there trying to build the business.”
When he goes on calls, he often encounters people who express surprise that their electrician is Black.
“You’d be surprised how many people call for service, but when I do show up, they’ll say —without realizing what they’re saying — will say something like ‘we didn’t expect someone like you,'” he said.
He estimates he gets that about four times a week. Most of the time he will gently maneuver that question, perhaps asking them what they expected, or brush past it. He said getting defensive or angry wouldn’t be productive.
“They’re not used to seeing Black-person owned business, it’s different,” he said.
And he wants to help change that.
“I want to give back to the youth with outreach programs,” he said. “I never had a playbook, I pretty much crafted this and created it on my own.”
No one gave him a gift of money to start his business, he said. And he wants to show young people, especially people of color, that it is possible to go into the trades and succeed and become a business owner.
“I could have given up a long time ago, with so much stacked against me – not having money, being a minority,” he said. “Racism is no joke, it is out there. But it’s about just not giving up. If you truly believe in yourself and what you’re capable of in your craft, no matter what it is, I guarantee you will succeed. I’m living proof.”
Aug. 29 he’s planning a ribbon cutting, and the mayor will be present, he said.
Also read:How To Support Black Owned Businesses In Waltham