Make Bank, Give Back, Repeat

Ask Ernst Guerrier BS ’91, JD ’94 what shaped his life growing up in Boston’s Mattapan neighborhood and he has a ready response: working at the local fish store. “It was no glamour job, smelling of fish all the time,” the real estate and tax lawyer says. “The funny thing is, now I own the building that store was in.”

Those working-class roots have defined Guerrier’s life path and career as an attorney. He came to Boston from Haiti at age 7, the son of a cab driver and a hospital worker. It’s impossible to get through a chat with the father of two without hearing the words “giving back to the community” and “making time” for young people. And that’s exactly what Guerrier has done since earning his law degree and forging a multimillion-dollar practice in Dorchester that focuses on the concerns of those living in Boston’s largest and most diverse neighborhood.

Guerrier arrived at Suffolk as an undergrad planning to earn a political science degree and focus on civil rights. Then he met Richard J. Trifiro JD ’57, HLLD ’87, the late Boston lawyer and philanthropist, who was committed to city youth. When Guerrier told Trifiro his ambitions, Trifiro responded, “No way, you’re working in real estate and taxes.”

“He wanted me to be financially successful so I could be a benefactor to others,” Guerrier explained. “And he was right.”

“Ernst never forgets where he came from,” says Anthony R. Ellison, an attorney who shares office space with him. “It is amazing to me the level of commitment he has for young people.”

“Since I graduated, I have never received a call from a prospective student when I said I don’t have the time, because I recall Dick and how he always had the time,” Guerrier says. “This man was worth millions, and when he was asked, ‘Why do you go down to Mattapan to meet a bunch of kids?’ he’d say, ‘Well, if I can help one kid, that’s all that matters.’ And that really stuck with me. We do make a difference.”

Ernst was recently elected to the Suffolk Board of Trustees.

A Veteran of the War on Poverty

Had Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD) existed when its president and CEO John J. Drew, MBA ‘75, was a child, his would have been just the kind of family the anti-poverty organization was founded to help.

Born in Boston’s then-gritty Charlestown neighborhood, Drew and his four siblings were raised in a Somerville housing project. His father worked the graveyard shift as a shipper at a milk plant while his mother stayed at home to care for their children.

“There weren’t a lot of options,” Drew says. “The usual thing in my neighborhood was that you’d get a job at 16, or maybe you’d be a crook.”

Drew says he has “a visceral reaction to people being poor and not getting any help. I don’t like when people are treated as beggars and takers. We should be doing whatever we can to make things better.”

At the helm of the largest nonprofit human services agency in New England, he’s doing just that, overseeing more than 100 different community and social service programs. But it doesn’t end there. “Part of my job here is to be an advocate; I’m the public voice for a lot of people who don’t have a voice, and I can easily articulate the needs of these people because I’ve been there.”

In the faces of those who turn to ABCD for such crucial services as child care, job training, fuel assistance, and foreclosure prevention, Drew sees how harsh circumstances can defer dreams and how easily people can slip through the cracks without help. That’s what’s kept him at the organization for most of his professional life.

“I came in for six months to help out, and 41 years later, here I am,” jokes Drew, now in his 70s, who has been at the helm of ABCD since 2009. “In a way, there was never a good chance to leave, because there was always something to be done.”

Drew was recently awarded the 2017 Moakley Center Public Service Award.