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Business and Economy

New Greenlight Maine Season Features Diverse Businesses

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greenlightmaine.com/elevating-voices

Events of the past couple of years have forced something of a social awakening across the country and sparked conversations about racial justice, inclusion and even just the stories we tell ourselves.

One of those stories that we tell ourselves in Maine is that we're the whitest state in the nation. And statistically, that's still true, according to the latest census. But the state is probably a little more diverse than you know.

There's a new series that launches tonight on Maine Public Television that attempts to introduce us to some of the diverse people who've been living and working in Maine and running a variety of businesses. It's called Greenlight Maine Elevating Voices.

For a little bit more about that, All Things Considered Host Jennifer Mitchell spoke with executive producer Con Fullam and just two of the 12 voices that we'll meet over the next six weeks, Tom Douglas and Cherie Scott.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Mitchell: First I want to ask Con, why this new show and why this focus? This is sort of a spinoff from the Greenlight Maine brand, which is a business show. What was being missed and why now?

Fullam: Well, we had always felt that there was not a real good representation — as a matter of fact there was very little representation of minority and diversity-owned businesses on the series. We've been discussing this for some time. And then there's sort of a confluence of communities. The Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, came to us and said, 'What can we do to help you expand your roster?' And we started thinking about that. And then shortly thereafter, Bangor Savings Bank came to us and they would like to sponsor a series. And then we started to think about what that series would look like and decided that rather than a competition, it should really be a celebration of sort of the contributions that all these folks of various colors and cultures have brought to and are bringing to the state. Hence the new series, Elevating Voices.

So looking over the list of guests that will meet over the next six weeks or so, a lot of crafts people, fiber arts, various kinds of businesses, but turning now to you, Tom, you're actually a lawyer, and you're on the series as well. So what are you bringing to the table? And what hole are you filling in that conversation?

Douglas: That's a great question. You know, when I first came to Maine in 2004, there were maybe three other lawyers of color throughout the state that I knew of, one of which was a judge. I mean, I distinctly remember the impression that some folks would have when I would walk into a courtroom, say, up north. It was like the jukebox would skip, sort of like the typical movie situation. You know, there is a growing population of people of color here in Maine who would like to have, you know, minority representation for their cases. At least have a minority professional to sort of consult with. But I also think for the community at large, I think it's really important and it sort of goes to the heart of why we're doing this series. I think it's really important for Mainers to know, you know, that we've put down roots, and we have invested in the community and we're committed to improving the community. We are serving the community as professionals or crafts people or otherwise. And so I think that's really important.

So Tom, you didn't really have that far to go. You decided to move from New Jersey and make Maine your home. Cherie also came through New Jersey, but prior to that was from Mumbai, India, and came to Maine in 2007 to start this food blog, and now a line of sauces.

Scott: Mumbai to Maine is Maine's first Indian culinary brand. And it is really exciting to be able to even say that, because, you know, truly when I first got here in 2007, much like Tom, I felt very much alone, in a very embracing and kind and welcoming state of Maine. But again, I really didn't see anyone that looked like me, that was Indian around me. And so I felt like I needed to create my own sense of community here in Boothbay. And so this led to this aching nostalgia for Indian food and helping me feel rooted and connected back to where I came from. And I felt that Maine's entrepreneurial spirit and ethos was so strong. And this state is just, it's just buzzing with innovators and people who feel inspired to make things.

It's been a tough couple of years with a lot of difficult news and, of course, the pandemic and calls for racial justice. It's been a difficult news cycle. There's been a lot of talk about whether the American dream is a thing of the past. And I'm just wondering, how do you feel about it?

Douglas: Yeah, so first of all, let me just say that I'm on sure Cherie's website right now. And I'm totally going to order some of that saag sauce when we get off. Yeah, in terms of the American dream and optimism, I think at times, it can be hard. I think sometimes the news and sort of the gestalt, if you will, of being a minority here in the United States, depending on what's going on, can be really oppressive. It can be oppressive in Maine from time to time, depending on what's going on. You know, my example has been if you work hard, and if you maintain a certain can-do, optimistic attitude, I think the American dream, to a certain extent, is available for most folks, regardless of where you're from, or what you look like.

Scott: Absolutely. You know, when I left Mumbai 25 years ago, Jennifer, I never dreamed or imagined that Maine would one day be my home. This is a dream come true. So yes, does the American dream exist? It does. And you know, I understand that, you know, yes, Maine is 200 shades of white and it needs more color. But you know, I also believe that we need to take accountability and responsibility as diverse business owners to share our voices. You know, sometimes you have to be the change that you want to see.

And what about you, Con? What did you learn about I suppose the American dream or what did you learn in making this show?

Fullam: Less learning and more just revelation. Not just culturally but economically as well. And really, how desperately we need these people to come to Maine. Maine is me, old white guy. And that not a terrific future. So I guess really, what I hope this show accomplishes is to show the state of Maine just how very important all of these folks are to the future of the state.