For nearly three weeks, activists have protested against police brutality and racial injustice in hundreds of cities across the country.
Sparked by those actions, a few organizers in Maine have started a project they say will give people another way to show support: a comprehensive, growing list of Black-owned businesses in Maine.
The idea for a Maine Black-owned business directory began only a few weeks ago. The project's creator, Rose, who did not want her last name used because of concerns around security, says she grew up in Lewiston and Had long wanted to see some sort of resource listing Black-owned businesses operating in the state.
“Businesses that I could go to and just feel comfortable, or feel like I was a part of what was going on,” she says.
In late May, after the high-profile killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery stirred national outrage, Rose decided that it was time to create that listing herself.
“Not everyone can protest outside, whether it's for COVID reasons or childcare reasons, or whatever. So this is our way to tell people that, if that's not for them, or they don't feel comfortable, or perhaps they feel they won't be accepted within that environment, that there is another huge way that you can put your voice out there. And that's where you spend your money.”
She quickly began compiling whatever businesses she could find online. Just two days later, Rose published a rough copy of the website, called Black Owned Maine. And in just 24 hours, the project had generated 5,000 followers on Instagram. Today, it's up to nearly 9,000.
Rose describes the directory as kind of like Craigslist. Black-owned businesses are grouped based on industry or location, ranging from a mechanic in Auburn to a barbecue restaurant in Mars Hill. Churches, artists, even government officials are included. More than 150 people and businesses are listed so far. Rose says she hopes that sheer numbers can help to change perceptions about the state's Black population.
“Obviously, Maine is still a very white state. But we've kind of broken that a little bit in saying, yes, Maine is a white state. But we know we have thousands of immigrants here. So why are we not showcasing these immigrants who are starting their own businesses? And not only immigrants. We just wanted to show that, yeah, Maine is woods, and beautiful trees, and beautiful oceans, but there's a lot more to it.”
A local music producer and engineer, Genius Black, has also created and helped publicize the project. He says while out protesting with his daughter in Portland in recent weeks, he saw a sign with the message, "Don't Talk. Act." He views Black Owned Maine as just one of many actions needed to support Black people and fight racial injustice.
“We're trying to then move forward to give you some action tools. Some things that you can do, to invest, to vote with your dollars, to funnel and channel money. Just like what's been going on throughout history, forever. And that's always how power is held. Now we're including Black folks.”
And for some businesses, such as Portland's Burundi Star Coffee Shop, that publicity can make a big difference, particularly as many small businesses are still struggling during the pandemic. Jocelyne Kamikazi opened Burundi Star in March, right before COVID-19 hit. She says getting the word out is important after her business has been forced to close, then reopen and adapt, all in just its first few months of operation.
“For me, it's kind of exciting. You need people to know you. And I think this is the best way that Maine people may know you.”
While Black Owned Maine is just a few weeks old, the organizers are planning to grow and are continuing to accept submissions on their website. Organizer Rose says that she hopes the directory will also provide spaces in which Black residents can feel accepted in an overwhelmingly white state — something she says she didn't have while growing up in Lewiston.