Genius Black, above, and Rose Barboza of Black Owned Maine, lead a Great Falls Forum on Thursday on ways to support Black-owned businesses in Maine.

LEWISTON — Rose Barboza and Genius Black, the creatives behind Black Owned Maine, spent most of Thursday’s Great Falls Forum talking about the idea of collective action.

The term is signified by the organization’s Maine Black Business Pledge, in which Maine-based businesses and consumers can pledge part of their current spending, or shelf space, to Black-owned businesses or creators.

“If the 27 of us in this (virtual) room get together and reallocate 10% of our spending, that is a collective direct action,” Barboza said. “It seems small, but it will make a huge difference in the lives of many of these organizations.”

Black said taking such actions is part of anti-racism, the work of actively confronting racism and discrimination.

Barboza said when Black Owned Maine was created, in the middle of nationwide Black Lives Matter protests in June 2020, it was a way for people “to protest with their dollars.”

She created a directory of Black-owned businesses that quickly garnered a huge online presence, and now the organization is setting its sights on establishing itself as a business incubator, hosting workshops for budding entrepreneurs.


The directory took off immediately, receiving 30,000 page views in its first day, and hitting 100,000 the day after. Six months after launching, the organization has expanded to offer grants to families, and has an off-shoot media content company. Both co-directors are now involved full-time.

The forum Thursday served as a way for the organization to spread the word on why it’s necessary work.

Barboza said recent data from the Small Business Administration states that 70.9% of U.S. businesses are considered white-owned, while 9.5% of businesses are black-owned. She said looking at demographics, those numbers make sense. But, she said, the discrepancy in sales is stark, with white-owned businesses accounting for 88% of all sales, and Black-owned businesses accounting for just 1.3%.

She said, “If that stat alone doesn’t explain the rationale” for organizations like Black Owned Maine, “I don’t know what will.”

The duo spoke Thursday about ways people can support Black-owned businesses, from joining the pledge, to something as small but deliberate like watching an online video on social media and “letting the ads play.” Black Owned Maine has various social media accounts and produces its own podcast.

In Lewiston, Barboza pointed to downtown Lisbon Street, which she said could be considered its own “Black business district.”


“It’s a really amazing sight to see,” she said.

Barboza moved to Maine from California in 1995 and grew up in Lewiston. She graduated from the University of Southern Maine with dual majors in marketing and international business in 2019.

Asked if the organization planned to involvd more young people, Barboza said it is particularly needed in Maine, where she believes many young Black people tend to move away after high school. She said she was among those who “couldn’t wait” to leave the state.

“I have personal experience with that, and we feel like if Black Owned Maine existed five, 10 years ago, imagine the talent,” she said. “We always talk about keeping talent in Maine.”

She said that while Black Owned Maine was created to “lift up” Black-owned businesses, it will only help the entire state’s economy.

“We just want to make it clear that just because you’re supporting Black businesses in Maine, does not mean you’re not supporting white, or Asian or any other businesses in Maine. It really just means you’re diversifying your spending, which helps the whole economy,” she said.


Black, a producer and musician whose real name is Jerry Edwards, grew up in Texas but moved to Maine to attend Bowdoin College in Brunswick. He majored in Africana Studies, with an English minor.

He said he’s seen the organization inspire people, especially during times that have had many people feeling “isolated and alone.”

Asked if he’s seen an evolution in public perception and the support for anti-racism work, Black pointed to the large protests that took place in Portland last summer. He said he was struck when seeing the sheer number of people, “most of them white,” marching on the streets.

“I have very rarely felt more supported as a Black man in the state of Maine than at that very moment,” he said. “It was kind of a galvanizing moment. I have definitely seen an evolution over time, for sure, but there’s still a lot of work left.”

He said Barboza felt the need to create Black Owned Maine because “there was such a giant void that was there.”

According to Black Owned Maine, the question often arises, “Why should I determine how I spend my money based on the color of someone’s skin?”

In response, its directors say that it “encourages people to look beyond the surface and at the systemic differences between Black-identifying people and other races.”

The organization is fundraising in order to revamp its website and directory.

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