Antonio Rocha is performing at the State of Black Maine Symposium, at the University of Southern Maine on Monday. Rocha is performing mime mixed with spoken word. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Antonio Rocha came to Maine in his early 20s when less than 2% of the state was nonwhite.

Originally from Brazil, the 57-year-old uses the art of mime and spoken word to tell the story of “A Slave Ship Called Malaga,” a ship built in Brunswick that sailed to Brazil as part of the transatlantic slave trade.

He will present the show Monday at an all-day Juneteenth celebration that aims to highlight the experience of being Black in Maine.

“I think this story resonates well with the Juneteenth celebration,” Rocha said. “Especially at a time where the rhetoric is to forget. The purpose (of the show) is to heal.”

The State of Black Maine Symposium at the University of Southern Maine in Portland plans to follow the main themes of growing up Black in Maine, bookending the daylong event with moderated discussions from multigenerational voices, including students and young Black Mainers.

Maine is still overwhelmingly white – 90.8% of the population – making it the whitest state in the country. Only 2.7%, or roughly 36,784 Mainers, are Black or African American, according to the 2020 U.S. Census Bureau.


Idella Glenn, USM’s vice president of equity, inclusion and community impact, said the event “highlights that despite the small numbers of Black African heritage people, their contributions have been significant and impacting our communities for many years.”

The event was sold out by Wednesday night, with nearly 400 people expected to attend. It was organized by the Portland nonprofit Maine Black Community Development.

Rocha is among those scheduled to perform between discussions and speeches, which are expected to include state Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, the first Black speaker of the Maine House.

Rocha took his first mime class when he was about 20 and soon came to the United States in 1988, where he further studied mime in Maine. He later earned a degree in theatre at USM.

Because the story of Malaga resonates with his own ties to Brazil and Maine, Rocha believes he was meant to tell it.

He wants members of the audience to form their own thoughts on the performance but hopes they “take away the truth.”


Gov. Janet Mills made Juneteenth a state holiday in 2021. The day that has come to mark the end of slavery in the United States, when the last enslaved people learned they were free. It became a federal holiday that same year.

Founded in November 2020, Maine Black Community Development aims to “advance racial, social, and economic justice for all people living in Maine, with a particular focus on improving the quality of life for multigenerational Black Mainers,” a spokesperson for the organization said in an email.

Angela Okafor, the community engagement director for the Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous and Tribal Populations, which is helping organize the event, said it is an opportunity to “recognize and uplift Black excellence in all areas of society.”

“What inspires me about the symposium is that it is creating a space to reflect on America’s and Maine’s history and the struggle for freedom and equality on Juneteenth,” Okafor said. “We are gathering together in solidarity to learn, uplift and commit to a brighter future for everyone in Maine.”

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