Inspired By Black Community, Justina Perry Pays It Forward – The New Bedford Light

In the summer of 2020, Justina Perry saw a need. At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the social justice uprisings taking place throughout America, Perry used the inspiration of other regional online platforms to launch Buy Black NB, a digital directory of Black-owned businesses in New Bedford.

Today, the Buy Black NB directory has grown to include more than 250 Black-owned businesses and Black-led organizations across the South Coast area, and the website has expanded to include a resources page, a gift guide and a blog. The directory features a wide range of businesses, including but not limited to food, art, music, youth services, beauty and apparel, medical, fitness and auto repair.

Responding to the feedback she received from local entrepreneurs, Perry began hosting events for Black business owners in the region, including vendor markets and HERstory seminars. Sponsored by the Women’s Fund SouthCoast, the HERStory series has served as a forum for local women in leadership roles. The first nine of the seminars can be found on the website.

Held throughout the region, the vendor markets have grown to include businesses from throughout New England and have produced more than $150,000 in revenue for participating businesses. Last May, Buy Black NB hosted an inaugural fundraiser, the Black Excellence Gala, at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. Buy Black NB is fiscally sponsored by the One SouthCoast Chamber, and Perry is assisted by a group of local volunteers.

Jason Borges, 34, of New Bedford is the owner of Illuminatus Studio, a business specializing in photography, videography, graphic design, and website development. He joined the Buy Black NB directory more than two years ago and has been the photographer for most of the Buy Black NB events. Borges says he has seen a boost in business since joining the website, and benefited from the increase in exposure he has received at the vendor markets, describing them as “a motivating experience.”

“At the vendor markets I see many small business owners doing promotion, discovering new clients and networking with other businesses,” Borges says. “It’s attracting people to invest in their business.”

Justina Perry: “By starting and running Buy Black NB it helped me with the opening of Oshun. … It inspired me to step out on my own and start something” Credit: Sean McCarthy / The New Bedford Light

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Justina Perry: “By starting and running Buy Black NB it helped me with the opening of Oshun. … It inspired me to step out on my own and start something” Credit: Sean McCarthy / The New Bedford Light

And Perry knows something about running a business. In December of 2022 she opened Oshun Physical Therapy and Pelvic Health at 1249 Ashley Blvd. in the city’s North End, a business devoted to women’s health, particularly pelvic floor issues. Perry started Oshun after eight years with Southcoast Health in Dartmouth, where she practiced women’s pelvic health and orthopedics. Since opening Oshun, Perry has hosted 11 local workshops in women’s health, teaming with yoga therapist Nanci Winterhalter and artist Mia Pelletier to creatively educate women on issues affecting them.

Perry will be hosting a free public workshop on International Women’s Day, Thursday, March 7, at the Haskell Public Gardens’ Wild Heart Herb House at 777 Shawmut Ave. On Saturday, March 9, she will be speaking about pelvic floor issues at the International Conference on Cabo Verdean Women at Providence College.

Pronounced “ocean,” Oshun is named for the African goddess of love and water.

A product of the New Bedford Public School system, the 34-year-old of Cape Verdean heritage earned a bachelor’s degree from UMass Amherst in kinesiology, a doctorate in physical therapy from Simmons College, and certification in pelvic rehab from the Herman & Wallace Institute.

Perry recently talked with the New Bedford Light about her devotions to the Black business community and women’s health, and her experiences and perspectives as a Black woman in the South Coast.

New Bedford Light: When you started Buy Black NB what was the thinking, what was the vision, how has it evolved, and do you consider it a success?

Justina Perry: Buy Black NB started in June of 2020 to fill a need that we had during the pandemic when small businesses were struggling, and during an uprising where the Black business community needed to be mended. The Black community needed to feel united, seen and heard. We created what started as an online platform to create a network of Black-owned businesses to spotlight and offer free promotion during a difficult time for small businesses. But [we] found that it was really an empowering connection for Black-owned businesses to have. And people wanted more. They wanted events, they wanted programming, they wanted networking and options. So that’s why it was started, because we didn’t have one. Other places have one and we didn’t.

The goal in year one was to increase visibility for Black-owned businesses on our directory, and we did that through free promotions — gift guides and spotlight features and blog posts like interviews. It did evolve to include events like our signature vendor markets. It evolved to include a team of volunteers and a printed version of our directory that came out in 2023. It has evolved and in my book it’s a success. 

What we accomplished in 3½ years was more than the original vision which lived online during the pandemic. And once we could meet in person it was received very well by the community, so we continued events. A measure of success could be the vendor markets — the vendors have reported a sales revenue of over $150,000 for the three seasons of markets. We had a sold out first fundraiser, the Black Excellence Gala, last May, held at the Whaling Museum.

NBL: Did you have any kind of model for this website when you started it? Was there an inspiration for Buy Black NB?

JP: I was aware that other communities had directories, and we didn’t have one. There was no particular model, but in the beginning there was a Black-owned Brockton, a Black-owned Boston, there’s Amplified People of Color Cape Cod, all women-led. We would gather and share different focuses. Ours was a directory, some were more focused on fundraising or nonprofit. I thought that was really helpful.

NBL: What is Buy Black NB doing for the community?

JP: Buy Black NB provides a frequently updated directory of Black-owned businesses throughout the South Coast of Massachusetts that is available for anybody anywhere to access. If they want to find a plumber, or they want to buy some art, or they want to hire somebody for their kid’s party and they want to be intentional and diverse about their spending. If they want representation, or they want to donate to a Black-led organization, they can go right to the directory and find that.

We have curated many vendor markets that are grant-funded programs and we pour that money right back into the Black community because we hire, whenever possible, people of color for entertainment, for security, for all the things that add to our events.

In the past we’ve produced a HERstory series which highlights Black women in business, video interviews that are all up on our website. We have over 30 women.

There are other resources for businesses on the website — if they’re getting started, if they’re looking for support for their business, they can check out the website to learn more.

Justina Perry, Buy Black NB founder. Credit: Contributed

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Justina Perry, Buy Black NB founder. Credit: Contributed

NBL: In your lifetime, have you seen progress for Black entrepreneurs in the South Coast region?

JP: What I’ve observed through organizing Buy Black NB is that there is even more unity in the Black business community. There are a lot more collaborations. I don’t know if the other business owners would agree, but I feel a lot of pride as a business owner here in New Bedford, because I think of how we have a special thing.

NBL: It’s Black History month, we just passed Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and Juneteenth is on the horizon. How are these events benefiting African Americans?

JP: Celebrating Black History Month and honoring Black history benefits all people. It’s because so much of Black history has been erased — stolen land, religion, language. And in our educational system what’s taught is European history, and then a watered-down version of African-American history because of fear of reparations. So it’s very important that we have this month to highlight the contributions that Black people have made to society.

NBL: Would you like to see more progress for Black entrepreneurs in the city? Could things improve?

JP: Oh yeah. I think we have a long way to go toward equity, but it’s something I’m committed to.

NBL: Who were your role models and inspirations growing up? What do you think accounts for your confidence and success?

JP: I have had, as a physical therapist, people who have poured into me, mentors who have shared their gifts, time and talents, which has helped instill confidence in me. Also, investing in my education. I pursued a specialty certification so I feel confident because I know what I’m talking about. So as a physical therapist, in my specialty area, the experience and the mentorship and continuing to learn — I stay up on everything. That’s helped with my confidence.

As far as entrepreneurship, I didn’t think of this right away because my father (John Steven DaRosa) has been passed for so many years, but he was an activist in the city. He was a carpenter, he did construction full time, but he always had a side gig doing home renovations and things of that nature. So while it wasn’t the primary job, that was my limited view of entrepreneurship. My dad was an activist around environmental justice with some of the issues within the city and as part of an organization called CLEAN in New Bedford. And so I think that those things may have been instilled in me, and here I am in New Bedford, owning a business and advocating for something that’s important to me.

NBL: How and when did you know you wanted to go into medicine and how did you choose your specialty of physical therapy and pelvic health?

JP: I knew that I wanted to study physical therapy in high school. I think I knew earlier than most people. It wasn’t until I was in grad school that I knew what pelvic health was, or that it was a focus. I went to a conference, which was really eye-opening for me as a student — a yearly specialty conference held in Boston. I went and I took a liking to women’s health and from there I pursued my clinical assignments in pelvic health in grad school. I had the opportunity to do pelvic health here, in Dartmouth. In Dartmouth they have a pelvic rehab program, and that’s what I did for eight years.

NBL: Why did you choose to set up your business in your hometown of New Bedford? Why are you staying in New Bedford?

JP: I feel very connected to the business community here and I think as a business owner to have people that can open doors for each other and you can collaborate on things … It felt natural to join something that I was already feeling a part of.

NBL: What have you learned about owning your own business? What are the challenges and the advantages?

JP: It’s a rewarding challenge to start something from nothing, but there’s the challenge that there’s not a blueprint exactly for this. So it takes time. I thought it would be three months to actually start and have all of my systems in place.

There are a lot of advantages. The glass ceiling is removed. More flexibility in my schedule as a mom. The opportunities for creativity and leadership. And I really enjoy bringing awareness to women’s health in the community, which I’ve prioritized. Almost every month I have a community engagement, and being able to speak to this topic that’s not often discussed and helping women feel less alone.

By starting and running Buy Black NB it helped me with the opening of Oshun. I was a little more methodical. It inspired me to step out on my own and start something. It’s not easy but it felt a little more attainable because I had so many models … of people who are doing it really well.

I have so much gratitude for the experience that I got from directing a platform and being a spokesperson for the Black community, and for the people that allowed me to do that. I’m so grateful because I didn’t have any business experience and I feel that it helped me to feel prepared for this. I didn’t know at the time that that’s what it would do.

Justina Perry, founder of Buy Black NB and owner of Oshun Physical Therapy & Pelvic Health in New Bedford. Credit: Sean McCarthy / The New Bedford Light

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Justina Perry, founder of Buy Black NB and owner of Oshun Physical Therapy & Pelvic Health in New Bedford. Credit: Sean McCarthy / The New Bedford Light

NBL: Would you like to be a role model for young Black women in the South Coast, and if so, how?

JP: I think that it is important to have people who inspire you that you can see yourself in. And that can be in different areas of your life — a spiritual role model, a career role model, or somebody who is a role model throughout your education. For me, I missed out on that in my education. I had one Black teacher … from first grade through high school, college and grad school. I had one teacher of color, who was Mr. Nichols in the seventh grade. I know how profound that experience was for me, and that I missed out on it throughout all of my education. 

So if I could do that for someone, the way I live my life, knowing that somebody’s watching me — my daughter — I am confident in the life I’m living because she’s looking up to me. So I’m intentional about choosing to live my life in line with my values, to follow through on things when I say I’m going to do it. One thing that I’m working really hard to model is that your health and wellness are important and that you have to offer that to yourself, and care for yourself, so that you can in turn care for others and give back to your community. It is important to me that I’m able to model her behavior.

Sean McCarthy is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to The New Bedford Light.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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