Society Notebook: Maine Black Excellence Awards Honor Champions Of Racial Equity

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Portland-based nonprofit The Third Place held an event to celebrate the winners at Caswell Farm in Gray.

Photos by Amy Paradysz” data-full-size=”” data-should-sell=”no” fetchpriority=”high”>

The Third Place, a Portland-based nonprofit that creates social and professional opportunities for Black Mainers, honored nine community leaders who are championing racial justice, building racial equity and supporting Black social and cultural infrastructure in Maine. About 150 people – all identifying as a person of color or an ally in supporting a diverse, equitable and inclusive Maine – attended the Maine Black Excellence Awards, a four-hour event Aug. 13 at a Black-owned wedding venue, Caswell Farm in Gray.

“It’s so rewarding having everyone here,” said host Catherine Caswell. “My dream is to bring different people, cultures and flavors together.”

The event included a leisurely cocktail reception and a Southern-inspired BBQ dinner catered by Bab’s Table. Soul singer Kenya Hall, wearing a shirt with the message “Drink Water, Love Hard, Fight Racism,” opened the awards program. Then leaders in business, politics, education and nonprofits were presented with awards designed by Ebenezer Akakpo with the Ghanan symbol for “back to your roots.”

“This awards ceremony is not a competition,” said The Third Place founder Adilah Muhammad. “It’s an opportunity to tell individuals engaged in this work of creating equitable quality of place, belonging and inclusion in Maine that what you’re doing is valuable and we appreciate it.”

As State Sen. Jill Duson of Portland accepted the Trailblazer Award, she remarked, “My inner voice sings words I have shared with BIPOC folks considering taking on public service, an entrepreneurial adventure, a new or more complex position with a Maine company, or having or expanding a family in Maine: Be bold.”

Several honorees have certainly been bold – seeing a need in the community and leading a team to address it.

Amran Osman, in her grief after losing a brother to an overdose, founded the nonprofit Generational Noor, which works to destigmatize the topics of substance abuse and mental health among Muslim immigrants.

Congolese immigrant Georges Budagu Makoko understood firsthand the need for immigrant-focused news published in multiple languages and launched the multicultural newspaper Amjambo Africa in 2018.

Janine “JG” Georgette, an avid sailor who has helped organize annual Juneteenth events in Ellsworth since 2021, was disappointed by how few people of color she saw on the water. Under her leadership, Juneteenth Downeast now offers swim lessons and Weekend on the Water programs with fishing, birding and nature walks.

Honorees also included Claude Rwaganje, founder of ProsperityME; Ali Abdullahi, executive director of Gateway Community Services; Quincy Hentzel, executive director of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce; Philip Walsh, executive director of Maine Initiatives; and Julia Hazel, Portland Public Schools’ director of BIPOC career pathways and leadership development.

“Your voices made my position possible,” Hazel said, “and I appreciate the opportunity to continue listening as I support individuals and work for systems change that will lift us all.”

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at

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