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Maine Makes History With Its First Black Chamber Of Commerce

Joshua Brister, owner of the Lewiston-Auburn Maples, a women’s semiprofessional basketball team in Maine, is creating the state’s first Black chamber of commerce.

The Portland Press Herald reported that Brister registered the Maine Black Chamber of Commerce in June 2023. The Black chamber will lobby for Black businesses in the state.

Brister, a Navy veteran, secured over $400,000 in startup funding and is selecting 15 people for the organization’s board of directors. Per the Herald, he said, “We’re in the incubation stage. It takes conversations and backing to bring intentional, lasting change.” Brister expects the annual budget to be between $1.5 million and $2 million.

Brister believes the state lacks an entity that advocates for and promotes the interests of Black businesses to state leaders. “You have to be talking with city councilors and economic development directors and the candidates running for the State House and the Blaine House in Augusta,” he said.

The paper noted that the registered nonprofit plans to work hand in hand with other organizations vested in the interests of Black businesses, such as Black Owned Maine. Brister said, “We need intentional allies who have funding and are willing to stand by us when times get tough.”

There is room for everyone to lead, and the creator of the Black chamber of commerce said it was “not looking to be confrontational. We don’t want to be bigger or better. We want to be a good chamber with an intentional plan. There’s got to be an engine to engage with if we want to bring positive change.”

While he knows and understands the struggles Black business owners face, not everyone possesses the same awareness. Brister registered the Maine Black Chamber of Commerce after feeling that Black business owners were not addressed at an election forum by the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce. Brister said about the event, “There were 400 to 500 people in the audience, but very few were Black. If candidates aren’t walking into a room full of people that look like me, they’re not going to develop intentional policies and solutions to the challenges facing Black business owners in this state.”

U.S. Black Chambers, Incorporated (USBC) states on its website that there are more than 145 chambers of commerce and business organizations in 42 of the 50 United States. Those chambers represent about 326,000 Black businesses, according to the organization.