Mabel Ney has created a series of portraits of Black Mainers to highlight their work throughout the state. Portrait subjects include, clockwise from top left: Safiya Khalid, Angela Okafur, Rachel Talbot Ross, Shay Stewart-Bouley, Pious Ali, Gerald Talbot, Garrett Stewart and Abdulkadir Ali. Courtesy image

PORTLAND — An artist hopes a portrait series she started earlier this year will remind people of Black Mainers’ contributions to the state.

“I realized I have very little interaction with the Black people in my community and almost no understanding of the Black story in Maine,” said Mabel Ney of Saco. “It was as I started to become more connected that I decided to start a series to help shed some light on what our Black neighbors bring to our state.”

Mabel Ney started a portrait series to help tell the story of Black Mainers and the role they play in this state. Courtesy photo

Her Black Mainers series so far includes portraits of Portland residents Shay Stewart-Bouley, Pious Ali, Abdulkadir Ali, Garrett Stewart, Rachel Talbot Ross and Gerald Talbot, as well as Lewiston City Councilor Safiya Khalid and Angela Okafur, a Bangor city councilor, lawyer and business owner.

The series is heavy with politicians and those with connections to Portland, but Ney plans to branch out.

“I want to make sure I represent people outside of Portland and have a mix of ages,” she said.

Ney was working on the Stewart-Bouley portrait when George Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. It was then she knew she wanted to do more portraits to highlight the work of the immigrant and multicultural communities.

“I just kept going because as I finished with one person, it led me to another,” she said.

Each portrait is shared on her website and each includes a narrative detailing their story and the work they are doing in the community.

Stewart-Bouley writes the blog Black Girl in Maine and is executive director of Community Change Inc., a nonprofit that promotes racial justice and equality by bringing people together to challenge systemic racism through education and action.

Pious Ali has been an at-large city councilor in Portland since 2016 and prior to that served a term on the Portland Board of Education. He works as the program director of Portland Empowered at the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service, is the founder of the Maine Interfaith Youth Alliance and, along with Abdulkadir Ali, is a member of the City Council’s Racial Equity Steering Committee.

Abdulkadir Ali is the artistic director of Maine Inside Out, a organization that helps incarcerated youth tell stories through performing arts, is the lead Portland organizer for Maine Youth Justice and is a youth advocate for the Young People Caucus.

Stewart, a shipfitter at Bath Iron Works, is a member of the Permanent Commission for the Status on Racial, Indigenous and Tribal Populations, a group set up by the Legislature in 2019 that this summer recommended ways to deal with racial injustice statewide. He also is trying to start a local chapter of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, a labor union that fights for racial equity and economic justice.

Talbot, a former state legislator, spent much of his career fighting for civil rights and took part in the March on Washington in 1963. Earlier this year Riverton Elementary School was renamed in honor of Talbot, who in 1995 donated to the University of Southern Maine his collection of personal papers, books, artifacts and photographs documenting African Americans in the United States, particularly in Maine.

Talbot’s daughter, Talbot Ross, was last week reelected as a state representative and chairs the Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous and Maine Tribal Populations. Also last week, the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine named Talbot Ross the 2020 winner of the Gerda Haas Award for Excellence in Human Rights and Leadership, an honor Pious Ali won in 2017.

Pious Ali said he is honored to be part of the Ney’s Black Mainers series.

“I am grateful she added me to the list,” he said. “I have seen her work and everyone on the list is doing great work to make our city, our state and our world a better place.”

He said he and the others are doing the work not for accolades but because they believe in it, but “having her showcase the work we are doing is great.”

Ney is working on a portraits of Craig Hickman, an organic farmer and small business owner who represents Readfield, Winthrop and part of Monmouth in the Maine House of Representatives,  and Chanel Lewis, Head of Global Diversity and Inclusion for IDEXX in Westbrook and a member of the Portland Parks Conservancy.


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