In the summer of 2020, following the murder of George Floyd, Edwards and his daughter took to the streets to add their voices to the protests in his hometown of Portland, Maine.
But not everyone could come out and participate in the community rejection of entrenched racism and police brutality in our country. Edwards’ friend Rose Barboza, who also lives in southern Maine, was uncomfortable protesting because her young son has asthma and she wanted to protect him from COVID.
Barboza approached Edwards to talk about other ways she could support the Black Lives Matter movement. One idea of the marketer was to create an e-commerce site. “I will be creating a directory of all black owned businesses in Maine,” she told Edwards.
According to the 2020 census, the black and African American population of Maine is approximately 1.6%. Nonetheless, they run businesses in all parts of the state, from southern Maine to the far north of Aroostook County, and from the Downeast Coast to the western foothills.
Edwards immediately knew that Barboza’s idea had legs. It reminded him of stories he had heard when Steve Jobs first introduced the concept of Apple products (Black worked for Apple in Maine for nearly twelve years). “For a moment all the air is sucked out of the room,” when an idea just lands, he said.
Two sleepless days later, Barboza published the directory of about sixty companies. The only criteria is that a business is at least 50% black owned, and the list includes all types of businesses, from auto repair shops and healthcare providers, to outdoor organizations and businesses. creative services.
News from the site quickly spread online. Journalists began to ask for interviews. Other companies have been added (it now has more than 350 registrations).
As he watched the site take off, clicks piled up and followers grew on social media, Edwards marveled at the response. “I had never seen anything like this in my life,” he said. “There was such a void. You had a group of Americans who were collectively enlightened in a way that they had never been before.”
One of the reasons Black Owned Maine has been successful is because it has provided people – of all races and backgrounds – with another way to protest, another way to support their neighbors, friends and colleagues in Maine. “You had all these people in Maine who didn’t care to argue, didn’t want to go to a protest, but wanted to support black people,” Edwards said. “When they looked up and saw the existence of Black Owned Maine, it was a filled void. We did one thing that exploded because it had to. It exploded because there was space. void in the universe. “
Today, Black Owned Maine has grown beyond the initial directory of businesses and organizations. Over the past year, Barboza and Edwards have expanded the initiative to realize their vision of a comprehensive resource for entrepreneurs and start-ups in the state. With help from nonprofit arts agency Creative Portland, BOM receives tax-deductible donations to support black businesses and help families. This summer, together with Krystal Williams’ consultancy firm, Providentia Group, BOM offered a pilot business incubator and mentorship program for twenty participants. They hired their first staff member, Winston Antoine ’16.
Barboza and Edwards have also started a for-profit arm called Black Owned ME Media which provides audio branding and marketing services, including podcast production and thematic music composition, Edwards’ specialty. He co-produces and hosts the Black Owned Maine podcast, or BOMP, which helped raise awareness of Black Owned Maine.
“Much of our work has taken place in partnerships and collaborations,” he said, including with state agencies such as the Maine Technology Institute, the Maine Economic and Community Development, the city of Portland and other organizations. BOM is also part of a larger state request for federal funding from the Small Business Administration. “We are becoming baked into the fabric of the state. “
From Texas to Maine (and how Jerry Edwards became Genius Black)
Edwards runs his own audio engineering and music production businesses in Portland and raises two children aged seventeen and fourteen.
He was born in Dallas, Texas, and raised in Grand Prairie, which is actually where he was first dubbed with the nickname Genius. “Where we lived in the quarters in Section Eight, I was known as a kid who could help with things, who could solve problems. One time the friends got a computer, and Miss Tweet, the grand- mother of Patrick Sneed, a friend of ours, she said ‘Go get Genius, he can help you.’ ”
In his neighborhood and at his school, the name stuck. And when he started rapping at age fifteen, he decided Genius was a good stage name. It wasn’t until he was at Bowdoin that he added Black. “Being a major in African studies, starting to understand power structures, I added to the nickname. I think black as a color is powerful. Black thought, black art, black culture, black people – it made sense for me to complete my name this way. ”
The fact that Edwards ended up in Bowdoin could be attributed to an act of divine intervention. A talented and high performing student-athlete, he has been courted by universities across the country.
But he wasn’t interested. He asked his mother to keep all glossy brochures out of sight because he was keen to attend only one of the big four universities: the University of Miami, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Syracuse or Tulane University.
He walked into each one and each gave him financial aid, but none provided a full ride, which put him off. He returned home a day after playing sports, and his mother gave him a thin, unopened envelope.
“Mum said, ‘God told me to give this to you,'” he recalls. “And it said Bawh-Doyne, Bow-Din,” he deliberately mispronounced the name. He – nor anyone else he knew in Texas – had never heard of school, let alone knew how to say it correctly. But inside that envelope, the college promised to fly him to campus for Explore Bowdoin, a program for prospective low-income or first-generation students.
He had never taken a plane. He had only taken a few vacations. Going to Maine would take him out of class for a few days. And he felt touched that the school saw something special in him.
So he came to campus for a weekend in the spring. “I loved the intellectual stimulation,” he recalls. “We had some really good conversations over the meals, people lingered and connected. I said, ‘Damn, these are the people I wanna be with, and if they’re here, I wanna be here. “”
At Bowdoin, Edwards majored in African studies and earned a minor in English, and excelled in his acting classes. He did two independent studies with Anthony Walton, senior writer in residence, whom he called “life changing”. “He put life lessons into what we were talking about. It wasn’t light, it was heavy. He made me put out some amazing writing.”
As he neared graduation, he began to consider his next steps, such as attending law school or leaving Maine. But then he and his girlfriend learned that they were expecting a baby. Caring for an infant and attending classes wasn’t easy, but Edwards said the college supported him and provided him with family-friendly accommodation. And despite being the father of an exhausted newborn, he got his best grades in his senior year.
Although he and the mother of his children are no longer together, he remained in Maine to help raise his daughter and son close to their mother’s extended family.
And after all this time here, he now speaks like a proud Mainer. “Unlike a lot of black people and a lot of people I’ve been to Bowdoin with, I’m not trying to get out of here. To make the life I want to live, and be an activist and work and create the life that I want, I don’t have to leave Maine. “
Referring to his friendship with Barboza, who is of mixed descent, he said: “Our experience of perhaps not being the standard of those you see as leaders of Maine, we have decided that we don’t we didn’t need to run away from it, instead we know we can make a difference here.