Access to Justice, 1021 MEBJ, Pg. 141

PositionVol. 36 3 Pg. 141


No. Vol. 36 No. 3 Pg. 141

Maine Bar Journal

October, 2021


Racial Justice Fund Grantees Pursuing Diverse Initiatives to Benefit Mainers Statewide

Te Maine Justice Foundation’s Racial Justice Fund awarded its inaugural grants in April to six Maine nonprofits committed to projects aimed at addressing systemic racism in Maine. We are honored to showcase their work and highlight how we can expand the definition and administration of justice in Maine. Te Maine Justice Foundation spoke to each of the six organizations to learn about what motivates them, how they want to impact their constituents, and where their biggest challenges are right now.

Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center: “Immigration brings young, motivated, skilled people here.”

Reza Jalali, Executive Director of the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center, came to the United States of America in 1985 from Kurdish territory in Iran via India, where he was pursuing his education. “I came to Maine with two degrees, but I have since gotten two more!”

In that way, he sees himself as typical of most recent immigrants to Maine. “Today’s immigrants are highly educated and multi-lingual, and that is exactly what Maine needs. Our biggest challenge is really changing the narrative to one that immigration is good for Maine. We are an aging state, and immigration brings young, motivated, skilled people here.”

Started in 2017 by Francophone asylum seekers, the Center’s goal is to create a welcoming and accepting place for the professional needs of immigrants. Located on Preble Street in Portland, the Center expanded to a second floor in 2018 to make room for the iEnglish language lab, which the foundation’s Racial Justice Fund is supporting. Te language lab also teaches customer service and other skills.

“English language proficiency continues to be a huge barrier to immigrants here,” Jalali says.

Te Center also has a co-working hub, an entire floor which is dedicated to collaborative efforts and businesses that welcomes nonprofits whose missions align with the Center’s. Te hub contains seven or eight office spaces and about 25 desks.

“Immigrants start businesses at a higher rate than other Americans,” Jalali says. “Part of the reason, I think, is that they have a harder time being hired. Immigrants are not only starting businesses but creating jobs.”

Civic engagement is an important goal of the Center. Jalali says, “We want immigrants to feel a sense of belonging in their communities.” He feels that it is good for Maine: “A good democracy is an inclusive democracy. With 50,000 immigrants in Maine, it is critical that we help them get engaged and for their voices to be heard. It is time to change the narrative that immigrants are here to receive welfare.”

Most of Maine’s immigrants are BIPOC and always face some degree of anti-immigrant sentiment, often with racist undertones. “Te dangerous part is that it has receded [since the presidential election], but it can always resurface. We need to be vigilant.” Jalali sees social justice as a priority for young immigrants. “Tey are self-identifying as BIPOC, not primarily as immigrants. Many of the protest leaders last summer in Portland were immigrants or children of immigrants. I’m hopeful when I look at young leaders.”

Find the Center online at

Downeast Diversity podcast, sponsored by Healthy Acadia: “Why can’t we tell our own story the way we want to tell it?”

When Alyne Cistone left her native Kenya, her grandmother told her that she could connect with and organize people in any culture because there are three universals: food, music, and love for the arts. Cistone, who now lives in Bar Harbor, put the advice to use in her work for causes such as Amnesty International, an AIDS service organization and the Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park.

She credits this path to her parents, teachers, and professors. “They recognized in me what I wasn’t seeing then but that I see...

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