“Human history must reflect the survival of a people – my people – who in the midst of legally sanctioned genocide still found the capacity to love, and to courageously fight for the inherent rights of all. My people did this without any promise that the world would disavow the brutal injustice perpetrated against us or act to repair the harm. My people did this believing the transformational power of love will set us all free.”
Rachel Talbot Ross comes from a long line of Black Mainers: nine generations. She grew up in Portland – Maine’s largest city, where her mother also grew up – in a family with three sisters. Although they enjoyed a comfortable working-class life style, they also endured many episodes of discrimination. Ross’s father Gerald “Jerry” Talbot sometimes struggled to keep his family housed, due to overt racism among Portland landlords. A long-time advocate for racial and economic equality, Gerald became the first Black member of the Maine legislature in 1972. (Read more about his many accomplishments for the people of Maine in his AWWT biography.) Forty-four years later, his daughter Rachel followed him into the Maine House – the first Black woman to serve there. And, in December 2022, she was elected Speaker of the Maine House – the first person of color to hold that position.
From a young age, Rachel was aware of her parents’ struggles against racism and their persistent civic and political involvement, to benefit the next generation. After going away to school – Wesleyan University and American University – Talbot returned to Portland, serving as the Director of Equal Opportunity and Multicultural Affairs for the City for twenty-one years. She resigned in 2015, following a local political controversy.
The next year, she defeated two other Democratic candidates in the primary election for a Maine House seat, assuring her a victory in the predominantly Democratic Portland district. During her third two-year term, she was elected to serve as the House assistant majority leader (another political first).
Even before ascending to the top leadership positions, Talbot Ross made her mark in Maine’s State House, serving on key committees: Judiciary, Health & Human Services, and Criminal Justice & Public Safety. She also serves on the Maine State Advisory Committee for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and is chair of the Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous and Maine Tribal Population. In 2021, her bill “LD #2: An Act To Require the Inclusion of Racial Impact Statements in the Legislative Process,” was passed – the eighth state to enact similar requirements. Outside of her legislative role, Ross Talbot has served as president of the Portland branch of the NAACP, helped direct the Maine Freedom Trails project, and co-founded, with Portland city councilor Pious Ali, the Martin Luther King Jr. Fellows program – a youth-led racial justice program for Portland high school students of color.
Perhaps Talbot Ross is best known for her controversial but unapologetic work as a “prison abolitionist.” She firmly believes that by re-investing resources in “upstream” services, to support those who are impoverished and those who struggle with mental illness and substance addiction, we could drastically reduce, if not eliminate, the state’s prison system.
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