Internships expand, support Abyssinian restoration in Portland

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PORTLAND — The Abyssinian Meeting House, the third oldest black congregational church in the nation, held a reception last weekend to mark the African American holiday of Juneteenth and introduce new interns. 

Almost 20 years have passed since the founding of the Committee to Restore the Abyssinian in 1996. Committee founder Deborah Cummings Khadourai was present Saturday to speak to visitors about the significance of the building at 73-75 Newbury St. and the progress of the restoration. 

The city recently awarded the committee almost $118,000 for the nationally registered historic site through a Community Development Block Grant. Khadourai expressed gratitude for the funds, but noted that the estimated cost for restoration of only one side of the building is $250,000. The price range to replace just one window is $10,000-15,000.

Leonard Cummings Sr., chairman of the executive committee, estimated costs from beginning to completion at $3 million. Fundraising remains a central focus of the committee’s efforts, with programming plans contingent on restoration progress. 

Recent milestones include containing a free-flowing stream that continuously ran through the basement, the discovery of an operational wooden pipe on the property, fixing the roof and uncovering original timbers.

There aren’t any paid staff working for the project. Volunteers, including architects, engineers and geologists have provided vital support to the restoration efforts. Last year, the committee began an internship program with three participants. The program expanded this year with seven interns from about 20 applicants.

Some of the current interns were introduced at the open house. The event was the first day on the job for three of the paid interns expected to participate: Aprille Roseboro, 15, and Kahdeem Soul, 19, both of Portland, and Kiarah Luter, 19, of Westbrook.

Each has a specific skill set that they will utilize.

Roseboro has plans to create an educational graphic novel about the meeting house; Luter, who is a sophomore at Hampton University, majoring in international relations, hasn’t quite decided on a project, but she said she was happy to learn that “there is a black history here.” Similarly, Soul was uncertain about what his exact contribution would be, but with a range of talents including videography, digital art and photography, he is certain it will be a visual project.

The open house, attended by about 50 people, was held to mark June 19, also known as Juneteenth, which is celebrated as the day slavery effectively ended. The meeting house is of considerable significance to the Portland community, a nationally recognized landmark due to it’s role in the Underground Railroad.

Many visitors were visibly moved by their experience in the building. One remarked that she had lived on Munjoy Hill her entire life and had always been curious about the meeting house. Reading the informational display, she simply said, “I never knew.”

The committee’s newest board member, Shelley Roseboro of Portland, expressed her interests in the multitude of personal stories connected to the Abyssinian, citing Francis Harper in particular. 

“It’s powerful just to be in this space. It was a safe place for African Americans,” Roseboro said. “… The abolitionist movement was a peaceful movement that really helped shape Maine’s values.”

Marena Blanchard is The Forecaster news assistant. She can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 115 or Follow her on Twitter: @soapboxnoise.

Sidebar Elements

Community members discuss the history of the Abyssinian Meeting House in Portland on Saturday, June 23.

Saturday’s open house was the first day on the job at the Abyssinian Meeting House for interns Khadeem Soul, left, Aprille Roseboro, and Kiarah Luter.

A sign on the outside of the building tracks the progress of restoration at the Abyssinian Meeting House in Portland.

Tour the Abyssinian

Another open house is scheduled for July 7, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., at the Abyssinian Meeting House, 73-75 Newbury St., Portland. There will be light refreshments and a tour of the site.

For more information and to make donations, visit the website,