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Portland Area Municipal Leaders Kick Off Series Of Seminars On Racial Equity

Maine Public File

While Maine lawmakers set the agenda for a state commission on race Wednesday, nearly 150 Portland area municipal leaders joined the first in a series of seminars on how local government can take action on racial equity as well.

The seminars are sponsored by the Greater Portland Council of Governments and led by Tori Pelletier, a Black woman who grew up in Maine. She bore witness to the daily challenges — and all-too-frequent racist abuse — she faces in this state.

"When it comes down to it, it really doesn't matter how much flannel I wear or how often I wear my Bean boots, or the fact that I can eat a lobster proudly without needing a bib or without needing instructions," Pelletier says. "I look different, and I am a different race, and so to some people here I will immediately be summed up as the enemy. The stares and the comments will always happen. Me asking my white friends to accompany me inside stores I am not familiar with will always happen, but I do dream of the day that I can blend into this community."

Other speakers emphasized the need to use data to unearth local inequities and the need to take action through local policy-making that includes racial equity at its core.


Dwayne Marsh, a facilitator who specializes in equity and governance, says that admitting a problem even exists is the essential first step. He recalled the words of a Mainer who said that the state was used to thinking of itself as free of inequity because there were so few people of color here.

"He said one day we realized we're so white because we have racial inequities and that's why they're not here." Marsh said. "And so it's really important to think about that and that notion that we have to understand the most marginalized, the most invisible in our communities, to figure out how it is that we can improve our lives."

The summer-long series of online seminars are open to the public. Future events will focus on employment, zoning and transportation, education and social services, and policing.

Updated 1:01 p.m. July 9, 2020 to include longer version of video from meeting