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At Lewiston Event, Elected Leaders Urge Immigrant Youth To Get Involved In Politics

Ari Snider
Maine Public
South Portland city councilor Deqa Dhalac speaks during the panel discussion. She encouraged the attendees to show up at their city council meetings and advocate for issues that are important to them.

Gateway Community Services hosted a panel discussion of elected leaders from immigrant communities on Friday in Lewiston, as part of a month-long civic engagement series. Co-sponsored by Lewiston Public Schools, the panel was aimed at encouraging young Mainers of color to get involved in politics.

More than 20 young people showed up at Gateway Community Services’ Lewiston office on Friday evening to hear from Lewiston city councilor Safiya Khalid, South Portland city councilor Deqa Dhalac, and Portland school board member Yusuf Yusuf.

Through a moderated discussion, Khalid, Dhalac, and Yusuf spoke about why they decided to seek elected office, what it was like to run a campaign, and how young people can get involved in all levels of politics.

Ari Snider
Maine Public
Yusuf Yusuf, an at-large member of the Portland school board, gestures while making a point during Friday night's discussion. Yusuf said volunteering for a local campaign can be a good way to get involved in politics for the first time.

Khalid said it’s important to make community connections, something she says kept her motivated while knocking on doors during her campaign.

“[The] majority of the people who opened the doors for me they were welcoming, they were amazing, welcomed me into their homes,” she said. “And that’s what I really kept close to my heart, those precious moments.”

At the same time, the speakers did not sugarcoat the difficulties of holding elected office as a person of color in a state that is predominantly white. They say they’ve confronted racist threats on social media and are sometimes the only ones advocating for their communities at public meetings.

The panel was the second in a four-part series. Upcoming events will include a mock-government exercise and an informational session on how to advocate for policies at a state and local level.

For more information on the civic engagement series, check out the Gateway Community Services Facebook page.