Community Listening Session Reveals Lived Experiences of Systemic Racism in Maine
LEWISTON - The Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous, and Tribal Populations hosted a community listening session at the Agora Grand Event Center in Lewiston on Sunday, July 23. The community listening session provided an opportunity for the Permanent Commission to hear directly from racial, Indigenous, and tribal populations about their lived experiences related to disparities caused by systemic racism in Maine.
The event was part of a series that will contribute to the Permanent Commission’s goal to build the capacity of overburdened communities to identify issues that affect their communities and participate in, influence, and take on leadership roles in related decision-making processes. One previous event was held in Bangor in December 2022 and future events will be held in other towns and cities across the state.
The listening session was attended by a diverse group of about 30 people, who shared their experiences and views of the challenges faced by everyone in Maine, but are exacerbated by racial and tribal status. Some of the topics discussed by attendees were housing, reproductive justice, tribal sovereignty, and access to child care.
“Community engagement lies at the heart of the Permanent Commission’s mission and shapes the way we carry out our work. In statute, the Permanent Commission is tasked with the duty to hold public hearings to center and amplify the voices of historically disadvantaged populations,” said Ariel Ricci, Executive Director of the Permanent Commission. “More than informants or consultants, members of these communities are essential partners helping to define the Permanent Commission’s direction and approach. Our priority is hearing from these community members and creating a space where they feel comfortable enough to share their experiences.”
“As the newest Commissioner appointed to the Permanent Commission, I was honored to be a part of this community listening session that created space for people most impacted by racial disparities as they gave voice to their own lived experiences,” said Commissioner Reggie Parson, who serves on the Permanent Commission in a seat representing youth. “Hearing directly from communities is vital to the effort to dismantle structural racism so nothing stands in the way of a good life – the way it should be – for all those who call Maine home.”
“For too long, Maine and the United States have allowed the institutions and policies that drive structural racism to continue,” said Commissioner Bruce King, who serves on the Permanent Commission in a seat representing a historically disadvantaged population. “These structures hurt all of us, including rural Mainers, Black and African American people, Indigenous people, other people of color, and all Maine people struggling to thrive under these systems. Empowering communities to speak up about the barriers we face is a crucial step toward a more just and better way of life for all of us.”
“I am so proud of this community for showing up to share real lived experiences of racial disparities that exist in Maine,” said Commissioner Keith Bisson, who serves on the Permanent Commission in a seat representing a community development financial institution. “The Permanent Commission’s charge is to examine racial disparities in Maine–disparities that ultimately hurt each one of us. Hearing directly from people who have experienced these disparities first-hand is essential to that work.”
The Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous, and Tribal Populations was established in 2019, with the enactment of LD 777 and began its work in late 2021, after receiving its first funding with the enactment of LD 1034. The Permanent Commission has a mission to examine racial disparities across all systems with a goal of improving the status and outcomes for historically disadvantaged racial, Indigenous, and tribal populations in the state. The Permanent Commission is empowered to advise all three branches of Maine government and to introduce legislation.