A social worker who ran for the Bangor City Council last fall will chair the city’s newly formed diversity and racial equity committee, as it advises the city on new policies and hiring.
Bangor’s Racial Equity, Inclusion and Human Rights Committee met for the first time Friday and chose Dina Yacoubagha as its chair. A native of Syria, Yacoubagha was one of eight candidates for three City Council seats last November, placing fourth.
The Bangor City Council approved the new committee last October, following the lead of the Bangor School Department, which formed its own committee to advise the superintendent on matters of diversity, racial equity and inclusion after a group of Black Bangor High School students shared their experiences with racism at the predominantly white school.
The nine-member committee’s work will include reviewing and providing input on city policies; working with hiring managers to build and retain a diverse workforce; and creating educational opportunities focused on religious and sexual identity, gender expression and race, Yacoubagha said.
The committee will begin its work by reviewing the Bangor Police Department’s policy on body cameras, which the city council authorized for the department last year. The committee also plans to work with the Greater Bangor Housing Coalition on homelessness, and collaborate with the school department’s committee on diversity and inclusion to make sure the city’s public schools continue addressing racism and discrimination.
“Even though we’re acting in an advisory capacity, I have a feeling like there is a tendency to listen to our recommendations and to truly consider whatever we will recommend,” Yacoubagha said.
Other members of the committee include Racial Equity and Justice founders David Patrick and Desiree Vargas, who trained some city employees and teachers on racial sensitivity last year. The committee also is supposed to have representation from the Penobscot Nation, the local branch of the NAACP, LGBTQ interests, local businesses, local colleges and other interests.
As a woman of color, Yacoubagha said she knows many Bangor-area residents from a range of racial, religious and cultural backgrounds who have experienced racism and discrimation. It’s her goal to create training and educational opportunities to eliminate those problems she has seen friends struggle with, she said.
“I feel like we’re overdue on addressing these issues,” she said. “We need to raise awareness about the importance of training and put policies in place that address inequities and injustices happening in our communities.”
The second meeting is scheduled for the last Friday in March. After that, the committee will meet every three months.