Bangor High School. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.

Ian M. Mette is an associate professor of educational leadership at the University of Maine.  This column reflects his views and expertise and does not speak on behalf of the University of Maine.  He has co-authored a book “The Essential Renewal of America’s Schools: A Leadership Guide for Democratizing Schools from the Inside Out.

Tip O’Neill is credited with saying “all politics is local.” This phrase is about ensuring a governing body addresses the needs of people. That is certainly the case here in Bangor with our local political systems, which belong to the people of Bangor through tax dollar funding and local self-governance. And, it is why it is so important for people to be active in addressing the needs of our community.

I have continually heard that our community is one of the most attractive places to live in Maine. And I want this to be true, but I am convinced that we cannot move Bangor forward into the 21st century until we address some of the major inequities we experience here, most of which are not different from what other parts of the country face. To do so will require that people become interested in local governance, both at the school committee level and in the city council, to help Bangor maintain its status as a progressive community.

First of all, no one should be arguing for Bangor to stay the same as it has for the last several decades. We have major issues of inequity facing our community that need to be addressed now. There is a real need to talk about poverty, substance use disorder and lack of affordable housing that many Bangor children and adults face.  

Chat with nearly anyone in Bangor and almost immediately you will hear one of the biggest cultural divisions is how our community talks about socioeconomic status. In schools, this plays out in the concentration of poverty in specific buildings, access to accelerated and advanced coursework, and after school care.  

We need leaders who can help address these community issues; who can help make our community one of the most equitable in Maine. No Bangor child should have their school talked about as “the poor school,” or not have access to community sports because of fees, or struggle to have expanded quality after school care that can be coordinated within the community. These issues are hard, but through local governance they can be addressed with progressive thinking that targets grant funding and transforms our community from what it is to what could be.

Another topic Bangor must address is our faith in traditionalism. Yes, we live in a good city. And yes, we should be proud of Bangor’s past accomplishments. But if we want the Queen City to grow economically and socially to welcome people in the name of being good neighbors, being a friendly place to raise a family, and being part of helping America heal and address our wrongs of the past, we must be more proactive in welcoming new people and cultures. This means that community issues must be addressed through local leadership.  

We need leaders who are going to be vocal about acknowledging holidays of our Jewish and Muslim sisters and brothers, leaders who will acknowledge gender pay inequity is a very real thing that is still occurring in our community, and leaders who will acknowledge the historical importance of having a woman of color help lead our country. These are not hard things, but they require vocal leadership that is not afraid of confronting prejudice to move us forward. And they are all things I have heard push back on in our community.

Bangor is amazing. But it is not currently built for everyone. We need leaders who are willing to step up, who are willing to address community issues head on, and who are willing to help make Bangor one of the best places to live in Maine. We can do it, but we can’t do it with the tools of the past.  

There are so many great things about Bangor — and it will require all of us to be vocal at the school committee level and within the city council for us to be more progressive, inclusive and equitable. So, be active. Demand to have the voices of the historically marginalized heard. And speak up when someone tries to suppress these conversations. There are so many opportunities to do so here and to help our community and state continue to move into the 21st century.