CAPE ELIZABETH — Nicole Bouchard grew up in Rhode Island, but has lived in Cape Elizabeth for the past 10 years and, along with members of a local organization working to combat racism, is looking forward to town officials finally getting a new diversity advisory committee in place.

The new committee, tentatively titled the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Anti-racism, and Awareness (IDEAA) Committee, would report back to town officials periodically. According to a draft proposal, the committee’s purpose is “to review policies that contribute to systemic racism, make recommendations for policies to promote greater equity and inclusion, draft procedures and provide training that promote diversity, review the Comprehensive Plan to support diversity in housing and transportation.” The committee would have up to seven members, with at least one town councilor and one school board member.

Town councilors have said that the impetus for creating the committee was the national uproar stemming from the death of George Floyd, a black man killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis. In South Portland, officials are working to create a human rights commission for the same reasons.

The Town Council first looked at the proposal at a meeting this week, but tabled any action until after a workshop scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, July 20. Councilor Penny Jordan said she wanted “stronger words as to what the charge is.” Other councilors said the initial proposal is too informal and lacked details, such as how to select the committee’s members and exactly how often they will report to town officials.

Bouchard, who has been a vocal supporter of the formation of the new committee, said she is white, but high school in Rhode Island was only 40% white.

“My culture shock in coming to Cape Elizabeth was in how not diverse it is,” she said.

She recalled volunteering one day in her son’s classroom at Pond Cove Elementary School and seeing a hispanic girl having trouble with her coloring project.

“There were no colored pencils that fit her skin tone,” she said.

Bouchard said she thinks that a lack of diversity can translate to a lack of awareness, and she wants to see her town serve as an example to others of how to be more aware of diversity issues.

“I think we can be forerunners in making things less difficult for people who don’t fit a certain mold,” she said. “I think it was necessary years ago.”

Bouchard said it was up to the people in charge now to “stop waiting on the younger generations to solve our problems. We can do this.”

Melanie Thomas, a member of the Cape Diversity Coalition, a group of local residents opposed to racism and similar forms of discrimination, said the committee will ensure that people of color will “have a voice” in how key decisions at the municipal level are made going forward.

Thomas said one of the committee’s goals should be promoting awareness of racial issues to key decision-makers in town, an awareness that even those with the best of intentions might not know they need.

“It’s one thing to read a book, that’s great, but it’s another thing to understand where other people come from,” she said.

Sean Murphy 780-9094

Email: [email protected]

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