A new chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice, called Biddeford Saco Area SURJ, has formed to examine racial issues in the area. In June, a demonstration at Mechanic’s Park in Biddeford drew between 200 and 250 people. Courtesy Photo/Biddeford Saco Area SURJ

BIDDEFORD — When some local women got together to host a demonstration following the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and subsequent arrest of four police officers charged with his killing, they figured 35 to 40 people might show up.

The event, held June 1 in Biddeford’s Mechanic’s Park, drew many more than they expected — between 200 and 250 people, organizers estimated. Several people stepped forward and spoke about racism and racial justice.

Holly Culloton, Delilah Poupore and Sandy Katz organized that first event, and now, others are involved. They’re forming the Biddeford and Saco area chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice, called SURJ.

Floyd’s death was the catalyst.

“We felt it was a turning point and people around the country felt it was a turning point, and this had to stop,” said Culloton. “We want to play an active role in dismantling racism in our community.”

The George Floyd killing and the activism from Black Lives Matter “made it clearer than ever that we have not addressed the system of racism in the U.S.,” Poupore said.

“And while activism tends to happen in larger cities, a group of us wanted to make addressing racism a part of daily life in Biddeford and Saco,” she said. “SURJ is a national organization that’s put a lot of thought into how white people can be anti-racist allies, how to put issues of classism at the center of the conversation, and really how to build an inclusive movement. ”

Katz said she’s always been a political person, and had been aware of racial injustice since she was a teen.

She and others involved want to effect change, she said. With COVID-19 still in the mix, so far, meetings have been online, and there’s a list of about 90 people who are interested in joining. People from around the area have expressed interest, Katz said, noting some are from Sanford and Portland, but she said most are local.

The group recently hosted a public reading of the Frederick Douglass speech “What to the Slave is the 4th of July?” at Mechanics Park.

“We’re pleased with the response, and people seem to be interested in studying, learning, taking some action,”
said Katz of the group.

Biddeford Saco Area SURJ is interested in speaking with members of the  Saco Police Department and learning about their policies, she said.

Questions about anti-bias training, de-escalation strategies and related matters have been asked of Biddeford Police, said Culloton. She said the group also wants to have a conversation with school leaders.

“During COVID so many of us feel like we need to hunker down until things get back to ‘normal,'” said Poupore. “But my connections with Black, Indigenous and other people of color in Maine has really convinced me that we can work together to create something better than the old normal.”

Katz agreed.

“Holding a street sign is great, and it gets the word out so that’s good, but it doesn’t change policies,” said Katz.

For more information on the organization, go to: https://www.facebook.com/SURJ-Biddeford-Saco-Area-100549628393709/

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