SOUTH PORTLAND — The city council has approved the creation of a human rights commission, an effort to prevent hate and discrimination in South Portland, on Sept. 29.

Chapter 10 of the city’s code of ordinance was amended to enact the South Portland Human Rights Commission, which states that the commission will work with marginalized groups, including black, indigenous and people of color, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, and low-income families, “in order to build community, provide education and training, celebrate diversity and inclusion, increase community engagement, and review policies and provide policy recommendations to the city council and the city manager.”

City Manager Scott Morelli said that the ordinance goes into effect 20 days after approval, and the committee could begin meeting as soon as the end of October.

Councilors will need to bring forward a nominee from each of their own districts and then two additional residents will be approved by the city council, Morelli said. There will also be a youth representative selected to serve on the commission.

Residents can find an application for the commission on the city’s website, and Councilor Deqa Dhalac said that  public interest is already strong.

Councilor Katelyn Bruzgo said that it “warmed (her) heart” to see how committed the city is to making changes to diversity and inclusion issues.

“We have some other committees where it’s a little harder to find people and we have to reach out a little bit more, but with this one, it’s incredible to see the interest and positive support in general,” she said. ” Equality is something we need to constantly strive for.”

While the council cannot appoint everyone, Dhalac said that the commission will likely create subcommittees and applications will be kept on file.

Margaret Brownlee is spearheading efforts to create a human rights commission in South Portland. Margaret Brownlee

Margaret Brownlee, a South Portland resident, helped with the shaping of the commission, researching and collecting data of other communities that have human rights commissions already in place, she said earlier in the summer.

She thanked city councilors for their support.

“You have come together during a pandemic and the craziest of times to support something that was almost unheard of,” she said. “It’s amazing. We’re doing this together in support of our community, to support social justice, social change and inclusion. We’re doing this to support each other and it’s a really big deal, not just for us, but for future generations.”

Councilor Misha Pride said that he was proud of the city council and residents for bringing this commission into reality.

“I really feel like we’re taking concrete steps in the city to really put action to words,” he said. “We didn’t just pass a statement condemning racism and discrimination — We’re doing something about racism and discrimination.”

This commission is a great start, said Councilor April Caricchio. A resident recently sent the council a letter about flyers that were asking people to put away their “Black Lives Matter” signs.

“We’re not done, and it’s not over,” she said.

Carrichio said that the commission will provide people of many different backgrounds the opportunity to have a voice that may have been overshadowed in the past.

“It think it’s about time, and I think one of the reasons we have so much interest in being on this committee is that it’s a reflection of people who have not had a voice, and so now this is an opportunity for people to have a voice and to come together in power and to speak out for their needs in the community in a way that they had not been recognized in the past,” she said. “And it’s long overdue. Historically, institutions we recognize in this community and across the nation are institutions that are traditionally white, male, a particular economic demographic, and those are the voices that have the power … I’m very pleased to see these people that are actually going to be coming together and making these changes to our community.”

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