Melanie Thomas is the co-chair of Cape Elizabeth’s new ad hoc civil rights committee. Courtesy / Melanie Thomas

CAPE ELIZABETH — Melanie Thomas has wanted to make sure people of color have a voice in town business for years, and now not only is there a committee in place to do just that, she gets to co-chair it.

“It’s a long time coming,” she said this week.

Town officials made the committee an official entity at a meeting Sept. 15, and later appointed seven members: Thomas, her co-chair Keyla Alston, along with residents Dheeraj Khare, Kimberly Monaghan, Paul Seidman, Jim Sparks and Rafina Young. Miriam Esch Levanos, a sophomore at Cape Elizabeth High School, will serve as a non-voting student representative. Town Councilor Valerie Deveraux, a non-voting member, will serve as liaison to the council. She said the committee hopes to add another student representative.

“I’m really excited about it,” Deveraux said. “We had such a good outpouring of people who were interested in being on the committee, and that was heartwarming to me.”

The committee held its first organizational meeting in late September and will meet again Thursday, Oct. 15 via Zoom. More information on connecting to the meeting and the agenda are on the town’s website. According to a description of the committee on the town’s website, its purpose is to “identify and review policies in town government, services and municipal departments that contribute to systemic and structural racism and recommending policy changes.”In more practical terms, Deveraux said, the committee will serve as adviser to the town council on matters of diversity and racism as they relate to municipal tasks such as departmental policies and the town’s comprehensive plan.

Thomas has served for at least four years on the Cape Diversity Coalition, a group of local residents opposed to racism and similar forms of discrimination. She said she wants to eventually address issues such as affordable housing and police education/bias training, saying, “Those two are really huge to me,” but right now she’s more interested in getting to know the other members first.

Deveraux said the school board is also working on a similar advisory committee, and “We’re looking to work together with that committee also.”

Town councilors have said 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.

Deveraux said she hopes the committee will help address any signs of systemic racism in the community.

“It’s concerning for all of us,” she said.

Sean Murphy 780-9094

Email: [email protected]

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