Winter is so much fun in Maine. That is, only if you enjoy Maine winter sports. But these sports are not shared by Maine’s newest citizens or to-be citizens. It is an expensive sports season. If you’ve ever visited Portland’s Back Cove on summer afternoons, you may remember the crowd of diverse communities playing soccer and enjoying their time.  That’s the cheapest one can do and the only sport most of us can understand and play. But do you go to Maine’s popular hiking spots – Acadia, Katahdin and others – and if so, how often do you come across immigrants hiking there? Not that often. I started hiking the summer of 2020, and Mainers would welcome me with curiosity and sometimes surprised faces.

Abdi Nor Iftin is a Somali-American writer, radio journalist and public speaker. He lives in Yarmouth.

Each season comes with its excitement and activities to do in this beautiful state. But winter is the only season where you can see the large gap between these communities. Maine’s winter sports are not diverse. How many Black hockey players do you know from the state? There are no equivalent words for cross-country skiing or ice skating in the Somali language. There is fat biking, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, downhill skiing, dog sledding. You name it. None of these are any we ever tried.

Maine’s winters are long, and folks like me who grew up in a civil war and are living with post-traumatic stress should not stay indoors because that does not help with the healing; it deteriorates it. Getting out and having fun helps reduce PTSD and improve mental health. This January, as snow arrived in Maine, I bought expensive skis and ice skates to try to fit in with the Maine winter sports. The skis and skates in total cost me nearly a $1,000, but I was determined to try and at least join the Mainers who are cross-country skiing in the woods or skating at the rinks. I probably surprised many skiers when we bumped into each other on the trails. How often do you see a Black man skiing in Maine? The kids at the rink in Yarmouth would not look away when I walked on to the ice with my skates on and took a fall every so often. I felt uncomfortable because it was so easy to notice me. I was the only Black man on the rink. I wish participants were as diverse as the Maine winter activities are.

But with the disparities in Maine between Blacks and whites, how will I ever see Maine’s minorities enjoying winter sports? According to The Racial Wealth Gap & Unemployment Rates published by the Portland Office of Economic Opportunity, we are in one of the whitest states in the nation, where white family wealth is seven times greater than Black family wealth and five times greater than the Hispanic family wealth. Data from the Office of Economic Opportunity shows that in Maine, the Black worker earns on average 78 cents for every $1 earned by the white worker. This can discourage minorities to try the expensive winter sports.

So, would ski resorts consider a discount for families from minority communities? Will some Mainers be willing to join and help their new Mainer neighbors enjoy winter sports? If so, I am sure there are many members in the minority communities that would love to do that. While there are other issues that we deal with, including discrimination in the system, police brutality and education gaps, I think we deserve to be part of the joys of Maine.

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