When George Floyd was murdered in 2020, Maine native and state Senate candidate Dustin Ward was moved to step away from a career in ministry and confront racism at home.

In partnership with longtime librarian Elizabeth Manning, Ward launched a series of discussions in Cumberland to address biases and misconceptions of Black Americans. Now, four years later, Ward and Manning continue their work with an in-depth literary study series on race and equity at the Patten Free Library in Bath.

After transferring to Bath’s library in 2023, Manning gauged that there was community interest in discussing racism and reached out to Ward to do an in-depth literary series.

“The books on race in particular in America are pretty hot right now,” Manning said. “We respond to people’s needs. So much can be approached through books, and librarians have the capacity to bring people, books and ideas together.”

Manning organized the series using grant funding from the Maine Humanities Council, which aims to use literature to connect Mainers over important issues. The study sessions, which began in February over Zoom, explore the works of Malcolm X, Trevor Noah and Octavia Butler.

In comparison to discussions on race in 2020, Ward has noticed considerable change in how residents approach the topic.


“When we first started, the first two courses I did back in 2020 and 2021 (had) a lot of questions,” Ward said. “We were in sort of a season of people really uncovering things that they had never learned before.”

Now, people are in their “processing phase,” Ward said. In the series, participants are often knowledgeable of Black history and bring the conversation to a deeper level, frequently calling for more action and change.

In the Zoom session on March 13, 16 participants discussed Malcolm X and his philosophy, referencing key moments in Civil Rights history. Ward addressed the concept of “othering” Black Americans, which can happen through policies such as stop and frisk or often racially charged terms such as “illegals” when referring to immigrants.

In these discussions, Ward noted that most participants are white women who lived through the Civil Rights era. Knowing the attending demographic may have engrained biases on race, Ward said he aims to provide a welcoming space where participants can learn how to apply a new mindset in today’s racial climate.

In his sessions, Ward approaches discussion with a softness that encourages people to keep asking questions — a method that “calls them in” versus calling them out, as he put it. While he will still address rhetoric that may be problematic, Ward said he aims to clarify and identify key takeaways from participants’ contributions.

“You have a lot of folks who are willing to shift on what they have learned at a younger age,” he said. “I always bring the perception that I am here to educate. That means I will call things out — not to demonize, not to bring people down — but to sort of give the tools and the language to be able to move forward and not create the same mistake.”

The literary series will be held every other Wednesday over Zoom until the last session on April 17. The next meeting is at 6:30 p.m. on March 27. Those interested in participating can contact the Patten Free Library at 443-5141.

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