LEWISTON — Community leaders said longstanding, systemic racism in the Lewiston-Auburn area, the state of Maine and throughout the world will not be overcome without individuals speaking out against racism as it occurs and doing something to empower people of color and immigrants.

“You have an opportunity to rewrite the narrative about your city as it relates to racism,” said Mufalo Chitam, executive director of Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, in a keynote address Saturday at the YWCA event, “Immigrant Justice is Racial Justice: No Hate. No Fear.”

Chitam said organizations and businesses can make a positive impact by hiring immigrants and people of color. Individuals can make change by saying something against racist comments and through supportive acts such as funding a scholarship for a person of color, or helping pay for child care or medication for an immigrant.

Mufalo Chitam, executive director of the Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, delivers the keynote address to the Stand Against Racism event at the YWCA of Central Maine in Lewiston on Saturday morning. Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn

“This is how we can change the system. It is time. It is your time to change the history of racism,” Chitam said, urging residents to answer “every bad act that comes out of this area with a good act.”

The immigrant justice event was part of Stand Against Racism, the YWCA’s annual national campaign, and Saturday was a day of action for immigrants across the country at the individual YWCA centers.

“Taking a stand means talking about race, because our collective silence means quiet consent and acceptance, particularly for those who perpetrate racism and those who experience it,” said Melanie LaMore Gagnon,  executive director of the YWCA of Central Maine.

To organize the program, the YWCA formed a committee of planning partners, including Seeds of Peace, New Mainers Public Health Initiative, Green Dot, Maine Community Integration, Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition and Immigrant Resource Center of Maine.

The program of events included a screening Friday of the film, “Reason 4369,” directed by ZamZam Elmoge and produced by a group of Lewiston High School students. The film tells the personal stories of several Lewiston kids in an effort to break stereotypes. A discussion with audience members followed both the film screening and the keynote address.

“Hate speech escalates into violence, particularly in schools. We want to have conversations before that point, to come to an understanding ahead of confrontation,” said Maggie Davis, director of programs and mission impact at the YWCA of Central Maine and coordinator the immigrant justice event.

Zamzam Elmoge, second from right, chats with Mufalo Chitam, executive director of the Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, before a breakout session at the Stand Against Racism event held at the YWCA of Central Maine in Lewiston on Saturday. Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn

Davis said the event was not only aimed at listening to what immigrant leaders have to say and having uncomfortable conversations, but also having participants make pledges about what they can do to make Lewiston-Auburn and other communities safer, more inclusive and better places to live for everyone.

“A lot of work is happening cooperatively to create this impact we are talking about,” Davis said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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