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200 Maine schools celebrate 'day of welcome'

The state's civil rights project has been operating for 25 years.

YARMOUTH, Maine — Amelia Kostin helps run the civil rights team at Yarmouth High School. Now a senior, she’s as passionate as she was three years ago.

“It’s really important to me that everyone is given a fair and equitable shot at learning in their school environment and also participating in the school culture,” she said in an interview with NEWS CENTER Maine, as her team met after school.

Yarmouth is one of 200 Maine schools with a civil rights team, all part of the state’s 25-year-old Civil Rights Team Project, run by Brandon Baldwin of the attorney general’s office.

“What appears to be a lack of obvious diversity in many of our communities can make it so that we have to overcome some of what people assume about civil rights work,” he said in a Friday video interview.

Maine is the whitest state in the United States, according to the 2020 census. Baldwin said that is not a reason to relax civil rights commitments, but rather that it should push Mainers even more to respect and understand others, as minorities are even more easily marginalized in our state.

Sarah Harrington, a teacher, oversees Yarmouth’s team and agrees with Baldwin’s assessment.

“They’re gonna live and work with people who aren’t the WASP-y people that they’re used to,” she said of her students.

“We want to make this a place where anybody who has a difference that they feel marginalized by, or that is impacting them in a negative way, can feel like they can come and be themselves.”

The state’s teams celebrated an annual tradition called the “Day of Welcome.” Students created banners and activities to welcome students of all races and skin colors, national origins, religions, disabilities, gender, and sexual orientation – the six core issues of the Civil Rights Team Project.

The day of welcome is a celebration, but those on Yarmouth’s team and beyond wanted us to know a lot of work goes into trying to affect positive change in their schools.

“It doesn’t feel hard,” Harrington said. “It’s a lot of work, but the work is so worth it that I speak for all of us when I say that we’re ready to do it and eager.”

And they were, at least, eager enough to spend a Friday afternoon at school, reading survey responses from their peers, long after their friends had gone home for the weekend.

More NEWS CENTER Maine stories. 

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