Oakland Town Manager Gary Bowman, shown at the Town Office in 2017, has formed an organization aimed at supporting the diverse population in central Maine. Morning Sentinel file photo

Local public officials, business owners and organizations have formed a committee to promote diversity in central Maine.

The Kennebec Regional Diversity Initiative was launched after Gary Bowman, the town manager in Oakland, attended a training session in March that was centered around gender identity.

“Equality Maine came up, and officials from Oakland, Winslow, Fairfield and Hallowell got together and we had a day of it,” Bowman said during a telephone interview Thursday. “It was healthy. My employees here got a lot out of it. It was an eye-opener. After seeing the response I got from my staff, I figured this might be something we can try to bring to the table.” 

The goal of the initiative is not necessarily to increase diversity in the region, but to support the population that already lives in the area, including residents of all races, ethnicities, sexualities, gender identities, religions and political beliefs.

“My idea is that we’re public servants, and we have a responsibility to treat everybody in our communities fairly and without bias,” Bowman said. “And we have diversity all through our communities. That is the population that we’re serving.” 

Bowman added the initiative will fulfill its purpose through education and communities’ commitments to a mission statement, the Kennebec Regional Diversity Declaration, published earlier this week.

The declaration reads, in part: “In the Kennebec County region, diversity is a valued part of our history, culture, and identity. We want to engage all members of our community to feel valued, appreciated, and free to be who they are at work and at play, just as much as they are at home. … We declare to engage our community members to develop and create timely and achievable goals we will revisit quarterly to prevent discrimination against our people regardless of religion, geography, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, gender identity or expression, neuro-diversity, disability status, political affiliation, citizenship, income, employment status, and perspective or any other aspect which makes them unique.

“Communities that actively uplift and are diverse and inclusive in these attributes are proven to be better communities where equity is more readily practiced and more naturally observed. We are passionately dedicated to creating an inclusive community that promotes and values diversity. We endeavor to create an inclusive culture where all forms of diversity are seen for their moral worth, as well as the economic value they are.

“Moreover, creating an environment where everyone, from any background, can be their best self is what makes the Kennebec region continue to grow as a resilient community and be on the right side of fairness and justice for all.”

Bowman emphasized that the initiative and its goals are not meant to be politically divisive.

“This is meant to be a nonpolitical process,” Bowman said. “Already we have conservatives, liberal-minded people and moderates, so I think with this project we can all work together in the right way.” 

Not only will the support and promotion of diversity benefit residents, it also has the potential to stimulate the local economy, Bowman said.

“This is also an economic generator for the region, because big companies are attracted to regions who have good diversity plans and statements,” Bowman said. “It improves the quality of life for those living here, it makes a statement and it attracts businesses. We’re hoping we could move this to a place where we have something special here.” 

To help facilitate the initiative, Bowman enlisted the help of diversity consultant Phoenix Mourning-Star of Waterville. Mourning-Star owns Results International Research & Consulting, a company that deals with diversity and inclusion.

To better address specific needs of certain community sectors, the initiative has created eight categories or subgroups: workforce and businesses, education, law enforcement, health, government, recreation, human services and economic growth.

“So with these groups, we’re basically looking at how a city may want to create an ordinance, for example,” Mourning-Star said. “That ordinance might not be the same ordinance that a small business owner might want to attempt to implement.” 

The initiative is acting as a starting point for certain institutions to begin integrating more diversity and inclusion into their operations, according to Mourning-Star.

“We’re just trying to create those what we’re calling on- and off-ramps,” Mourning-Star said. “So maybe you want to get on here and say, ‘We’re ready to start doing some diversity training in our organization,’ versus, ‘Hey, we want to understand what it (diversity) is, and what one might do as a company or an individual.'”

In addition to Bowman and Mourning-Star, the group’s members include Winslow Police Chief Shawn O’Leary; Kim Lindlof, executive director of the Central Maine Growth Council; Jim Dinkle, executive director of FirstPark; Patrick Guerette, chief operating officer of the Alfond Youth & Community Center in Waterville; Mike Guarino, community development director at the Snow Pond Arts Center; and Laura Cyr, executive director of the Kennebec Valley Council of Governments.

Bowman said a representative from Waterville also plans to join the initiative.

Mourning-Star said the Kennebec Regional Diversity Initiative has potential to bring all of central Maine together.

“We’re still trying to get our feet underneath us in the sense that as we bring more people on board, and more individuals, representatives of companies and organizations come on board, we’re still really flexible as to what issues and topics we might attempt to address,” Mourning-Star said.

The initiative’s primary focus, Bowman said, is to support all residents of central Maine.

“This is meant to improve the quality of life within our region,” he said, “and to promote our region as diverse-friendly. We want everyone to know that we’re accepting of them.”

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