Giving Compass' Take:

• Ed Cervone discusses how MaineSpark is working to address racial equity in Maine - one of the nation's whitest states. 

• How can funders work to increase racial equity in states regardless of their racial makeup? 

• Learn about an effort to deliver education to students in their homes in Maine

It’s no secret that Maine, and northern New England more broadly, is among the whitest places in the United States. Maine is 95 percent white, compared with 61 percent of the country as a whole. Unfortunately, this fact is used by many as a rationale for not addressing race in our communities, our systems and our work: There are few people of color, people say, so race is not an issue. But at MaineSpark, a diverse alliance of education organizations, government agencies and business leaders, we are committed to preparing all students in our state for college and careers. That means addressing racial inequity head-on.

Grassroots organizations across Maine have been doing this work with and on behalf of communities of color, including immigrants and refugees, for years. But larger organizations and institutions have lagged behind. Education leaders across the state and region need to acknowledge that we’re providing a grossly inadequate experience to our students by not addressing issues of race in their learning, from the classroom to the schoolyard. And that means we have to talk about race, equity, diversity and inclusion inside our own organizations as well, including examining our own biases, discussing the ongoing effects of structural racism and elevating underrepresented voices.

It’s difficult and uncomfortable work, and we’re the first to acknowledge that we’re still figuring out how to do it. We’re confident we will continue to stumble along the way. But today and going forward, we are committing to prioritizing this critical issue.

Another reason it’s so hard to discuss racial inequity in Maine is the prevalence of generational poverty. Fully half of Maine students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. In some schools, that metric is 100 percent. Schools are feeding, clothing and providing mental health care to too many students in Maine on a daily basis, often without adequate resources.

MaineSpark is responding to this resistance by making a stronger case for why we need to address equity in terms of both poverty and race across the state. The first step is to challenge the key assumptions that hinder serious conversations about race in Maine.

To start with, we need to acknowledge that, despite Maine’s relative lack of diversity, race has been and continues to be a real issue.

Second, we must disaggregate statewide data that obscure Maine’s local diversity.

In our increasingly diverse and interconnected country and world, all children need exposure to and understanding of diverse individuals and perspectives to flourish in college and careers. The absence of racial diversity should be the impetus for action — not a justification for the status quo.

Read the full article about racial equity in Maine by Ed Cervone at The 74.