The Biddeford City Council has created a new diversity, equity and inclusion committee for the city and is asking the public for volunteers to join it.

The council approved a proposal to create the committee at a special meeting on Jan. 17. A detailed proposal provided to the council and available on the city’s website described the committee’s purpose as, “To create a culture of acceptance and mutual respect that acknowledges differences and strives for equitable outcomes of opportunity, access and inclusion.”

According to the proposal, the committee will serve as an adviser to the council on diversity issues, both regarding new policies or proposals and following reviews of existing policies. The committee will meet once a month, and consist of nine members that each serve a two-year term. 

Anyone can apply to become a member as long as they live, own a business or attend school in the city. The mayor will appoint members, with confirmation from the council.

“If we are to continue to prosper and develop, it is important that we become more aware and understanding of each other and appreciate our cultural, ethnic, gender, and racial differences. We have to build bridges to each other and to our neighborhoods, because, after all, we all want the same thing: a home in which we feel safe, a city in which we can blossom, and a community that makes us feel appreciated, understood, and heard," Mayor Alan Casavant said in a statement announcing the new committee.

At the same Jan. 17 meeting, the council also voted to establish June 19 as a citywide holiday. The holiday observes Juneteenth, a federal holiday on the same date that commemorates the emancipation of American slaves. 

The federal government and multiple state and municipal governments nationwide moved to acknowledge the holiday following the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement in the spring and summer of 2020. The council’s packet for the Jan. 17 meeting included a list of 30 different communities in Maine that have already adopted the holiday or have announced they will observe it as they do all state holidays. The list also includes 11 communities that are either considering or in the process of adopting the holiday.

The city clerk’s office confirmed that both Jan. 17 council votes were unanimous.