Dina Yacoubagha knows exactly why she is running for Bangor City Council. “I want to continue to give back to the city that I love tremendously, and that has given me and my family so much.” She and her husband moved to the U.S. from their native Syria 25 years ago, spent a few years in Canada, then settled in Bangor. After considering another move to give their two sons more opportunities, Yacoubagha began volunteering at Literacy Volunteers of Bangor, then at her kids’ schools. She met more people and started liking the city.
In graduate school for teaching English Language Learners, she attended a Food AND Medicine annual meeting. “That was the turning point, honestly, about my whole life,” she said. “It was a calling I felt for social and economic justice.” Food AND Medicine works toward economic and social justice by addressing root causes of poverty. “I felt that was exactly where my passion is. I ‘found myself’ in that meeting.” She earned a University of Maine master’s degree in social work, building on her natural love of people. “I wanted to understand these issues: social justice, economic, mental health, diversity, inclusion.” Her education opened her eyes. “Not everyone is capable of making choices,” she said. “Sometimes you’re so depressed that your situation is controlling you.”
Yacoubagha said, “I feel so proud of Bangor’s economic growth and resilience in the face of COVID-19, and I want to build on our strength. I think we can do so much because we are strong together.” Her City Council priorities are racial equity, economic development, and public services. She wants to have constructive conversations among all stakeholders about racism, equity, and inclusion, and to “create more diversity in city employment, including among firefighters, the police department, and our school system.” She will seek community input about the challenges for small, local businesses due to COVID-19 and find ways to address them, including job training for people reentering the workforce after being laid off, during recovery, or after incarceration. “We must address the needs of the disadvantaged in our community. Homelessness, substance abuse, mental health – they are all intertwined. We can’t address one without addressing the others,” she said. Infrastructure is a broad priority, too, including expanding the bus system, ensuring that city employees have protective equipment, making the city friendlier and safer for seniors, and creating programs that generate safe, affordable, code-compliant housing. “The prices are ridiculous, even for professionals,” she said.
In addition to Food AND Medicine, Yacoubagha has ties to a number of area organizations: Partners for Peace, where she did an internship and stayed to volunteer; mentoring high school girls through the Olympia Snowe Institute; and Faith Linking in Action, where area faith groups jointly address community issues like poverty, social injustice, economic injustice, and racial diversity. Now Yacoubagha knows she is home: “Wherever I go,” she said, “I feel like this is my family.”