Grantee Spotlight

Grantee Update: American Civil Liberties Union of Maine

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maine is a key player among advocacy organizations who promote equity, work toward ending discrimination, and strive to advance the interests of vulnerable Mainers. While ACLU works closely with partners on shared initiatives, their focus on advancing and defending the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and their mix of advocacy, education, and litigation makes their work distinct. Since 2012, the Sam L. Cohen Foundation has awarded $90,000 to ACLU of Maine, including a $30,000 grant in Fall 2020. This most recent grant supports their work in 2021 and emphasizes racial justice, criminal legal system reform, immigrants’ rights, and LGBTQ rights.

ACLU’s policy team is led by their policy director Meagan Sway and policy counsel Michael Kebede. Together they map the strategies to achieve ACLU’s policy goals and mission. Within their strategic priority of criminal legal systems reform for example, ACLU is working on legislation to amend Maine’s bail code, to reform drug sentencing laws, and to improve due process for juveniles. While ACLU continues to identify emerging litigation opportunities for adults in the criminal justice system, in 2021 they will continue their long-term initiative to reform Maine’s juvenile justice system. In addition to the long-term goal of closing Long Creek Youth Development Center, ACLU’s advocacy, legal, and, education teams are working with partners across the state to build support for a continuum of care for Maine youth that would include adequate mental health support, equitable health services, and alternatives to detention.

In addition to criminal justice reform, ACLU continues to work on policy, legal aid, and education around racial justice in Maine. Michael Kebede and others have worked closely with Maine representatives to advocate for LD2, which would require the inclusion of racial impact statements in the legislative process. The racial impact statement would be similar to fiscal impact statements already required of bills and would provide an analysis of the impact of the proposed legislation on different racial groups and highlight potential adverse consequences. ACLU plans to offer technical assistance and a tool kit to help legislators who are drafting bills and need guidance for assessing racial impact. ACLU’s racial justice efforts in 2021 address long-standing disparities in access to health care that were intensified by the COVID-19 crisis. ACLU is working closely with Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition and other SLCF grantees to ensure the vaccine is available to traditionally marginalized communities and distributed equitably. 

After the 2016 election, ACLU had a surge in new members who wanted to support their work in social and racial justice, reproductive rights, immigration, and LGBTQ protections. They have been able to sustain much of that donor energy as they continue that work. In 2021, partially in response to the 2020 election, ACLU plans to work on ensuring all Mainers have easy access to voting. Coincidentally, they will work closely with their former Executive Director, Shenna Bellows, who is now Maine’s Secretary of State.


2020 Sam L. Cohen Pioneer Scholars

The Pioneer Scholar Program, a partnership between supporters and the Mitchell Institute, provides the opportunity to recognize specific Mitchell Scholars and Alumni who, through their contributions to school and community and their demonstration of certain qualities – as students and as citizens – stand out for acknowledgement.

Congratulations to:

Henry Izere - Portland High School * University of Maine

Anthony Mariello - Biddeford High School * Bentley University

Maxamus Spaulding - Thornton Academy * Bucknell University



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