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Crying foul on John Hope proposal, community members want to postpone Wangari Maathai approval at RIDE



“We demand that the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) postpone its process of approval for the Wangari Maathai Community School to be located at the John Hope Settlement House,” said Suzette Cook, who leads a growing group of “committed residents” in a campaign to prevent the takeover of John Hope. “We are not against Wangari Maathai School, we just don’t want it housed in John Hope. John Hope is a 90-year old community resource center and we should be in celebration as opposed to standing here fighting to keep John Hope alive. We call on all our state and local elected officials, faith-based institutions in our neighborhood and other community organizations to join us in our stance to restore John Hope to its original purpose as an agency that is open to our entire community and is inclusive of all of our neighbors.”

Thomas Whitten

Over 50 people gathered outside John Hope to rally for the institution. Among the protesters was Thomas Whitten, who was CEO of John Hope for 30 years. The street John Hope is on is named after Whitten.

The process of locating the Wangari Maathai Community School in John Hope has been very secretive, and neither the board for the school or John Hope is willing to respond to questions. In the case of John Hope, determining who is even on the board has proven problematic, as the John Hope page on the Rhode Island Secretary of State‘s website has not been updated since 2016, according to Lisa Scorpio, one of the organizers working to save John Hope.

Note: Here’s the 2018 John Hope Settlement House report filed with the Rhode Island Secretary of State’s office listing boardmembers. The accuracy of this listing is unknown.

According to Cook, “At the Safe School Siting Act meeting held at John Hope on March 29, one of its board members stated, ‘I don’t know who is currently on the Board at John Hope because people come and go.’ The same active board member continued, ‘Information or details about the activities at John Hope are not always disclosed to all the board members.'”

Suzette Cook

Can we please ask a favor?

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Board member Anastasia Williams, who is also the state representative for District 9 in Providence, denied having seen a memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the John Hope and Wangari Maathai boards outlining the deal to house the school at a community meeting on April 18.

“Several requests to John Hope have been ignored,” noted Cook. “These requests include a list of all current Board members (including names and their individual addresses), a copy of John Hope’s current bylaws and/or other governing documents that outline what is needed to make decisions, and the board meeting minutes that record when this board would have voted to approve the MOA with Wangari Maathai.”

Cook maintains that the statements of the boardmembers sited above and the lack of response from the John Hope board, “raises questions of whether the board at John Hope is following its own legal process to approve the agreement” with Wangari Maathai.

“We demand RIDE fulfill its required due diligence in making sure that its process to approve Wangari Maathai’s location is legitimate,” continued Cook.


Several people from the community spoke as well:

“This is a place for families, but it’s not a school,” said community member Andre Davis. “It can be educational but that needs to be a supplemental education… We’re pretty unanimous. No one wants this school, and they’re shoving it through anyway. We need to talk about who is actually pulling the strings and we need to engage with the community in a way that’s honest and with respect.”

During his nearly three decades of service as the CEO of John Hope, “We served the entire community,” said Thomas Whitten, “most particularly the community of color and the Black community.

“The plan that we have seen, seems to be some plan to eventually push John Hope as we know it completely out of business… This is the last facility to serve the Black community. All the rest are closing. John Hope needs to be strengthened to serve the Black community as well as the entire community.”

“The people who are the board at John Hope, we need them to meet with us. We don’t know what’s going on. We only know bits and pieces, and it’s not right.”

Dasia has four kids at the day care located in John Hope. “I didn’t know anything about this. Where are my children going to go?”

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Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade. Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading.