Civil Rights

Providence Mayor announces new framework for racial reparations

“Here in Providence, we are leading the way on undertaking this difficult – but critical – work to acknowledge and address racial injustice that impacts our community,” said Mayor Elorza.
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Published on March 1, 2022
By Steve Ahlquist

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza announced the Framework for Reconciliation on Monday morning and signed a community-driven Executive Order to launch a Providence Municipal Reparations Commission at the historic Bethel AME Church on the East Side. 

“Here in Providence, we are leading the way on undertaking this difficult – but critical – work to acknowledge and address racial injustice that impacts our community,” said Mayor Elorza. “Today, I am proud to be alongside our partners and community members to share another milestone of this three-phase process, the Framework for Reconciliation. By engaging those who have been directly impacted by actions outlined during our Truth Telling phase, this framework demonstrates that history isn’t something that just happened in the past but is actively shaping present-day outcomes for African heritage and Indigenous Providence residents.”

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The Mayor was joined Providence Business Development Director and 1696 Heritage Group Vice President Keith Stokes, Reconciliation project co-leaders Providence Cultural Equity Initiative (PCEI) CEO and Founder Raymond Two Hawks Watson and Roger Williams University Assistant Professor Brian Hendrickson, Providence resident Cheryl Taylor, Senior Advisor to Mayor Elorza and Executive Director of the African American Ambassador Group (AAAG) Shawndell Burney-Speaks and community members.

Reconciliation is the second phase of a multi-year, three-part Truth-Telling, Reconciliation and Reparations process, first announced through a community-driven Executive Order signed by Mayor Elorza in July 2020. The PCEI, Roger Williams University and Providence Public Library partnered with the City and AAAG Truth-Telling and Reconciliation Subgroup, comprised of nearly 20 community members from the larger African American Ambassador Group, to launch a framework for reconciliation which included several months of engagement and discussion across the community, reflecting on the information discovered and the research compiled in A Matter of Truth.

There is, said Keith Stokes, “a documented and detailed history of how people, fellow Providence residents, who lived and worked and worshipped side by side with members of your own families, did not receive their basic rights simply because of the color of their skin. This was going on, beginning with enslavement and indigenous people land taking of the 17th and 18th century and it carried forward into the 20th century and to today. So the purpose of us being here today is to create a reparative justice investment strategy so that all Providence residents have equal access to success and prosperity in this great city.”

“It was an honor and a privilege to be selected by Mayor Elorza and the African American Ambassadors Group to lead the reconciliation phase of this very important initiative,” said PCEI CEO and Founder Raymond Two Hawks Watson. “Our coalition’s goals were to humanize and reframe the discussion around reparations in the City of Providence, provide avenues to increase public access to and engagement with the A Matter of Truth report, and create tools to sustain and promote the process of reconciliation in Providence and beyond. We are excited to see what the community will achieve by employing the reconciliation framework that we have developed.”

According to the press release: “The Framework for Reconciliation was piloted in the neighborhoods of Fox Point, Lippitt Hill, Upper South Providence and West Elmwood, and outlines a model and proof of concept to continue reconciliation in perpetuity. The framework is informed by deep community engagement, including 378 survey responses, 16 lead stakeholders with generational personal, familial, and community ties to four focused neighborhoods, 29 interviews of community members and engagement with community members across several African and Indigenous Heritage community events. The process included the development of a multimedia initiative to directly connect more individuals with the A Matter of Truth report, including a website featuring documentary interviews and reconciliation framework report.”

“Our framework seeks to center the voices and perspectives of particular communities affected by particular injustices,” said Roger Williams University Assistant Professor Brian Hendrickson. “The City of Providence is now well positioned to initiate a broader series of community conversations to complement and inform a focused, evidence-based approach to reparations. We hope others will join us in realizing and extending this vision for racial healing and community transformation.”

The Providence Municipal Reparations Commission will address the injuries outlined in the Truth Telling and Reconciliation phases and provide clear recommendations to the City on appropriate policies, programs, and projects to begin repairing harm. The Commission will have 13 members, with seven members appointed by Mayor Elorza and six members appointed by the Providence City Council. Mayor Elorza announced the appointments of: NAACP Providence President Jim Vincent; PCEI CEO and Founder Raymond Two Hawks Watson; Lab Faculty at College Unbound Wanda Brown; President of Rhode Island Pride Rodney Davis; 25 Bough St CEO Lanre Ajakaiye; RISD Assistant Professor Jess Brown; and CEO of CareerDevs Computer Science Institute Arnell Millhouse.

“Two years ago and surrounded by our community members, we announced this comprehensive approach that would lead to reparations which has served as a model for other cities throughout the country,” said Mayor Elorza. “While we know the City alone cannot repair the full scope of harm, today’s action brings us another step closer to addressing the disparities our African heritage and Indigenous residents continue to face. I’m confident that this Commission of community leaders and advocates will provide invaluable insight into creating a path forward that’s right for our community.”

“The Providence Municipal Reparations Commission will sunset in 90 days following the submission of a report outlining recommendations on municipal reparations to Mayor Elorza and the Providence City Council,” notes the press release. “The report will include, but is not limited to, an examination of reparation work being done in other cities and a summary of community engagement strategies throughout the City’s process, culminating in recommendations for reparations in Providence.”

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