Truth Telling Committee to Collect Historical Experiences of Black, Indigenous and People of Color within Providence as first step to Truth, Reconciliation and Municipal Reparations Process
September 22. 2020
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Mayor Jorge O. Elorza today joined Representative Anastasia Williams, 1696 Heritage Group Vice President Keith Stokes, Providence Cultural Equity Initiative CEO and Founder Raymond Two Hawks Watson, Artist, Designer, Performer, Multimedia Spectacle Generator Jess Brown, Community Relations Senior Advisor Shawndell Burney-Speaks, and community members to launch the Truth Telling phase of the City’s commitment to truth, reconciliation, and municipal reparations. This phase will collect and analyze the history and experiences of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color residents within Providence and the state, culminating with the creation of a final comprehensive narrative that will be engaged in the subsequent Reconciliation and Reparations phases.
“In order to plan a truly equitable future for our city, we need to know our history and reconcile our truths,” said Mayor Jorge Elorza. “Now more than ever, we need to come together throughout the country to heal and push for real change. Today, we are taking the first step towards healing generations of trauma and injustices suffered by these communities. I want to thank the African American Ambassador Group for their continued leadership in this work.”
The City has engaged the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society, Rhode Island Historical Society, 1696 Heritage Group, Providence Preservation Society, and Historical Author Gerald Carbone to work with the African American Ambassador Group Truth Telling Committee, comprised of nearly 20 community members from the larger African American Ambassador Group, to collect and analyze historical collections, documents, and artifacts that define the African heritage and Indigenous people history within Providence and Rhode Island. The 120-day engagement will work to affirm the early development of the city and state through the enslavement and genocide of African heritage and Indigenous people; examine the state and municipal laws that discriminated against formerly enslaved African heritage and Indigenous people and their descendants up until the present day; and examine the continued impact of the institution of slavery, Indigenous genocide, racial discrimination, and displacement of Indigenous lands.
“Truth be told, from the moment you begin your day until it ends you will have accessed several things/items discovered, invented, built, and mastered by a black man or black woman,” said Representative Anastasia Williams. “Black history is America and is always in session!”
Once documents have been compiled and analyzed by the Truth Telling Committee, the group will work to formulate a comprehensive narrative of their findings and develop a series of webinars, online learning exhibits, and walking tours for residents, educators, students, parents, and the general public.
“The process of recovering, documenting, and interpreting the history of African heritage and Indigenous Peoples in Providence will certainly challenge the very notion that our state and nation were founded on the principles of liberty and that all men are created equal,” said 1696 Heritage Group Vice President Keith W. Stokes “This Truth-telling exercise will make possible for the City of Providence to lead the nation on how we tell the inclusive history of all people. The Truth Telling that begins today will not only validate our earned African and Indigenous Peoples’ history but most importantly, that as Black Lives Matter, so does Black History Matters.”
Following the first Truth Telling phase, the second Phase, Community Reconciliation, will include engagement and discussion across the community, reflecting on the information discovered and the research compiled during the Truth Telling phase. Community meetings, interactive experiences, and one-on-one engagement will educate others of past discrimination while exploring as a community how we can heal from these injustices. Lastly, the third phase, City Reparations, will work to address the injuries founding in the Truth Telling phase and provide clear recommendations to the City on appropriate policies, programs, and projects to right these wrongs in an equitable way.
“Integrity demands that any legitimate steps towards truth and reconciliation be founded in comprehensive knowledge and understanding of the cultural and historical experiences and legacies of which our communities have endured,” said Founder and CEO of the Providence Cultural Equity Initiative Raymond Two Hawk Watson. “Many thanks for the work that’s being done to compile a historical and official database and narrative of Providence’s African heritage and Indigenous communities. It will be a tremendous resource for the community.”
This work was developed with the Mayor’s African American Ambassador Group, which meets weekly and serves as a direct line of communication between the community and the Administration. What originally began to ensure equitable access to COVID-19-related care and resources has since expanded, establishing subcommittees focused on recommending strategies to increase equity citywide.
Artist, Designer, Performer, Multimedia Spectacle Generator Jess Brown added, “James Baldwin said ‘Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.’ We must confront the messiness of our past and of ourselves in order to achieve true democracy. We must tell the truth about who we are and what we have done in order to make the connections and repairs needed for a more equitable future for all citizens of Rhode Island. As long as we pretend to not know our past, we will become a prisoner of it. This is the point that we are in now as a nation. As a people that live in a mutualistic society that Roger Williams called a ‘Lively Experiment,’ we, the Great State of Rhode Island have this opportunity now, as the smallest state in the nation, to make an enormous impact on the lives of the most marginalized citizens of this state.”