The Truth of the Matter
The Struggle for African Heritage & Indigenous People
Equal Rights in Providence, Rhode Island (1620-2020)
Through this executive order, the City is committed to advancing a social justice process that works in three parts. First, the City worked to identify the Truth by examining the role of the State of Rhode Island and the City of Providence in supporting the institution of slavery, the genocide of Indigenous People, forced assimilation, and seizure of land, among other policies. As part of this first step, historians reviewed local and state laws and all other forms of public and private sector discrimination against people of African or Indigenous heritage and their descendants.
This process was developed with and crafted by the Mayor’s African American Ambassador Group, which meets regularly and serves as a direct line of communication between the community and the Administration.
On March 29 2021, Mayor Elorza joined local historians and community members to announce the African American Ambassadors Group (AAAG) Truth-Telling report: A Matter of Truth. The report included a comprehensive analysis of the role of the City of Providence and State of Rhode Island in supporting a “separate and unequal” existence for African heritage, Indigenous, and people of color.
The Report begins in pre-1600 and concludes with the African heritage legacy continued beyond 2020. It identifies the extent of the manipulation of race as a means of controlling enslaved individuals of African heritage and the role of institutions and lawmakers in perpetuating discriminatory and racist policies.
The City partnered with the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society, Rhode Island Historical Society, 1696 Heritage Group, and the Providence Preservation Society to work with the AAAG Truth-Telling Subgroup, 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’s history within Providence and Rhode Island.
Once the collection of Truth was completed, findings were used to begin the process of Reconciliation. To advance this work, the City unveiled a Request for Proposals to launch the Reconciliation phase of the City’s commitment to Truth-Telling, Reconciliation and Municipal Reparations after receiving a $100,000 grant from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.
The Providence Cultural Equity Initiative, 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.
On February 28, 2022, the Framework for Reconciliation was publicly unveiled. It 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.
Through the last step of this process, the City will take measures to reverse the injuries resulting from the Truth findings and advise what appropriate policies, programs, and projects may be executed based on recommendations that accomplish this mission. These will also work to address local laws and policies that continue negatively impact Black, Indigenous People, and People of Color in Providence.
On February 28, 2022, Mayor Elorza signed a community-driven Executive Order establishing the Providence Municipal Reparations Commission to 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.
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. 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.