BRISTOL, R.I. (WPRI) — Dozens of people gathered in downtown Bristol on Saturday for a Teach the Truth Rally, part of a national call by the Zinn Education Project.
“As an educator I will not whitewash our history,” Providence educator Emily Abedon said.
Many speakers are educators from across the state, who believe the role of racism, sexism, heterosexism, and oppression throughout U.S. history should be taught.
Organizers said teaching everyone’s history will empower students to build and create the world they want to see.
It’s recently been a highly contested issue.
“It is imperative to learn the reality of our past to strive for a more just present,” Abedon said.
“It’s a cancer that is infiltrating our public school education system,” concerned citizen Peter Hewitt said.
More than a dozen states including Rhode Island have proposed legislation that would ban critical race theory in schools.
Florida approved a bill Thursday placing stricter guidelines on how educators teach U.S. history. The Rhode Island bill led to Saturday’s rally in Bristol.
“Denying white supremacy’s impact on our history and continuing impact on our lives means ignoring reality and shirking my responsibilities as a teacher,” Blackstone Academy Charter educator Paul Pasaba said.
“While uncovering and learning the truth, we have nothing to be afraid of but our own reluctance to grow and change,” Providence educator Kira Leander said.
Speakers also gave testimony from their students. One middle schooler wrote, “This bill is extremely offensive, not only to me but to other people of color. For starters, you shouldn’t try to cover up wrongdoings of the past.”
The bill has led to large record requests from Westerly, South Kingstown, and Barrington school districts in regards to how subjects like white privilege and Black Lives Matter are being taught, with some calling critical race theory divisive.
“It reinvigorates the idea of segregation by virtue of race. It is not at all unifying, it’s divisive, it is dangerous and it is destruction of the progress made by this nation,” Hewitt said.
On Juneteenth, Rhode Island will be marking a slave history medallion outside of DeWolf Tavern, where Saturday’s rally took place.