PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Mayor Jorge Elorza launched a new process that will provide reparations to Providence residents of African and Native American heritage.
Elorza signed an executive order Wednesday which created a “Truth-Telling, Reconciliation and Municipal Reparations Process,” which will examine the feasibility of providing those reparations.
He claims Providence is the first city nationwide to commit to a comprehensive reconciliation process.
“As we begin this process I am cognizant that no other city to the best of my knowledge has made a commitment quite like the one Providence is making today,” he said.
The reconciliation process will be completed in three steps. The first, Elorza said, would examine the role the state and city previously had in supporting slavery, genocide, forced assimilation, seizure of land and other policies.
Elorza said he will be reviewing local and state laws as part of his first step, as well as investigating forms of public and private sector discrimination.
“As a country and a community, we owe a debt to our Black, Indigenous people, and people of color, and on the local level, we are using this opportunity to correct a wrong,” he said. “Though this does not undo history it is the first step in accepting the role Providence and Rhode Island has held in generations of pain and violence against these residents, healing some of the deepest wounds our country faces today.”
Keith Stokes, the vice president of the 1696 Heritage Group, said the first step is imperative and will educate Rhode Islanders on the state’s African history.
“Far too much of Rhode Island American history is taught, interpreted and memorialized through the owner class viewpoint,” Stokes said. “The truth-telling that begins today through the mayor’s vision will not only validate our earned African heritage and history in Providence, but also that as Black lives matter, Black history matters.”
Elorza outlined his reparations process at the historic Dexter Park and Training Grounds, where the 14th Rhode Island Heavy Artillery and the first African-American company from Rhode Island was trained to serve in the Civil War.
“Rather than only taking statues down and removing state names, we should also be advancing African heritage history in our public schools, reclaiming public spaces, such as the Dexter Training Ground, and most importantly building a series of investment policies to ensure African heritage and indigenous people survive and thrive in America today and tomorrow,” Stokes said.
The second step, Elorza said, is reconciliation. He said this step is meant to highlight that people can’t live separate from one another, which is something Elorza said has been shown throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
“If the coronavirus crisis has taught us one thing it’s that if your neighbor is sick you cannot feel safe and the same is true for our society,” Elorza said. “It goes even deeper than that, it is not just a matter of your personal safety or your personal security, but also a matter of our own identity. How we see and feel about ourselves is impacted by the plight of others.”
The third step, Elorza said, is reparations. Elorza described this step as a commitment to making a process developed for recommendations to be made to right the wrongs of the past.
He said this includes appropriate policies, programs and projects being executed to address local laws and polices that continue to negatively impact the Black, Indigenous people and people of color in the city.
“May this process of truth bring us education and awareness of these wrong-doings and may our reconciliation change the systems that continue to oppress our communities, while reaffirming our commitment to building a brighter, more inclusive future,” Elorza said.
Elorza said the city will not wait for the process to be over and will continue to taking steps whenever possible.
The process was developed and crafted by the Mayor’s African American Ambassador Group, which meets weekly to create direct communications between the community and the administration.
Those interested in engaging in the subcommittees of this group should contact Community Relations Advisor Shawndell Burney-Speaks at firstname.lastname@example.org.