March 20, 2008 – First meeting of “stakeholders” for On the Road to Freedom: African American Heritage in RI

June 2, 2008 at 12:28 pm (Uncategorized)

Convening the first meeting – sharing stories –

On Thursday, March 20, 2008, the RI Council for the Humanities gathered a group of over 30 participants to meet for the first time at the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities at Brown University to talk about the new program initiative, “On the Road to Freedom: African American Heritage in Rhode Island”. otrtf-one-page2

Participants included Chuck Arning, Mary-Kim Arnold, Linda Avant-Deishinni, Toby Ayers, Julian Bonder, Mark Brodeur, Jim Campbell, Ann Clanton, Anne Edmonds Clanton, Tehani Collazo, Stephanie Fortunato, Risa Gilpin, Susan Graseck, Morgan Grefe, Geralyn Hoffman, Patty Horton, SueEllen Kroll, Dennis Langley, Don Mays, Lyra Monteiro, Leah Nahmias, Charles Newton, Carol Palmer, Ray Rickman, Ahni Rocheleau, Seth Rockman, Micah Salkind, Gwenn Stearn, Valerie Tutson, Annie Valk, and Katrina White.

As 2008 marks the 200th Anniversary of the Abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade in the U.S., one of the first orders of business for this group will be to commemorate this bicentennial by planning a series of events and exhibitions for Fall 2008. “Freedom Festival” will take place during October 2008, National Arts and Humanities month.

Jim Campbell, Chair of the Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice at Brown University (, welcomed participants and explained how Europe has embraced the commemoration of this 200th anniversary, whereas in America this date has gone virtually unacknowledged, except in Rhode Island, where the struggle to uncover and, in some way come to terms with, this state’s history is unique. He welcomed folks to talk about their particular interest in this effort and to strategize ways to continue the dialogue, work collaboratively and cooperatively to move forward and keep the issues at the forefront of concern for ALL Rhode Islanders.

In March 2006, The Providence Journal featured a comprehensive series of articles about RI and the Slave Trade written by Paul Davis.

Jim Campbell sits with Morgan Grefe, Director of Education and Public Programming, Rhode Island Historical Society. Morgan commented that there has “not been nearly enough work in this area of focus for decades…the story of slavery and the slave trade is a crucial story – it is THE story, it is OUR story.” Morgan would like to see more teacher trainings and content development for teachers AND developing a live connection to schools through the support of folks with expertise used as resources in the classroom. Susan Graseck, Senior Fellow in International Studies at the Choices Program at Brown has already developed some curriculum and professional development material.

Anne Edmonds Clanton, \

Anne Edmonds Clanton, “Covenant With Black America” and Linda Avant-Deishinni, Educational Specialist, Haffenreffer Museum were delighted to attend this meeting.

Linda has been working all her life to preserve African American history and culture in RI – she worked on the amazing “Creative Survival: the Providence Black Community in the 19th Century” exhibition when she was ED at the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society.

Linda is now bringing new African American focus to the Haffenreffer Museum. Anne Edmonds Clanton, founder of the Langston Hughes Center for the Arts (now defunct) received a major grant from the RI Council for the Humanities to bring the tenets of Tavis Smiley’s “Covenant With Black America” to the Rhode Island public in a series of 10 public forums (each representing a covenant), between April 2-November 30, 2008.

Gwenn Stearn, State Archivist, at the Rhode Island State Archives is particularly interested in sharing the wealth of historical records contained in this collection. As Chair of the RI Historic Records Advisory Board decoding how to feed into this program initiative is a critical step towards accessibility. She is also willing to launch several small exhibits on the topic during “Freedom Festival.” Don Mays, an independent director and filmmaker and the Assistant Director of the Intercultural Center at Roger Williams University, has been working on a project on Rhode Island’s first black regiment of the Revolutionary War, which celebrates its 230th anniversary this August.

Dennis Langley, E.D. of the Urban League of RI and Ray Rickman, President, The Rickman Group were also honored to be included on this initiative. Dennis indicated that he was “glad that we’re taking on an issue of importance to the black community and to our country.” Ray hopes we’re serious about this effort and he is particularly interested in continuing the effort to bring hidden stories to the forefront.

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