Heritage Festival, September 20, Providence

September 26, 2008 at 2:44 pm (Freedom Festival, Heritage Days)

“We are a nation of many nationalities, many races, many religions – bound together by a single unity, the unity of freedom and equality.  Whoever seeks to set one nationality against another, seeks to degrade all nationalities.”  Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States (1933-1945)

Last Saturday, September 20, 2008, the R.I. Historic Preservation and Heritage Commission  hosted the 31st annual Heritage Day Festival on the State House lawn.  It was a spectacular fall day and I was there, sharing a table with the Heritage Harbor Museum (thanks!), distributing our Freedom Festival flyers…

Many folks stopped by to chat, find out more about the series that both commemorates the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, and also celebrates African American heritage.  I brought the fascinating books of keynote speakers, Paula J. Giddings (speaking at the Great Friends Meeting Hall (NOTE: this is a change from the original Colony House venue) in Newport, RI, on October 9th at 7:30) and Ira Berlin (speaking at the First Unitarian Church in Providence, RI, on October 16th at 8:00 pm).  I also was delighted at the wonderful variety of participants – an amazing Panamanian marching band, Chinese dragon dancers, Thai, Bolivian, India, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Korean, Irish, and many other representatives from our diverse communities. We are indeed fortunate to have the opportunity to share our cultures and traditions with each other.

PLEASE NOTE:  Our opening WaterFire “Thousand Ships” event has been postponed until NEXT Saturday, October 4th, due to the current deluge…see you on the 4th!

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WATERFIRE, September 27th – A Thousand Ships

September 15, 2008 at 4:21 pm (A Thousand Ships, African Americans in RI, Freedom Festival)

The official opening event, kicking off our month-long, statewide FREEDOM FESTIVAL, part of the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities On the Road to Freedom: African American Heritage in Rhode Island initiative, is a very special ritual of remembrance at WaterFire, the amazing art installation by Barnaby Evans, with help from The Museum on Site, and marking the bicentennial of the Abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

At sunset on September 27th, four small boats travel up the river from the historic Providence harbor on the edge of the Atlantic.  Tens of thousands of people are gathered at WaterFire but many may not know the full history of the water by which they stand.

This is a night of remembrance – an occasion to commemorate the bicentennial of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, but also a night to acknowledge and mark Rhode Island’s century-long inivolvement with this trade.  Merchants from Rhode Island mounted more than a thousand slaveship voyages on these waters, carrying over 100,000 Africans into New World slavery.  One of these ships was called the Providence, and more slaveship voyages sailed from Rhode Island’s harbors than from any other state.

A Thousand Ships is a night for contemplation and recognition – a ritual observance acknowledging the state’s historic involvement with human bondage.  A night filled with music and silence, dance and stillness, fire and water.  Echoing a traditional African ritual, a thousand people will join together to offer a libation to the ancestors by pouring into the river and onto the ground a thousand vessels of water, each representing a slave voyage from Rhode Island.  Actors will walk through the crowds giving voice to historic figures from Rhode Island, sharing their stories of freedom and bondage and the struggle to abolish slavery and the slave trade.  Torches will be lit, the infamous triangle trade will be demarcated, chains will be burned and broken, and our entire community will gather together to remember, honor, watch, listen and feel.

This event at WaterFire is dedicated to the memory and work of the late Professor Rhett S. Jones and a formal West African libation ceremony in honor of Professor Jones will be poured by Professor Anani Dzidzienyo of the Brown University Department of Africana Studies.

A Thousand Ships will be a time for remembering, and a night to remember.  We cannot allow ourselves to forget.

To make it happen, we are going to need lots of volunteers. Please e-mail Lyra Monteiro at lyra@TheMuseumOnline.com or call 401-261-3441 if you are interested in participating.  Slots available are from 2-6 pm and 6-10 pm.  Thanks for helping to make this all possible!

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September at the RI Council for the Humanities

September 8, 2008 at 12:24 pm (Freedom Festival)

Risa and SueEllen – “the Providence Sisters” – Flathead Indian Reservation, Montana

As always, my favorite season (summer) has sped by – and September, with its inherent call to action, is upon us.  I had a memorable time in July, visiting Montana (for our annual National Humanities Program Officers Conference – a gathering of folks across the nation and U.S. territories, coming together to discuss the value of our important work focused on human thought and action) where my colleague SueEllen Kroll and I unveiled our ambitious “On the Road to Freedom: African American Heritage in RI” (otrtf) initiative.  SueEllen is our Grants director, and as our annual deadline for letters-of-intent (to apply for a major grant) passed on September 1st, she was pleased to see a general increase in the number of grants received AND an astonishing 18 submitted for consideration for our otrtf project.

Our networking is WORKING – hooray.

The Council-conducted program side of things (my bailiwick) is forging ahead, full-steam – we are looking forward to the upcoming “Freedom Festival” (see attached pdf and be sure to check out our new website, after September 15th, for FULL information on the festival – http://www.rihumanities.org).

Let the good times roll!

Freedom Festival flyer

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