Elorza announces racial reparations plan for Providence

MAYOR JORGE O. ELORZA on Wednesday signed an executive order committing the city to a racial reparations plan. / PBN FILE PHOTO/STEPHANIE ALVAREZ EWENS
MAYOR JORGE O. ELORZA on Wednesday signed an executive order committing the city to a racial reparations plan. / PBN FILE PHOTO/STEPHANIE ALVAREZ EWENS

PROVIDENCE – Mayor Jorge O. Elorza on Wednesday signed an executive order committing the city to a racial reparations plan, though specific details on what such reparations entail have not been finalized. 

The three-part process, which includes “truth-telling” or historical education, reconciliation and reparations, is the first of its kind in the country, aimed specifically at recognizing and remedying the longstanding inequality experienced by people of African and Indigenous heritage, Elorza said.

How the reparations program would work – including who would benefit, and what financial or other compensation the city would offer – is unclear. 

Elorza instead said the announcement was a commitment to embarking on the process, with plans to develop recommendations for specific reparations along the way.

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“We’re doing it because it’s the right thing and we’re doing it now because it’s the right time,” Elorza said. “This will make us a more resilient and a much more united community.”

The city plans to partner with historical groups to compile and “make broadly accessible” information about African history – not just through the lens of slavery, but also the Jim Crow era, housing discrimination and present-day structural racism, Elorza said.

Keith Stokes, vice president for historical consulting firm 1969 Heritage Group, is among those who worked with the city to develop the reparations plan and spoke on Wednesday about the state’s storied African history, including deep ties to the slave trade.

“Rather than only taking statues down and removing state names, we should be…building a series of investment policies to ensure African-American heritage and Indigenous people survive and thrive in America today and tomorrow,” Stokes said.

The announcement comes several weeks after Elorza declared the city would strike the “plantations” portion of the official state name from all city documents and oath ceremonies. A similar proposal at the state level will go before voters in November. 

The reconciliation portion of the plan will be modeled after practices adopted in South Africa, Northern Ireland and Rwanda, as well as Brown University, Elorza said. The city plans to collaborate with private and nonprofit institutions as well as individuals to foster conversations about “the depth of the crisis and its profound impact,” Elorza said.

Janet Faulkner, CEO and founder of Impact RI, a nonprofit that offers education and training with a focus on homeownership and real estate, offered support for the city announcement as a sign that “change is coming.”

Providence City Councilwoman Mary Kay Harris, however, cautioned against a plan tied to reparations, fearing it would overpromise and underdeliver.

“When I think of reparations, I think of a restitution that is intrinsically connected, dollar for dollar, to the value of uncompensated services provided by generations of Black slaves,” Harris said in a statement. “Whatever the reparation is better be capable of generationally shifting the plight of an entire community.”

Down payment assistance and tax abatement programs, while worthy initiatives to consider for the city’s Black community, do not meet this criteria, Harris said. 

Nancy Lavin is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Lavin@PBN.com.

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