Toby Ayers, Rhode Island for Community and Justice executive director


SPEARHEADING CHANGE: Toby Ayers, executive director of Rhode Island for Community and Justice, is leading programming to help bring the community together and establish youth empowerment across cultures. / PBN PHOTO/DAVID HANSEN
SPEARHEADING CHANGE: Toby Ayers, executive director of Rhode Island for Community and Justice, is leading programming to help bring the community together and establish youth empowerment across cultures. / PBN PHOTO/DAVID HANSEN

Leaders & Achievers 2022
TOBY AYERS
Executive director, Rhode Island for Community and Justice


WHILE ATTENDING COLLEGE, Toby Ayers won a fellowship to study in Guam. The experience was transformational, as Ayers remained on the U.S. territory for four years before returning to complete her degree.

Those years in Guam, Ayers said, were the catalyst that illuminated a path for her career to find ways to bring people together across differing cultures to solve problems.

Today, as Rhode Island for Community and Justice’s executive director, Ayers and her team are working to build an inclusive community where each person, no matter their background, is viewed as valuable.

- Advertisement -

“RICJ’s mission calls on us to fight racism and all the ‘isms’ by building understanding, respect and common ground,” Ayers said. “Our programs center on BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and people of color] youth empowerment, reflecting our belief these [youths] are leaders who will shape our state over the long term.”

Youth Facilitating for Change, the Providence-based nonprofit’s summer jobs program, recruits low-income Providence teens for paid positions as diversity and inclusion peer facilitators. Teams of youths create social justice workshops and facilitate these for youths in other employment programs and with adult groups. As they stay with RICJ, teens further build their skills, eventually co-leading diversity and inclusion training workshops paired with the nonprofits’ staff.

‘We are re-imagining how the system can serve [youths] at risk to deliver the right services at the exact time [youths] need them.’

Ayers says that system change is always hard and making systems equitable is even harder. Despite awareness and the hard work of people to better the community within and outside of the system, she says, making change can be akin to “moving an aircraft carrier – extremely slow.”

“At many points, you simply get stuck,” Ayers said. “Our team is looking at these ‘stuck’ places where we have difficulty translating our vision for reform into specific results and outcomes for [youths] of color.

“People tell us that RICJ punches above its weight, meaning we accomplish a lot more than you would expect given our tiny staff. We are re-imagining how the system can serve [youths] at risk to deliver the right services at the exact time [youths] need them.”

No posts to display