Providence launches $10 million reparations program, open to all races

The $10 million effort, which will finance homeownership and financial literacy programs and workforce training, is paid for by federal COVID-19 recovery funds and must be used race-neutrally.

Providence, Rhode Island, has launched a $10 million reparations program to address its long history of racism against Black residents.

According to The Washington Post, Providence created a reparations program following the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd in May 2020. 

As demonstrators flooded the streets across the nation, Democratic Mayor Jorge Elorza issued an executive order establishing a “Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations” committee and entrusted the African American Ambassador Group with producing a report that would provide the foundation for reparations.

Jorge Elorza, Providence, Rhode Island reparations
Providence launches $10 million reparations program, open to all races (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

“The radical thing that we did was we put Black voices in the center of city policymaking,” Elorza said, according to The Post.

Although it may differ from what some had hoped for, supporters of the initiative are optimistic that the additional funding will benefit underdeveloped areas.

“There was a lot of anger in Providence,” Elorza added, The Post reported. “What we wanted to do as a city was to make sure that we made the most of this moment to really address some of these long-standing racial issues in our community.”

The $10 million effort will finance several social initiatives, including small company accelerators, homeownership and financial literacy programs, and workforce training. However, it’s funded by federal COVID-19 recovery money, which must be used race-neutrally.

Providence residents who identify as Black or Native American are automatically eligible. The city has also established other financial obligations that may cover almost half of its white citizens, infuriating critics concerned about how much of the funds will go to the Black residents, who make up 12% of the population.

In a 194-page study published in March 2021, the African American Ambassador Group described the city’s and state’s extensive role in the Atlantic slave trade and several hundred years of racist laws that deprived the state’s Black and Indigenous citizens economic sustainability. In addition to forming a reparations group, the report called for a “formal municipal apology for African enslavement.”

“In Rhode Island, the disparity between Black and white wealth is vast,” the report states, according to The Post. “While there are numerous public policy and private investment strategies to help close the wealth gap, an important starting point, particularly in Providence and Rhode Island, would be to recognize our shared history of complicity.”

Still, several people closely involved in the program’s creation are worried about how it is being described.

Detractors are also skeptical of programs that don’t offer direct cash payments to the descendants of enslaved people, which activists believe should be a crucial component of reparations.

Professor Dannie Ritchie, a member of the African American Ambassador Group that produced the report, said calling it reparations is “dangerous” because the initial focus was the coronavirus mortality rates for the city’s Black residents and the “structural racism” that promoted it. Following Floyd’s murder, the subject of conversation shifted as people brought up reparations in local communities nationwide.

“I just kept saying don’t conflate what we’re doing with reparations, just don’t do it,” Ritchie said, according to The Post. “You can’t just throw around $10 million for this-and-that program and call it reparations, because then it will be done without ever really having a conversation about what repairing the harm would look like. You’re just throwing terms around.”

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