On Tuesday, July 21st, I attended the event, A Call For Community Action at Billy Taylor Park located on the East Side of Providence. The gathering was in service of working to end the violence that continues to escalate between the young people from neighborhoods including Mt. Hope and South Providence–from the West End to the Chad Brown Houses, to Manton Avenue. There have been ten homicides in Providence this year, including the shooting death last weekend of 20 year-old Ty-shon Perry. Perry, who had recently received his Associates degree from the New England Institute of Technology, and who leaves behind his girlfriend and one-year old son, had hopes to become a police officer.
As I waited for the event to begin, I looked for familiar faces, and was glad to connect with a woman who introduced herself to me from the PrYSM organization, Chanravy Proeung. PrYSM is a 501c3 non-profit youth organization supporting Southeast Asian youth. Chanravy, PrYSM’s Co-Director, introduced me to two young men–local activists who have done some work with PrYSM–and spoke of some of her organization’s initiatives, including young people organizing to stop racial profiling of Southeast Asian youth, and taking part in community work to end youth violence.
I also was glad to bump into Helen Dukes, a long-time neighborhood resident that I had met several times when she was co-President of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School in Mt. Hope, and then, on social media through a mutual friend. When asking Helen at this event about her role in the neighborhood, she modestly said that it’s nothing formal, but that she is known as “Auntie Helen,” and she just does whatever is needed. “If someone’s kids need help with reading, they can send them over to my house and I will help them learn to read. I also pick up kids from school and watch them while their parents work…if someone needs a ride somewhere, I’ll take them. My mother was very community-oriented and known in the neighborhood for the same thing…”
Tuesday’s event was a follow-up to a recent meeting of the Providence chapter of the NAACP’s call to local government to address the organization’s five-point goals to end youth violence, and address the lack of resources being invested in the young people from these two communities. Ray Watson, the Executive Director of the Mount Hope Neighborhood Association, led the evening’s Call For Action.
Watson called for politicians and local officials to demonstrate their commitment, beyond merely talking about what they will do. Holding up a financial report on the money being spent on other city expenses, Watson said, “…people say we don’t have the money, but if you look at the reports, there is a lot of money being spent on other things that could be put toward our youth… People talk about what we as a community need to do first before they’ll invest in us, but we have been doing the work all along. Where is the other end of the bargain? We need help from politicians.”
Watson then called up by his side, out of the crowd of close to 100 people gathered on a grassy patch of the park beyond the basketball courts and playground, the many individuals and community organizations that are doing the work day in and day out to care for and provide resources for the young people of Mt. Hope, and to prevent youth from getting into trouble. To demonstrate that point, Watson noted that tonight’s event coincided with the annual Billy Taylor Youth Basketball Tournament, a neighborhood institution for twenty-four years now.
The tournament and the park are named after William “Billy” Taylor, (b. 1956 – d. 1986), a Providence resident and former Director of the Youth Department at the Mt. Hope Neighborhood Association. In the 1980’s, after finishing college, Taylor became a strong advocate for the neighborhood’s youth, and established many formal enrichment programs, as well as informally fostered and mentored a lot of the young people who didn’t have a father figure to grow up with. The Billy Taylor House is now a grass-roots non-profit organization housed in Taylor’s former home on Camp Street, and is continuing the good works in honor of its namesake by providing enrichment, workforce development, and positive mentoring for today’s youth.
Watson then called up Councilman Kevin Jackson, to speak. Jackson noted all the good work being done by local residents of Mt. Hope, like James Monteiro, who despite a troubled past, has gone on to finish college, and is now devoted to giving back to the community, partially through his work on workforce development programs at the Billy Taylor House. Councilman Jackson went on to say that we need to continue to work to end violence. To the politicians in the audience, and those voting for them, Jackson said, “The thing they should ask themselves, and voters should look at, is the question of what have you done, as an individual or a politician, before the five-point goals brought up by the NAACP to end violence?”
Next, community activist and NAACP Youth Council Chairwoman, Leah Williams-Metts, spoke about the two murders that occurred on her street in the last year, and said that as a mother of four children, “every day I am afraid to have my kids leave the house…If we can re-open the Davey Lopes pool, (a city pool that had been closed, and which Metts was the driving force behind it’s re-opening)…when people said no one cares about black children in South Providence, we can end violence in our neighborhoods.”
After the five-point goals of the NAACP were read aloud to the crowd, which included a call for more effective youth development programming, job training and employment opportunities for youth, including ex-offenders, Metts commended Mayor Tavares for the good programs he has in place in Providence for children under the age of 12. She added, though, that we need programs for 13 – 17 year olds, and that we need jobs for all of these young people, too.
Ray Watson began to wrap up the evening’s talk with a proposal for the city to get involved in investing in Mt. Hope and similar neighborhoods….”to make an investment in our young people…we are not asking for a hand-out but a hand-up, an investment in our efforts to better our return, to reduce recidivism, prevent violence, to invest more in the front end, so that we don’t have to pay on the back-end. It costs much more to have a young person in the ACI, than it would if we gave them the programs that would help them succeed.”
Watson urged attendees to the event to help with the goals, and there were community point people holding sign-up notebooks to volunteer either their time or money to support each of the five-point goals drawn up by the NAACP. Watson noted there would not be time given to the politicians present that evening to speak, because that was not what the event was about, but that they were invited to listen to all that is already being done by community members, and to see how they can commit to helping, too.
Watson concluded by saying, “Hats off to all the individuals who help day in and day out…but, we want to know where are the resources that are being promised?” He continued, while looking around in the crowd, “Mayor Taveras has been missing these last two events, so next Monday at 4:00 p.m., we will all go see Mayor Tavares at City Hall.