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Deputy Majority Leader Mary Kay Harris (Ward 11) and the Providence City Council has teamed up with the Providence City Archives to create a Black History Month Online Exhibit and online panel discussion to honor the life and legacy of Michael S. Van Leesten entitled “Michael S. Van Leesten: Bridge Builder.”
The panel discussion will take place on Monday, February 15, 2021, at 7:00 PM. The discussion can be viewed on the City Council Facebook Page, YouTube Channel, or individuals can join the conversation on Zoom. Pre-registration is required: https://bit.ly/PVDBHM
“Every year, I am proud to work with the City Archives to create a Black History Month Exhibit that showcases the numerous contributions that people of color have made to our City. Michael S. Van Leesten was a rock in our community for so many years and touched the lives of everyone he worked with and advocated for. When I was a working single mother, Mr. Van Leesten’s support helped me to build a career as a welder. Later, I had the honor and pleasure of working with him as a community organizer. I am so excited to be honoring him this year and so grateful to his family for sharing so much with us so that we could share his inspiring story with the world,” stated Deputy Majority Leader Mary Kay Harris.
The panel will include: Deputy Majority Leader Mary Kay Harris, Ms. Mary Harrison, Mr. Jordan Van Leesten, Mr. Frank Santos, and Mr. Ray Rickman and will be moderated by City Council President Sabina Matos (Ward 15). The discussion will range from his long history as a freedom fighter to his dedication to education and workforce development. In addition, Mayor Jorge O. Elorza will provide welcoming remarks, Superintendent of Providence Parks, Wendy Nilsson, will join us to give an update on the renaming of the Providence Pedestrian Bridge after Mr. Van Leesten, and City Archivist Caleb Horton and Ziggy Giles from the Providence City Council will discuss the companion online exhibition.
Caleb Horton, Providence City Archivist, shared, “For the past six years, I have had the pleasure of working with Deputy Majority Leader Harris to tell the story of the black community here in Providence using items from our archives. Past exhibits have highlighted both the struggles and the successes of the fight for equality in our City. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic did not allow us to have an in-person gathering as we have done in years past, but it forced us to think outside the box. Working with Ziggy Giles, Abigail Appel, and Jill Van Leesten, we have put together what I believe to be one of the best exhibits we have ever created. It is interactive, moving, and tells an icon’s story – Mr. Michael S. Van Leesten. I look forward to sharing this special project with the community.”
The exhibit will feature photographs and stories from the decades Mr. Van Leesten spent as an activist for racial equity in voter registration, workforce development, and education reform.
The Van Leesten family has generously shared photographs, articles, and personal stories to help build this exhibit highlighting his lifelong devotion to the City of Providence and social justice throughout the country.
“Mr. Van Leesten’s lifelong dedication to activism and public service will forever serve as a model to all who want to effect positive change in their communities. I am humbled by the many stories of bravery, leadership, and integrity that he left behind. As we celebrate Black History this month, and throughout the year, let us remember those who came before us; the men and women who built the bridges that we have walked across,” stated Council President Sabina Matos (Ward 15).
Michael S. Van Leesten was a graduate of Hope High School, Rhode Island College, and was a veteran of the United States Air Force. He was active in the Civil Rights movement and participated in voter registration efforts in rural Alabama. He later founded and served as the Executive Director of Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC) of Rhode Island. Additionally, Van Leesten was a consultant and the owner of Van Leesten Associates and served as the Director of Planning and Development for Providence. Van Leesten also went on to serve as the Director of Public Affairs for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe. In addition to this expansive career, Michael S. Van Leesten was a board member of numerous organizations, including the Board of Regents, Peerless Precision, and Fleet Bank. Van Leesten sadly passed away in August of 2019, leaving behind five grown children and four grandchildren.
“It has been an honor for our family to take part in this event to show the community his passion around his family, friends, and work,” stated Ms. Jill Van Leesten. “He was an amazing and humble man. We miss him dearly and pray that his level of kindness and positive way of being will continue within us and be a gift to share with others. We want to thank the Providence City Council for all of their hard work and dedication. It has been such a pleasure working together on this special project.”
In June of 2020, the Council’s Committee on Urban Redevelopment, Renewal, and Planning (URRP), chaired by Deputy Majority Leader Mary Kay Harris, voted to rename the Providence Pedestrian Bridge in honor of the late Michael S. Van Leesten. As a man who spent his life building bridges for future generations to succeed, it is only fitting that this Providence landmark be named in his honor. In continuation of the Council’s gratitude to Mr. Van Leesten, this Black History Month exhibit was created to share the story of his dedication to the cause of racial and social justice in our City.
Visit the Providence City Council and the Providence City Archives on the web to view the online exhibits and look out for social media posts highlighting Mr. Van Leesten’s life throughout the month. The Michael S. Van Leesten: Bridge Builder online exhibition will permanently remain on the Council and Archives web pages and will continue to be updated with new stories of the rich history that people of color have built in the City of Providence.
At last week’s City Council meeting, Councilors put forth several resolutions urging Providence voters to vote “Yes” on ballot referendum questions two, three, and five in the special election taking place on March 2, 2021. In December 2020, Governor Raimondo signed a state budget for the 2021 fiscal year that restored funding to cities and towns, used federal coronavirus relief funds to aid struggling Rhode Islanders, and did not raise taxes. In addition to the FY21 budget, there were also seven bond referendums regarding $400 million in bonds for education, affordable housing, green infrastructure, transportation, and other initiatives. All three resolutions were sponsored by the full Council.
The first resolution, proposed by Councilman John Goncalves (Ward 1), asks that voters vote “Yes” on ballot question two to support a $74 million bond for environmental and recreational projects.
“This bond would create funding for a proposed park on the former I-95 land along with local recreational projects, the dredging of the Providence River, the restoration of local wetlands, much needed municipal resiliency projects, and more. We are encouraging Providence voters to vote ‘Yes’ on question two in order to create meaningful and lasting environmental improvements not only in the City of Providence but across the State of Rhode Island,” stated Councilman John Goncalves.
The second resolution, also proposed by Councilman John Goncalves, advocates that voters vote “Yes” on ballot question five, which includes a $15 million bond for early childhood care and the Educational Capital fund.
“I call on all Providence residents to vote ‘Yes’ on ballot question five. This funding will be key to ensuring our students have a strong start, as early childhood care and education is what supplies children with a solid and broad foundation for success both in and out of school,” stated Council President Sabina Matos.
The third resolution, proposed by Council President Sabina Matos (Ward 15), Deputy Majority Leader Mary Kay Harris (Ward 11), and Councilman John Goncalves (Ward 1), urges residents to vote “Yes” on ballot question three, in support of a $65 million bond for affordable housing projects throughout the state.
“This bond will allocate millions of dollars towards the building and maintaining of affordable housing in Rhode Island. In addition, millions more will go directly towards community revitalization projects. I encourage residents to support this initiative, as affordable housing and community development will be central in the recovery of our economy and public health moving forward,” added Council President Matos.
The special election will occur on Tuesday, March 2, with polls open from 7:00 AM to 8:00 PM. The deadline to submit mail ballot applications is Tuesday, February 9 and early in-person voting begins on Wednesday, February 10.
To request a mail ballot, click here: https://bit.ly/36He8r5
To find your polling location, click here: http://bit.ly/2MowkPz
The Providence City Council is excited to announce this year’s Black History Month celebration! Led by Deputy Majority Leader Mary Kay Harris, the Council has teamed up with the Providence City Archives to create an online exhibit about the life and legacy of Michael S. Van Leesten -“Michael S. Van Leesten: The Bridge Builder”. The exhibit will feature photographs and stories from the decades Van Leesten spent as an activist for racial equity in voter registration, workforce development, and education reform.
The Van Leesten family has generously shared photographs, articles and personal stories to help build this exhibit highlighting his lifelong devotion to the City of Providence and social justice throughout the country.
On Monday, February 15, the City Council will host a virtual panel featuring a discussion on Van Leesten’s life and the pillars of activism that he embodied. Panelists will include family members, community leaders and close friends of Mr. Van Leesten.
Visit the Providence City Council and the Providence City Archives on the web next week to view the online exhibits and look out for social media posts highlighting Van Leesten’s life throughout the month. The Black History page will permanently remain on the Council and Archives web pages and will continue to be updated with new stories of the rich history that people of color have built in the City of Providence.
At last week’s City Council Meeting, the Providence City Council passed a resolution requesting the Office of Sustainability collaborate with the Purchasing Department, the Healthy Communities Office, the Providence Public School Department, and the school district’s food service and facilities management companies to create an Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Policy (EPP Policy) for the City of Providence. The resolution was introduced by Councilman John Goncalves (Ward 1) and co-sponsored by Council President Sabina Matos (Ward 15), Council Majority Leader JoAnn Ryan (Ward 5), Senior Deputy Majority Leader Nicholas J. Narducci Jr. (Ward 4), Deputy Majority leader Mary Kay Harris (Ward 11), Majority Whip John J. Igliozzi, Esq. (Ward 7), Councilors Helen Anthony, Esq. (Ward 2), Pedro Espinal (Ward 10), Kat Kerwin (Ward 12), Rachel Miller (Ward 13), David A. Salvatore (Ward 14) Carmen Castillo (Ward 9), Michael Correia (Ward 6), and James E. Taylor (Ward 8).
In November of last year, Councilman Goncalves drafted a resolution calling for the City of Providence to share an inventory of single-use plastics used at City-owned properties. Based on discussions with Providence’s Office of Sustainability, the Environmental Sustainability Task Force and Clean Water Action Rhode Island, the resolution was later broadened to include environmentally preferable practices in all City purchasing, not just single-use plastics.
“What we learned when researching our City’s purchasing practices is that there is room for an environmentally friendly approach in many areas, not just single-use plastics. This new resolution encourages an Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Policy that holistically addresses environmental and health concerns such as reducing the use of products containing neurotoxic chemicals along with purchasing products that contribute to a local, regenerative, and circular economy in Providence,” stated Councilman John Goncalves.
An EPP Policy will guide City staff and contractors in making purchasing choices that minimize negative impacts on human health and the environment while supporting the goals outlined in the City’s Climate Justice Plan. Making the switch to EPP does not have to be a costly endeavor as more and more cities and nations are going “green.” Items that would replace single-use plastics and other supplies have sharply decreased in price to be equivalent or even less costly than their traditional alternatives, particularly when lifecycle costs are taken into account. Coupled with third-party certification programs to guide staff, this can be a win-win for the city’s fiscal health and our goal of being carbon neutral by 2050.
Majority Leader Jo-Ann Ryan expressed, “I was very happy to join Councilor Goncalves as a co-sponsor on this important initiative. When we are looking at how we are spending our precious tax dollars I believe that putting an eye on greener and more efficient purchasing will benefit our City’s fiscal health in the long term. This is another great step in making Providence a greener city.”
Additionally, Councilor Helen Anthony, one of the co-sponsors of the resolution stated, “I’m proud to support the adoption of the Environmental Preferable Purchasing Policy by the City of Providence. We need to lead by example. Green purchasing will minimize the negative environmental impacts of the products and services used by the City and generate a healthier environment for our residents.”
“With an EPP Policy, the City can leverage its purchasing power to lead by example in city-owned schools and facilities, create a healthy workplace, schools, and community spaces, and help build a sustainable, zero-waste economy right here in Providence,” said Leah Bamberger, Director of Sustainability. “The Office of Sustainability looks forward to working with colleagues and contractors across the City to explore purchasing options that prioritize the health of our people and planet.”
Some of the goals of an EPP policy as outlined in the resolution are to encourage City staff to purchase products and institute practices that reduce waste and materials that are landfilled, especially single-use plastics; conserve energy and water; reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and minimize the use of products containing neurotoxic chemicals. An EPP policy would create incentives for healthy, low-impact purchasing in City-owned facilities and encourage other consumers to adopt similar policies.
“We are grateful to Councilman Goncalves not only for the content of this Resolution – which will help put the City on a path to achieving goals set forth in the Climate Justice Plan – but also for actively engaging with the community and incorporating feedback from the Environmental Sustainability Task Force’s meeting. The Task Force unanimously voted to support the Resolution in December and we want to express thanks to the Councilman for demonstrating collaborative governance,” said Sue AnderBois, Chair of the Environmental Sustainability Task Force.
“I am grateful to the many community partners who have worked to create this plan to institute an EPP Policy including the City of Providence Office of Sustainability and Purchasing Department, my Council colleagues, Mayor Elorza, the Environmental Sustainability Task Force, Clean Water Action Rhode Island, as well as national partner Healthy Babies Bright Futures. I look forward to seeing this initiative come to fruition in the City of Providence as we lead by example and work together to find new ways to ensure that the City of Providence is a green, clean and healthy place for all who reside here,” added Councilman Goncalves.
Providence City Council President Sabina Matos Announces Decennial Ward Boundary Committee
The Committee Will be the Most Diverse in the Council’s History
Providence City Council President Sabina Matos (Ward 15) tonight announced the creation of the Decennial Ward Boundary Committee, which for the first time in twenty years will be comprised of not only City Councilors but Providence residents as well.
“When I set out to form the Decennial Ward Boundary Committee I was clear that I wanted it to be a combination of sitting Councilors and Providence residents that would each bring a different perspective to how we shape our City’s voting districts with the goal to ensure a fair, inclusive and equitable process in determining the new ward boundaries committees,” stated Council President Sabina Matos. “I also wanted it to be as diverse as possible – including representatives from the African American community and the LGBTQIA+ community to ensure that we had a true cross-section of our diverse population. It’s also notable that the committee is led by a female majority – another first in the Council’s history.”
Every ten years, the City Council is responsible for revising and establishing the City’s ward boundaries. In order to accomplish this task, the Providence Home Rule Charter requires the City Council to convene a Committee on Ward Boundaries that will recommend new ward boundaries based on the most recent United States Census data. The Committee must be comprised of five members who are either members of the Council or qualified individuals who reside within the City of Providence.
In constructing the map of new ward boundaries, the committee on ward boundaries and the city council must insure that the boundaries are drawn in accordance with the following criteria:
(1) Equality of ward populations so far as practicable;
(2) Contiguousness of the territory of each ward;
(3) Wards shall comply with the federal Voting Rights Act (42 U.S.C. Sec. 1971 and following).
(4) The geographic integrity of local neighborhood; and
(5) Geographical compactness such that nearby areas of population are not bypassed for more distant populations.
The Charter requires that the committee hold at least four public meetings, during which public comment will be accepted before creating a proposed map of ward boundaries. After the final plan is completed, it is then submitted to the full Council with a written report of findings and reasons for adoption, which will include: notation of all criteria employed in the process, a full analysis of their work, and a detailed explanation of the committee’s decisions. After these items are received, the City Council must host a public hearing before the plan can be adopted.
The Decennial Ward Boundary Committee will be comprised of:
Senior Deputy Majority Leader Nicholas J. Narducci Jr., who has served on the City Council since 2006 and whose term will end in December 2022, is an ideal choice for his institutional experience. As a lifelong resident of Providence, his knowledge of the City is unparalleled. Councilman Narducci represents the North End and part of the Wanskuck neighborhoods of Providence.
Deputy Majority Leader Mary Kay Harris, who was elected to the City Council in 2014, has strong roots in South Providence. She knows the neighborhoods and the south side of the City like no other. Her long and storied career is one of true resilience from being a welder to a community advocate. Her ongoing work to create genuinely affordable housing in Providence will be valuable skills in creating the new ward boundaries. Councilwoman Harris represents the neighborhoods of Upper South Providence and part of the West End.
Councilor Rachel Miller was elected to the City Council in 2018 and has been a fierce advocate for workers’ rights, equitable development, racial and environmental justice. Originally from New York, Miller moved to Providence in 2003 and quickly became involved in the community. She has been a vocal community activist and has worked to amplify the diverse voices of her community. She represents the historic Federal Hill and part of the West End neighborhoods.
Jessica Cigna has lived in Providence since 2007 and lives on the East Side of Providence. She is a senior data analyst with over 20 years of significant experience relating to the research and application of social policies, including the connections between education, housing, health, the social safety net, family economic success, neighborhood change, and revitalization. She serves on several community organization boards, and her skill set will be ideal in crafting the decennial ward boundary map.
Nick Freeman is a lifelong Providence native and currently lives in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood of the City. Nick brings with him a wealth of historical knowledge related to the City Council, where he served the body for 11 years as a policy and research analyst and then as the manager of policy and research. He currently is the assistant director at The Providence Foundation, where he advocates for policies and projects for the development of downtown and the City. His vast knowledge of the City Council and its various wards will be a great asset to the committee.
Council President Sabina Matos continued, “I believe that this cohort of exceptional committee members are ready to take on this historical task which will shape how our City is governed for the next decade. Further, I know they will do so engaging and listening with humility and with the best interest of our residents at the core of every decision they propose.”