The Providence City Council unveils updated website honoring our long and storied history

centered on our neighborhoods and community engagement

Today, the City Council unveils an updated user-centric website and a rebrand of its communications that pays homage to the City’s storied and diverse neighborhoods.

Council President Matos stated, “Providence residents love and are proud to represent the neighborhoods they come from. The rich history of our city could not exist without the great contributions made by generations of families who hail from every corner of this city. Wards and ward boundaries change over time. What anchors people to Providence are the memories made in settings like Federal Hill, Mt. Hope, and Washington Park. The story of our city is a story of neighborhoods.”

Providence is made up of 25 neighborhoods represented by 15 City Councilors. Those neighborhoods are Blackstone, Charles, College Hill, Downtown (Jewelry District), Elmhurst, Elmwood, Federal Hill, Fox Point, Hartford, Hope ( Summit), Lower South Providence, Manton, Mount Hope, Mount Pleasant, Olneyville, Reservoir, Silver Lake, Smith Hill, South Elmwood, Upper South Providence, Valley, Wanskuck, Washington Park, Wayland, and the West End.

President Matos continued, “We are extremely excited to have our neighbors interact with our new website. This new site is easier to use, navigate, and find relevant information about Councilors and meetings. Most importantly, from the landing page the site establishes a reverence for neighborhoods.”

In addition to the website, the Council will also begin livestreaming Council Meetings beginning in April on both Facebook and the Council’s YouTube Channel.


Providence Celebrates International Women’s Day

The Providence City Council, Mayor Jorge Elorza, SISTAfire RI, and A Sweet Creation will be hosting the Fourth Annual International Women’s Day Celebration at City Hall on Friday, March 6, 2020 at 6:00 pm.

The first International Women’s Day was organized by Councilwoman Mary-Kay Harris (Ward 11), and for the past three years, has brought together a diverse group of women, elected officials and youth groups such as A Sweet Creation Youth Organization, from across the City to celebrate and uplift women. This year, we will gather to celebrate the ‘she-roes.’
Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune said, “I am honored to carry on Councilwoman Harris’s vision in bringing women together for International Women’s Day. I’m also thrilled to be partnering with SISTAfire and other organizations to bring women in our community together to celebrate our Sheroes. The goal is to create an inclusive space where all women can reflect, share their experiences and stories of the women who inspired them. I am grateful for women like Councilwoman Harris, and the women in my life who have paved the way and inspired so many of us.”
“I’m honored to serve with my colleagues who understand how important International Women’s Day is,” stated City Council President Sabina Matos. “Councilwoman Harris has been and continues to be an inspiration to me, and our colleagues on the Council. Her dedication to working with the community and bringing groups together in honor of International Women’s Day is a wonderful example of the power of what women can do when we come together. I’m very excited to share in this celebration with my colleagues and would like to thank Councilwoman LaFortune for spearheading this year’s celebration. I am reminded, as women, we must take the time to acknowledge how our experiences have shaped us, and the role models who showed us how much we could achieve. I am proud to be the President of the
first majority-female City Council in Providence’s her-story, and honored to
serve side by side with a dynamic and diverse group of women and men to serve the City we love so much.”
“It is always an honor to celebrate International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month with the strong and inspiring women that make our community great,” said Mayor Jorge O. Elorza. “In this moment in history, we have more women voices at the table both locally and nationally than ever before and we have seen the profound impact of their leadership. I believe that by centering these voices and experiences, we can continue to empower more generations of women and build a stronger future together.”
The City’s International Women’s Day Celebration will take place on the Third Floor of City Hall in the Alderman’s Chambers, and will incorporate vendors, group discussions, visual art, and performances and will feature Keynote speakers, Ms. Henrietta White-Holder and Ms. Marlena Rodrigues.
We want to thank our partners: SISTAfire RI, A Sweet Creation Youth Organization, Tiffany Rhule, Cesi Rivera, Gee Gee’s Southern Cuisine, Ellie’s, Sin Bakery, Plant City, and FireWorks Catering for their generous support of this wonderfully affirming event.
About International Women’sDay:
International Women’s Day – IWD (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.
No one government, NGO, charity, corporation, academic institution, women’s network, or media hub is solely responsible for International Women’s Day. Many organizations declare an annual IWD theme that supports their specific agenda or cause, and some of these are adopted more widely with relevance than others. International Women’s Day is a collective day of global celebration and a call for gender parity.
International Women’s Day is all about unity, celebration, reflection, advocacy, and action – whatever that looks like globally at a local level. But one thing is for sure, International Women’s Day has been occurring for well over a century – and continues to grow from strength to strength.
Learn about the values that guide IWD’s ethos.

City Councilors Introduce a Series of Resolutions Calling on RIDE and the Providence Public School District to Rethink How We Use Student Resource Officers in City Schools

Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune (Ward 3), Councilwoman KatherineKerwin (Ward 12) and Councilwoman Rachel Miller (Ward 13) tonight will introduce a resolution calling on the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) to increase funding for social and emotional learning and support services. They are also requesting that RIDE eliminate school-based School Resource Officers (SROs) in the City’s school district.

In multiple studies that assess the overall effectiveness of counselors, social-emotional support and learning generate positive student outcomes. An increase in funding for social, emotional support and learning; the implementation of a comprehensive safety plan that includes protocols for emergency drills; and the creation of a School Safety, Culture, and Climate Team in each school provides a more engaged and supportive learning community where students can thrive. The two resolutions provide a framework for the role of SROs, an increase in social and emotional support and learning, elimination of school-based School Resource Officers and most importantly, an avenue for more robust community engagement with students, families, teachers and administrators in the planning and monitoring of school safety.

“I have met with our young people and student groups on multiple occasions over the past year to discuss student needs. I have also researched numerous educational structures and models around safety and climate in public schools. The need across the board is for additional school counselors and social-emotional support. Our students want to learn and thrive in an environment where they feel safe and where they can escape adverse experiences and encounters that happen outside of school walls,” stated Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune. “Students want to be able to walk through the building without fear of being arrested for nonviolent criminal infractions. Teachers and administrators see the need for social-emotional support in our schools. They want to work in an environment where they feel safe and can focus on educating and developing our young people. It is our responsibility to provide the tools and resources to create an environment where teachers can effectively teach, our students can learn and thrive, our administrators can focus on developing strategies and opportunities to move our schools forward and our families can feel supported and know that their children are safe. School Resource Officers can serve as excellent partners and resources but not as a first line of defense when addressing minor and common adolescent infractions, which could be better addressed by school administrators. Our schools are not prisons; they are environments for learning. It is time that we invest in proactive approaches that do not lead to violent incidents or create a pipeline to prison instead of a pathway to success. We need counselors, social-emotional support and learning in our schools, not armed officers.”

According to Leadership for Educational Equity, studies conducted by the University of Maryland in 2011, and a study included in 2015’s Adolescent Research Review, schools with an increased police presence saw higher rates of incidents than schools without. Other studies cited that a disproportionate amount of students of color and those with disabilities were referred to law enforcement for school-based incidents over their Caucasian counterparts.

Councilwoman Kat Kerwin stated, “I am so proud of the youth organizers of Providence who have spent hours of time advocating for a school district that no longer accepts the school to prison pipeline as the norm, but instead demands dignity. This is an excellent first step to ensuring that school resource officers are not the first line of defense for disciplinary issues as we begin to envision a district with more social and emotional support rather than armed school police officers.”

The resolution clearly lays out that it is the role of principals, teachers and other educators to administer school disciplinary action, and that any disciplinary action must support personal growth, as well as provide opportunities for the students and their peers to learn from any incident that might occur. Most importantly, any discipline administered needs to be done in a way that keeps students in their classrooms whenever possible. School-based incidents should not be punished by harsh or exclusionary measures or through the justice system.

With the takeover of the Providence Public Schools by RIDE late last year, changes to the current school culture are necessary to improve the overall holistic health of our system and the students within the care of the district. Organizations like the Providence Student Union (PSU) have galvanized students across the City to ensure that their “frustrations, demands, and dreams are heard.”  One of PSU’s main objectives is ending the racist and arbitrary disciplinary practices in and out of Providence’s city schools.

In addition to this resolution, Councilwoman LaFortune, along with her colleagues, Deputy Majority Leader Mary Kay Harris (Ward 11), Councilwoman Katherine Kerwin (Ward 12), and Councilman David A. Salvatore (Ward 14) will put forth a resolution requesting that the Providence Public School District and the Providence Police Department enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) regarding the role of SROs in Providence city schools.

The MOU would set forth guidelines to ensure that the School District and Police Department have a shared understanding of the role and responsibilities in maintaining school safety, improving the climate in city schools, and supporting the educational opportunities and outcomes for every student in the City’s care.

The primary role of the SROs is to improve school safety and the educational climate of schools; any disciplinary action should fall to the school’s principal and educators and must support personal growth and learning opportunities.


City Councilors Endorse the Environmental Council of Rhode Island’s Climate Crisis Campaign

Councilors Helen Anthony, Nirva LaFortune, Pedro Espinal, Kat Kerwin,and Rachel Miller Endorse ECRI’s Climate Crisis Plan

City Councilors Helen Anthony (Ward 2), Nirva LaFortune (Ward 3), Pedro Espinal (Ward 10), Kat Kerwin (Ward 12), Rachel Miller (Ward 13) introduced a resolution endorsing the Environmental Council of Rhode Island’s Climate Crisis Campaign at last night’s Council Meeting which was passed by the City Council.

“Climate change is the greatest challenge of our time. We as a country, state and city need to take immediate action to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions; create a just and equitable transition to a sustainable economy and invest in adaptation and resilience to protect the people and places we love.”, stated Councilwoman Helen Anthony. “Continued increases in global termperatures will hit RI particularly hard as our temperatures have risen faster than in any other state, We can’t wait to take action.”

Rhode Island faces many challenges due to changing climate including increased storm intensity, flooding, heat waves, insect-born diseases, crop and fishery failures, accelerating coastal erosion, and a sea-level rise of up to 11.5 feet during this century. In January, there were several 65 degree days – in a month where you would expect to see snow and freezing temperatures.

Councilman Pedro Espinal stated, “The climate crisis is occurring here in Providence and much of that is due to pollution from industry. In South Providence, the neighborhood I represent, we have some of the highest rates of childhood asthma in the city, we have the highest rate in the city and state and have the ninth highest in the nation, which can be life-threatening and costly. The climate crisis is not just about warmer winters, longer summers, it’s about our well-being. I am proud to stand with my colleagues in support of this important mission.”

Rhode Island has experienced the fastest temperature rise of any state in the continental United States. The state and its municipalities must take immediate action to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions by phasing out fossil fuels, create a just and equitable transition to a stable environmentally-focused economy, and invest in mechanisms to adapt and remain resilient to protect the people that call Rhode Island home.

“I have been working on and in support of the ‘Green-New Deal’ here in Providence,” stated Councilor Rachel M. Miller. “Not because it’s fashionable, but because it is the right thing to do. We are being left behind at the federal level by a President who does not believe in a changing climate, who pulled our Country out of the Paris Climate Accord, and who continually works to promote a culture that embraces coal and fracking. These policies are not only harmful to the environment, but they will in fact harm all of us.”

The Environmental Council of Rhode Island’s Climate Crisis Campaign is working to elevate climate issues and the need for policy solutions within the state and at the local level. ECRI is working on updating the Resilient Rhode Island Act and the Energy Facilities Siting Act, helping the State acheive its renewable energy goals and opposing attempts to allow dirty pyrolysis (gasification) electricity generation.

Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune shared, “It is all of our responsibility in creating a climate-resistant city that supports solutions that promote cleaner air, sustainable communities and access to unpolluted safe resources. Any action undertaken by our state has to be done with an eye on safety, health, and our economic well-being. We must also remember when we often talk about the climate crisis we forget those that are most vulnerable and we must create inclusive approaches that consider the voices of all our residents. We must ensure that we leave no one behind in this important work, because it requires all hands on deck.”

“I became a City Councilor and campaigned on fighting for the residents of my neighborhood, and I can’t think of a more worthy fight than this,” stated Councilwoman Kat Kerwin. “I use my role to lift the voices of my generation who are often not given a seat at the table when it comes to issues like this, yet it is my generation and the ones after that will be dealing with the ramifications of our climate crisis. If we don’t act now, then when?”

For more information on the Environmental Council of Rhode Island’s Climate Crisis Campaign, visit them on the web here: ECRI.


City Council Introduces Resolution to Honor Michael Van Leesten

Tonight the City Council will introduce a resolution to honor the life and legacy of Michael Van Leesten, a Providence native and a pioneer in the Civil Rights Struggle of the 1960s.

Mr. Michael Van Leesten was a graduate of Hope High School, Rhode Island College, and was a veteran on the United States Airforce. Upon his graduation from Rhode Island College, he became active in the Civil Rights Movement and participated in SCLC SCOPE Project in Choctaw County, Alabama. He along with six other college students, worked doing community organizing and voter registration in rural Alabama during the height of the Civil Rights Struggle. He spoke of his time in the Movement as a “defining moment in my life,” and he believed that this singular experience made him a better person, better husband, better father, and better community leader.

“Michael Van Leesten was my friend, and a ray of inspiration and hope to many. We would talk over the phone and laugh and before we hung up he would also say ‘Nirva, I am so proud of you,’” stated Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune (Ward 3).  “He was more than a board member, the executive director of OIC or a father, he was a community citizen, someone who was aware of and understands the broader issues that our community- and his place in the community and his role in effecting change. He was all of these things because he was a community citizen first and took an active role in his community and the people of his community. He was a bridge builder, an architect of connections and that is why it would be appropriate to name the bride after him. Like the new Pedestrian bridge he bridged gaps and created a platform for all to pass through and that gave others permission to do the same.”

Mr. Van Leesten served as the Executive Director of Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC) of Rhode Island, which he helped found, for more than 15years. He was also a consultant and the owner of Van Leesten Associates, and also served as the Director of Planning and Development in Providence. After which, he went on to be the Director of Public Affairs for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, and then in 2006 he resumed his role at the OIC until his passing. He was board member of numerous organizations including the Board of Regents, Peerless Precision, and Fleet Bank, and was awarded honorary doctorate degrees from Roger Williams College, Rhode Island College, and the University of Rhode Island.

Deputy Majority Leader Mary Kay Harris (Ward 11) stated, “Mike played a very important role in my life. Through his vision as the Executive Director of Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC), he was essential to me becoming a welder. Giving me a profession and career that helped me raise my children and provide them with a quality education. His life’s work was ensuring that those living in poverty could find a way to rise up, learn a trade, and we are all better for having had him in our lives.”

Many community members have been working on several different ways to honor Mr. Van Leesten’s life and legacy, and the City Council and its members wish to make that process more cohesive. The resolution that will be introduced tonight and will be sent to the Council’s Committee on Urban Redevelopment, Renewal, and Planning, which is chaired by Deputy Majority Leader Mary Kay Harris. There the Committee will work to bring all the relevant parties together to discuss the most meaningful and fitting way to honor Mr. Van Leesten.

My Turn: Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune

My Turn: Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune

One of our nation’s most significant challenges has been providing a high-quality public education that serves all children, and this challenge has been particularly acute in our urban communities.

Over decades the Providence Public Schools have invested in changes — new curriculum, new professional development, new schools, new tests — yet has failed to significantly shift outcomes. Close to half of our students perform below proficiency in math and English, and about half of our high school students missed at least 10% of the last school year.

So why has our district, and so many others, under-performed for so long? I would argue that our public education system is built on a foundation of deep, systemic oppression that cannot be addressed with an isolated approach. The structure of public education in the United States has systematically disenfranchised students of color, students with disabilities, students from low-income backgrounds and students who are English language learners. The system that holds the promise of uniting people from diverse communities in an informed democracy has instead sorted students into increasingly divided groups of “haves” and “have-nots.”

As a proud graduate of the Providence public schools and a mother of two children of color in the district, I am ready for change and optimistic about talk of bold action. We need to shake up the entrenched bureaucracy that is holding our schools back. But I am apprehensive about the state taking control of our schools when they lack a demonstrated understanding of our urban communities, their strengths and their needs. For years our state has neglected the urban core, only stepping in for temporary relief without sustainable progress. I know, because I was there.

My parents sent five children through eight Providence public schools, and two of us completed college. As an undocumented immigrant, English language learner, and lead poisoning survivor, study after study suggests I should not be successful. I worked hard, I had parents and teachers who believed in me, and I benefited from resources in and outside of the classroom — programs, people, opportunities — that helped me navigate all kinds of obstacles.

The dire statistics and inspiring mentors are in part what motivated me to study education policy and to run for city council. I am delighted to hear so many voices saying it is time to do right by our schools, but it remains to be seen if we really mean it.

I am already apprehensive about the prospects for real change because plans are being made without the public. The system has systematically failed our kids — my kids — sowing deep mistrust. The way to build enduring change is through a culture that embraces the realities of daily life for our children and families. The way to build enduring change is through transparency and shared trust. The way to build enduring change is by helping students, families and teachers lead.

In example after example nationally, urban district takeovers are top-down, driven by outside experts, and almost universally fail. Separating students, teachers, and families from authority, governance and expertise will limit our success. We have all seen temporary spikes in test scores. The reason our schools continue to fail is that no one has taken the bold step of building long-term community leadership. Providence, with its incredible strengths, could be the first, but only if we set aside short-term political fixes for transparency and true engagement.

Throughout the city, I’ve heard people worry that this process will prioritize politics, not children. They are worried that the plan is being formed behind closed doors.

We cannot deliver a high-quality education for our students if we fail to address the systemic ways that students, families and teachers have been disenfranchised by a public education system that should help them thrive. We should welcome bold action, but not without bold accountability for the people the system serves.

As submitted to the Providence Journal and published online on Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Chinese (Simplified)EnglishHaitian CreoleSpanish