Speaker Shekarchi, Rep. Williams, Sen. Mack Announce Walmart Foundation Grant for RI African Heritage History Education Curriculum for Public Schools


STATE HOUSE – House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick), Rep. Anastasia P. Williams (D-Dist. 9, Providence) and Sen. Tiara Mack (D-Dist. 6, Providence) today announced a Walmart Foundation grant to the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society to develop a Rhode Island African Heritage History Education curriculum for all public schools.  The announcement was held during a virtual Zoom press conference due to COVID-19 precautions.

“I’d like to thank the Walmart Foundation for this critically important support to bring African American Heritage History to our classrooms.  This is just the beginning and we are looking forward to our continuing partnership to bring this history to our students.  I am proud to join Representative Williams and the rest of my colleagues in the House in supporting this important educational effort and I thank everyone involved in creating this curriculum,” said Speaker Shekarchi.

“As we have witnessed over the past year, the connections that hold our society together are fragile and can only remain strong through respect, compassion, and most importantly, truth.  Knowing this truth is essential to a united society and I am very happy that these lessons will finally be presented to our students so that they may go forth into the world truly knowing what parts of our society work for everyone and the parts that sadly still remain caught in a cycle of intolerance and injustice.  And hopefully, our students will use this knowledge to create a better society, a society that actually values the life and dignity of every Rhode Islander, regardless of our differences.  This has been my hope, to bring our state’s true history to light, and today’s announcement makes that dream a reality,” said Representative Williams.

“Over the past year, I have witnessed our youth courageously stand up for what is right and this curriculum will further supply them with the knowledge to create a just and equitable world that embraces blackness and all other diverse aspects of our society.  Through this, I have an abundance of hope for our future and this curriculum will give our next generations the blueprint to build this equitable, tolerant and respectful world and a society that celebrates its blackness not only in the past and the present, but into the future,” said Senator Mack.

“This is an incredible time and I thank Theresa and Keith for all they do to bring Rhode Island’s African American history to our state and the world.  I thank the excellent team at Walmart, Speaker Shekarchi, Representative Williams and all those who worked with true dedication to bring this part of our history to our schools.  We all have a lot to still learn and a lot to do in the future, but this is a wonderful first step and I thank all who devoted their time to this worthy cause,” said Chairman of the House Finance Committee Marvin L. Abney (D-Dist. 73, Newport, Middletown).

The $50,000 grant will help incorporate African American heritage history into Rhode Island public schools. The work towards a curriculum was initiated by the 1696 Historical Commission, which the General Assembly launched in 2014.  The legislation was co-sponsored in the House by Reps. Williams, Shekarchi, Abney, Grace Diaz (D-Dist. 11, Providence) and former Rep. Joseph Almeida, and it was sponsored in the Senate by former Sen. Harold Metts.  Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea chaired the commission, and it submitted a report to the Assembly and the Governor.  Since then, a commission task force has been assembling the required historical and educational content to define and build a sustainable curriculum.

The grant will be used to develop lesson plans to be incorporated into Rhode Island public schools, develop and deliver comprehensive training for history and social studies teachers, and develop and launch a series of webinars and online learning exhibits, as well as a web portal, to engage educators, parents, students and the public about the deep and rich African heritage and history in the state.

“The mission is to advance knowledge and recognition of the integral role of Africans, and later African heritage people, in the history of Rhode Island and our nation,” said Keith Stokes, a public historian and member of the commission.  “These studies will empower all Rhode Island students to develop attitudes of tolerance and acceptance of the dignity of every person through a learning experience of a more inclusive and complete history of our state.”

Partnering with the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society on this project are Rhode Island College, the Rhode Island Historical Society and the Newport Historical Society.

Also participating in the press conference, during Black History Month, were Rep. Karen Alzate (D-Dist. 60, Pawtucket), Chairwoman of the RI Legislative Black and Latino Caucus, Sen. Sandra Cano (D-Dist. 8, Pawtucket), Sen. Ana B. Quezada (D-Dist. 2, Providence), Walmart officials Chris Buchanan and Regine Moore, Secretary of State Gorbea, Newport Mayor Jean Marie Napolitano, RIC President Frank Sanchez, RI Black Heritage Society Executive Director Theresa Guzman Stokes and 1696 Historical Commission member Keith Stokes.

Representative Williams has introduced legislation (2021-H 5697) to incorporate African Heritage History Education in all Rhode Island elementary and secondary schools. The goal is for all students to receive instruction on African Heritage History in order to have a more comprehensive understanding of the history of our nation.

Senator Mack will be introducing the legislation in the Senate.

The legislation calls for every school district to include in its curriculum a unit of instruction on African Heritage and History utilizing, but not being limited to, the materials collected and disseminated by the Department of Education, commencing with the 2022-2023 school year.  The bill does not require school districts to require African Heritage History instruction in every year, but that African Heritage education and instruction shall be utilized during appropriate times in the elementary and secondary school curricula, as determined by the local authority. All students should have received instruction on African Heritage and History materials by the time they have graduated from high school.

The legislation was referred to the House Education Committee.