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Dan Lawlor: Providence is Still a Place to be Proud of

Wednesday, April 04, 2012


Seth Luther, itinerant preacher and labor activist from 1830s Providence, once wrote, "the Great Lawgiver of the Universe requires none of his creatures to respect injustice."

For Christians, this time of year is known as Holy Week, a commemoration of the last days of Jesus before his crucifixion by the Roman State and Resurrection on Easter. This time, for me, is one to reflect on the tremendous spirit and life that is in the City of Providence.

In the last few weeks, RISD students have sought to give new life to an abandoned, 101 year old synagogue on the city's South Side. With paint, shovels, and garden tools, landscaping and artwork has helped to spruce up this space on Broad St. All this work is the beginning of a new phase for the building. As cited in the Brown Daily Herald, one student organizer, Tim Natividad, has been, "setting up a series of community dialogues or open houses with members of the community and asking them what they would like this to be.”) Through community effort, a dead building finds new life.

In the last few months, since the start of the school year, dozens of art workers, parents, and mentors have sought to provide shelter, space, inspiration and good company to students in programs from Providence CityArts for Youth to Community Music Works to New Urban Arts. These programs, which serve hundreds of students in the city, and are wonderful, powerful, joyous examples of community engagement and activism. Through a mix of private, corporate, and government funding, these services and opportunities help enrich the lives of teachers, families, and students. As they say at the National Endowment for the Arts, "Art Works."

In the last few years, Providence has weathered floods, violence and recession. From domestic abuse to police corruption, from asbestos in school buildings to loss of jobs, this city has been through quiet the tumult. Yet, this city lives, and lives boldly. This is not a place to run from, but to.

Boston Magazine recently published a piece on Lawrence, Massachusetts, called "City of the Damned." The title was over the top, but much contained in the article was indeed bleak. The author wrote of federal investigations for corruption, economic challenges, drug addictions, failing schools, and decrepit buildings. Yet, a counter-narrative ran through the article. The citizens who reported abuses, community leaders and ministers trying to build safe, supportive neighborhoods, students demanding an education, and community activists struggling to hold their leaders accountable. Even against a backdrop of corruption, racism, and drug trafficking, there is much to be proud of. Even against the challenges, the people rise to meet them.

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