RI PowerPlayer: Ray Watson
Thursday, January 23, 2014
Tell us about your current work with the Mount Hope Neighborhood Association.
I currently serve as the Executive Director of the Mount Hope Neighborhood Association, Inc, a community development/ social service organization based in the Mt Hope section of the East Side of Providence. November 28th, 2013 marked the start of my 8th year with the organization, which is a blessing because 4 previous generations of my family called Mt Hope home and I lived in the neighborhood until the age of 12.
Why did you start to take on an activist role regarding speaking out on the Urban League?
I took a more active role in voicing my concerns about the Urban League of RI because I care about the Rhode Island community, and know what a great resource the League could be if it was better servicing the State of Rhode Island. Unemployment is rampant, violence is prevalent especially amongst our urban communities, and overall our community is in need of a great reprieve. The Urban League of RI should be a beacon of light for our community during this period of darkness.
What are you hoping to achieve with organizing the recent rallies?
My goal in organizing the recent rallies is to raise awareness and gather support with the intention of organizing the community to hold the Urban League accountable to its commitment to the Rhode Island community. My intent is to bring light to this situation and I fully agree with Mayor Taveras’ and Councilman Yurden’s calls for a more in-depth examination of the org’s financial management before allowing the current Board and CEO to sell the Prairie Avenue facilities. The recent circumstances regarding the concerns around the financial management of the Urban League of RI are just indicative of the poor management of the org as a whole. The attempt to sell the building rather than leverage it as a resource shows an overall lack of vision for the organization’s future. Good business standards and practice say that it’s time for a change in leadership to stoke a new heroic period for the org.
I think there are several major issues that community leaders have been working to address here in Providence. Accountability and professionalism amongst our law enforcement agencies and officials is one particular issue. Violence and lack of achievement amongst our youth is another. Racial disparities in how school policies are implemented is a third. Lack of employment opportunities for City residents is also an issue. It’s hard to pinpoint one particular issue as the most important problem that Providence is facing
Take us through a day in the life of Ray.
I usually wake up around 7am, read my bible and say my prayers, and then hop in the shower. I then check my calendar and see what’s on my schedule for the day. Depending what my agenda looks like I can potentially be out of the office at a meeting, but if I’m in the office I’m probably working on a project, looking for funding opportunities for the Center or helping to ensure that the overall programs/services of the Agency are running well. Evenings can vary as well. Depending on the day of the week I can be at a community meeting, at drum practice with the Eastern Medicine Singers, at Church or working on an audio/visual project at my studio. If I do happen to have some free time I will usually be with family or friends spending quality time. It’s usually a full day.
Tell us something nobody knows about you.
I used to have a phobia of butterflies and moths. Lol. Strange, I know. Lol.
My biggest role model in my life would be my late grandmother Alice Watson. She was born-again saved and was an excellent example to me of what Jesus meant when he said Love God first and treat others the way you want to be treated. She raised me to understand right from wrong and the value of hard-work, which has impacted how I’ve dealt with myself and others throughout my life. It was actually her passing that motivated me to get more involved in community activism. I still reflect upon conversations that we had and lessons that she taught me growing up. I miss her a lot and always try my best to be a similar example to others of the type of love that she showed. Those are big shoes to fill, but it’s a worthy endeavor nonetheless.
The Bible. I’m actually finishing up my 5th complete read through of it in the past 7 years.
If you could have dinner with anyone in the world today, who would it be and why?
Hmmmmm. That’s a tough one. I’d like to have a meeting with the future Governor of Rhode Island and future Mayor of the City of Providence to have an open and honest dialogue about the issues facing our collective Rhode Island community. The intent would be to leave such a momentous occasion, lol, with their personal, professional and political buy in on the implementation of a solid plan of action regarding the appropriate next steps for the productive, comprehensive and righteous development of our collective community.
Related Slideshow: 13 Who Made a Difference in RI in 2013
This time last year, marriage equality was the issue to watch in 2013 -- would it finally be the year that Rhode Island made same sex marriage a reality?
Rhode Island State Senator Donna Nesselbush was at the front of the pack of those who made sure it was.
On January 3, 2013, Nesselbush along with Rep. Art Handy introduced legislation to legalize same-sex marriage in Rhode Island. While the House had over half its members as sponsors, the Senate had a much more uphill battle to wage. Catholic Bishop Tobin continued to be outspoken against the measure, seeking a referendum instead, but other religious in RI countered his position . RI's Episcopal Bishop, W. Nicholas Knisely came out in its support of gay marriage-- as did the RI Council of Churches.
A force to be reckoned with for decades in Rhode Island politics, Rickman once again asserted his position of prominence as elder statesman when the issue of pool closings heated up in a very hot summer in Rhode Island.
The former State Representative and Deputy Secretary of State -- and former president of the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society, Rickman has been the quintessential power player in RI for decades. An outspoken proponent of gay marriage and opponent of nuclear energy, Rickman this years was a constant presence -- and vocal critic of the Taveras' administration's decision to close the Davey Lopes pool in South Providence.
One of the state's brightest young stars, Davis has made a name for himself on the Rhode Island business and political scene over the course of a number of years now, and shows no sign of stopping.
The wunderkid who made millions in Silicon Valley before returning to his home state of Rhode Island, Davis set his sights on education reform in the state while on the Board of Regents, before turning his full attention to his new Providence-based business venture, Swipely -- which recently moved from its original Pike Street location to downtown Providence, along with its 70 employees -- and the business is growing.
Judge Sarah Taft-Carter
Rhode Island Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter is perhaps the person now most front and center in pension reform in Rhode Island -- having overseen consent judgements in the Providence pension agreement last spring, and now the state awaits her word in the state mediated pension reform lawsuit, which could have major ramifications on the state's bottom line.
On the city-side, in March, Taft-Carter issued a ruling calling the deal agreed to by Providence's current firefighters, police officers and retirees a "fair, adequate and reasonable settlement" and "a shining example" for other cities and towns, as Providence moved to reduce the city's large structural deficit.
Ted Siedle and Matt Taibbi
Rhode Island pension reform came under national attention in 2013, when former SEC lawyer and Forbes Columnist Edward Siedle first wrote in April a column entitled "Rhode Island's Public Pension Reform Looks More like a Feeding Frenzy" for the financial publication -- which was then followed up by "RI Pensioners 3% COLAs will go to pay Wall Street 4%+ Fees." Soon Rhode Island's pension reform -- and General Treasurer Gina Raimondo -- faced intense scrutiny in both the national and local press.
The heat was turned up even further when Rolling Stone star reporter Matt Taibbi, who'd written such articles as "How Wall Street Killed Pension Reform" and "Bank of America: Too Crooked to Fail," turned his critical eye on Rhode Island when he wrote "Looting the Pension Funds."
After serving in the General Assembly as a State Rep from 2006 to 2013, Baldelli-Hunt set her sights on the City of Woonsocket's highest seat this year, and in November became the second woman ever elected to the position, beating incumbent Leo Fontaine by roughly 2 to 1 margin.
Running on a reform platform, Baldelli-Hunt said the city had been underfunding its schools, and questioned previous Fontaine's disclosure of the city's finances. “I’m angry. As a legislator, I feel that I’ve been misled at a time we’re trying to push through legislation to avoid municipal bankruptcy,” Baldelli-Hunt said in June.
When GoLocal uncovered that the 40 highest paid city employees in Providence collectively earned $6.3 million in pay and benefits in fiscal year 2013 -- and that topping the list was fire rescue captain Vincent D'Ambra, whose total compensation was $218,145 -- the spotlight was placed squarely on municipal pay in the city of Providence.
That $200,000 salary -- and five and six-figure overtimes uncovered -- sparked calls for reforms, as Providences Internal Auditor Matthew Clarkin's first quarter report for fiscal year 2014 projected that the city's $4.7 million fire callback budget is likely on pace to cost more than $1 million over budget for the year.
Men's Basketball Coaches
It was a good year to be a men's college basketball coach in Rhode Island. And their schools responded accordingly.
As GoLocal's Scott Cordischi reported in April, "First, Ed Cooley received a raise and had his contract extended by Providence College. Then it was Dan Hurley getting extended by URI. Today, Bryant University announced that it has extended the contract of its men's basketball coach Tim O'Shea through the 2019-2020 season."
One of the world's biggest music stars this year decided to make Rhode Island her backyard in 2013. And it wasn't exactly small change.
Swift, the chart-topping country and pop sensation opted to call Watch Hill "home" in April, when she purchased her waterfront Westerly property for $17.75 million -- in cash. Taxes? A cool $9,600 and change a month.
Sightings of Swift ensued, whether it was with famous Hollywood friends at the Olympia Tea Room, or on a tongue-in-cheek tee shirt (which was soon pulled from the shelves. Swift posted photos of herself and friends on her blog, enjoying the 4th of July in Rhode Island at her seaside estate.
The Rhode Island beer renaissance got a big boost from Foolproof Brewery in Pawtucket, and founder and owner Garrison, along with brewmaster Damase Ollson, immediately made a major splash on the regional -- and national -- beer scene.
Foolproof scooped up three medals at the 17th Annual Great International Beer and Cider Festival in Providence in November which featured five hundred and seventy-five beers and ciders from around the world, taking first place in the Golden Ale category, and earning silver medals in the Robust Porter and Russian Imperial Stout divsions. Garrison -- and Foolproof -- have officially arrived.
One of the 2013's biggest events for Providence -- the reopening of the historic Arcade downtown -- wouldn't have been possible without the man behind the project, developer Evan Granoff.
The country's oldest indoor shopping mall that opened in 1828 closed its doors in 2008, leaving the Greek revival as an empty anchor between Weybosset and Westminster Streets. In 2010, GoLocal talked with James Hall, Executive Director of the Providence Preservation Society, about the historical significance of the Rhode Island landmark. After much speculation, the city confirmed in 2012 that plans were underway to redevelop the space into retail and living spaces, in the way of "micro-lofts".
The 19th President of Brown University, Christina Paxson came to Providence with an impressive resume, having previously served as Dean of Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and bringing expertise in economics and public health.
Paxon found herself -- and Brown -- in the midst of national attention when students along with the public protested a lecture intended to be given by New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly. The lecture, which was scheduled for October 29 at the Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions, was cancelled after more than 30 minutes of interruption.
The Executive Director of the YWCA of RI, Deborah Perry has been advocating for women across the state for years based on the YWCA's mission of eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.
In April, Perry and the YWCA hosted its 5th Annual Women Holding Office celebration, where it recognized Susan Farmer and Kathleen Connell with the Isabelle Ahearn O'Neill Award, who was Rhode Island's first female legislator. Farmer was the first female elected to statewide office of Secretary of State, and Connell was the third, following Arlene Violet's distinction of being the second woman elected statewide -- and first woman elected to Attorney General in any state.