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Senior Community Development Analyst, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston; Director, Working Cities Challenge in Rhode Island
As a native Rhode Islander and a person of color, I strongly believe that our state is a great place to live and work – for some. Diversity is one of Rhode Island’s greatest strengths; however, racial and ethnic diversity and the overall recognition and inclusion of all who are deemed to be “different” is frequently left out of the equation as we try to find ways to solve economic issues that plague our poorest communities.
Diverse communities across our state are part of the fabric that make Rhode Island a great place to live, work, and raise families. All of us are affected when our citizens struggle with high unemployment, poor quality education, lack of affordable housing, and deficient access to quality healthcare and fresh foods. We all bear the burden of solving these challenges.
One program that is working to address many of these systemic issues is the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s Working Cities Challenge, a competition for Rhode Island cities and towns that launched last September. The competition focuses on select cities and towns that have a significant number of poor residents and residents of color living at or near the federal poverty level.
While the Working Cities Challenge includes a grant award for winning cities and towns, Federal Reserve research shows that successful change in communities comes not with just money, but with leadership, strong partnerships, and effective collaborations that include local residents. In August of this year, seven eligible Rhode Island cities and towns were awarded design grants to build such collaboratives, and are actively working to identify the challenges and opportunities their specific communities want, need, and are willing to work toward. These cities will then compete for larger multiyear awards, which are designed to put these programs into action.
The Boston Fed “walks the walk” in building a collaborative model to fund and provide local guidance to the competition, including key support from the Raimondo administration and associated state agencies including Rhode Island Housing, Commerce Rhode Island, and the Rhode Island Department of Labor & Training, and philanthropic funding and leadership support from the Rhode Island Foundation and a wide range of national funders. Additionally, private sector leaders from Rhode Island such as Delta Dental and Washington Trust, to name a few, have made significant contributions because these communities are places where these organizations hire and invest.
I believe in community success led by community residents and leaders, and I believe in the Federal Reserve’s focus on economic success for low income communities and people of color through the Working Cities Challenge. By combining Boston Fed research with on-the-ground initiatives and leveraging pre-existing assets and human capital in Rhode Island cities and towns, I believe the competition will present a more effective way of working together for common success.
I have been very fortunate to have held many positions in my career that have allowed me to focus on and support community efforts, especially within poor communities and communities of color in Rhode Island. I am proud to direct the Working Cities Challenge in Rhode Island, having seen firsthand the exclusion that holds poor communities in a seemingly endless place of challenges and few positive opportunities for children and families. There is no silver bullet solution, but I look forward to assisting the seven cities in Rhode Island's further work to solve some of these issues for a brighter future for their communities.