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Roger Williams' ideals come to life in scholarship recipients
By Chris Barnett / May 2, 2018 /   Loading Disqus...

The Rhode Island Foundation is sending seven high school seniors off to college with scholarships honoring Roger Williams, the state’s founding father.

The four-year, renewable scholarships are through the Carter Roger Williams Initiative, which was launched last year by philanthropists Letitia and the late John Carter.

“Roger Williams had the opportunity to further his education because of those around him. Thanks to the vision of the Carter family, we are able to encourage students and their parents to think big about what’s possible for their future,” said Jessica David, the Foundation’s executive vice president of strategy and community investments, who leads the project.


Students from throughout Rhode Island applied for this second round of scholarships. The seven recipients were selected based on academic achievement, financial need, appreciation for Roger Williams’ values, and record of community service.

"It is clear from the quality of the submissions that these young people see Roger Williams as a collection of living ideals and not just as a character from the past. We hope our assistance helps these seven young people go on to do great things,” said Letitia Carter.

This year’s scholarship recipients are Taiwo Demola of Classical High School, Coura Fall of Mount St. Charles Academy, Sherenté Harris of the Paul W. Crowley East Bay Met School in Newport, Latifat Odetunde of Classical, Dorbor Tarley of Classical, Taliq Tillman of the Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center in Providence and Pichkatna “Hannah” Ung of the William B. Cooley Health and Science Technology Academy at the Juanita Sanchez Educational Complex in Providence. They are eligible for nearly $300,000 in aid over four years.

Demola co-founded Diversity Talks and participated in the Providence Student Union and the Classical High School Theatre Company and interned at the Center of Slavery and Justice at Brown University. The Providence resident plans to attend Mount Holyoke College. In her application, Demola wrote about what she learned from Roger Williams’ values.

”In studying the legacy of Roger Williams, one can discover the groundbreaking effect of implementing choices that align with one’s core values and learn what it takes to inspire the likes of the framers of the U.S Bill of Rights,” she said. “Most importantly, the narrative of Williams demonstrates the importance of fostering meaningful relations that transcended political, religious, and cultural boundaries in order to uplift our communities through tolerance and inspire the next generation of audacious decision makers.”

Fall participated in the United Nations, Debate Team, Creative Writing Club and Model Legislature at Mount St. Charles and volunteered at St. Charles Soup Kitchen in Providence and Seven Hills in Woonsocket. The Woonsocket resident plans to attend American University. In her application, Fall described how Roger Williams’ values guide her own life.

“The ideas of Roger Williams have influenced me to pursue a vocation and future career in international relations. Juxtaposing the same approach that he had towards new people he met, I want to join the Peace Corps and work with people from developing areas in order to improve their quality of living,” she said. “I am particularly interested in studying human rights and international law. Social justice is something I am very passionate about and I want to expand on that interest into a career. Roger William’s basic dogma of respect, tolerance and kindness are basic tenets of any decent society, and so I want to help instill that everywhere I go.”

Harris interned with the Tomaquag Museum, the Narragansett Language Preservation and Revitalization Program and the Kettle Pond Visitor Center, received a Rhode Island Civic Leadership Award and participated in the White House Tribal Youth Gathering. The Charlestown resident was accepted into the Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design Dual Degree Program. In the scholarship application, Harris wrote about the impact Roger Williams continues to have.

“As a proud member of the Narragansett tribe, the legacy of Roger Williams has been salient in my work to revitalize my Indigenous language,” Harris said. “The writings of Roger Williams have served as the basis of linguistic revitalization, after hundreds of years of erasure and oppression.”

Odetunde participated in Youth in Action, the Student Senate at Classical and received a Rhode Island Civic Leadership Award. The Providence resident plans to attend Boston College. In her application, Odetunde described how Roger Williams’ values guide her own life.

“Roger Williams was a resilient leader whose individuality, and nonconformity led him to help those in need. I consider myself to be a triple threat composed of being Nigerian, Muslim and female against a system that is not made to uplift me, but suppress me,” she said. “I use this as motivation by not conforming to what society wants me to look, or wants me to act, and turn to activism to serve as a voice for youth like Roger Williams was for others.”

Tarley participated in Generation Teach, the Providence Student Union and the Inspiring Minds Kids Bridge Program. She received the Harriet Tubman Award from the Providence branch of the NAACP and a Gold Award from the College Crusade of Rhode Island. In her application, the Providence resident described how Roger Williams’ values guide her own life.

“I aspire to be similar to Roger Williams in the way he connected with his community. Roger Williams not only advocated for his community but he also prioritized community involvement,” Tarley said.  “Through my knowledge of Rhode Island history, I am even more confident being a part of a community whose founder emphasized religious freedom and intended for Rhode Island to be a safe haven for those seeking refuge, as my family and I did from Liberia a little over 10 years ago.”

Tillman co-founded Diversity Talks and participated in the Highlander Institute Culturally Responsive Design Team and interned with the Trinity Repertory Company. The East Providence resident plans to attend Dartmouth College. In his application, Tillman wrote about what he learned from Roger Williams’ values.

“Roger Williams was extremely conscious of promoting tolerance through all of his endeavors. He took the initiative to go against a traditional system and propose ideas that were considered dangerous for the time,” he said. “From my personal experiences, I have come to understand that that same initiative, passion and determination is exactly what’s needed in order to truly change a system.”

Ung was on the wrestling team, participated in Beat the Streets and Young Voices, is a member of the National Honor Society and interned with the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University. The Cranston resident plans to attend the University of Rhode Island. In her application, Ung wrote about what she learned from Roger Williams’ values.

“We, as community members, are always willing to help others to build a community, like Roger Williams when he first came to Rhode Island. His curiosity led him to discover harmony and left a legacy for us to remember that only education and acceptance can bring peace into the community,” she said. “As a member of a community that is predominantly of people of color, I believe we should work together to solve an issue and also to understand each other's stories and experiences based on our identities.”

In addition to the scholarships, Carter Roger Williams Initiative hosts a website – findingrogerwilliams.com — that offers educational resources for students and educators and awards grants of up to $400 to underwrite school field trips to the Roger Williams National Memorial in Providence.

“By providing access to resources and opportunities inspired by our state’s founder and his teachings, we are promoting a sense of place and awareness for all Rhode Islanders,” said the Foundation’s David.

The Rhode Island Foundation is the largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island. Working with generous and visionary donors, the Foundation raised $38 million and awarded $43 million in grants to organizations addressing the state’s most pressing issues and needs of diverse communities in 2017. Through leadership, fundraising and grantmaking activities, often in partnership with individuals and organizations, the Foundation is helping Rhode Island reach its true potential. For more information, visit rifoundation.org.

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