This is what's next

Dr. Pablo Rodriguez

CEO of Women’s Care, Chairman of Latino Public Radio and former Rhode Island Foundation Board Chair 

Thirty-one years ago, as a young new obstetrician I had to drive from Warwick Neck to Women and Infants Hospital at 3AM, through Broad Street and Prairie. I will never forget the warning I received from a colleague when he discovered my driving route. “You shouldn’t drive on Broad Street” he said; “It is dangerous.” It was obvious to me that this street had seen better days, but its old synagogue and glorious churches, alerted me to the fact that sometime in the not too distant past, driving through Broad Street was exactly what you wanted to do. This street on its way to Roger Williams Park is host to the ol’ St Joseph’s Hospital, the grandiose Steere House, The Bomes Theater, and even the Grace Church cemetery, all of them evidence of a thriving, vibrant and prosperous past. In 1986, this once gateway to Providence was the definition of urban blight. Who could believe that this neighborhood would ever come back? Like at other times in history the answer was immigrants. The city of Providence saw Latino owned businesses grow from 731 in 1997 to 2,999 in 2007, the fastest growth in New England. La Broad was buzzing once again. This continued story is told by the buildings and structures that once welcomed Irish, Italian, Jewish, Armenian, Polish, Cape Verdean, French Canadians, and many others, whose cultures can be seen on the walls of these structures like faded tattoos, that today are covered by signs in Spanish and paint of a different color. Hope, the state’s motto, has always been the guiding principle of all the different peoples who like Roger Williams have made RI home by choice, not by birth. But is hope enough?

The circumstances which favored physical labor and allowed people to prosper regardless of literacy have changed dramatically. Manufacturing jobs in RI have been disappearing at an alarming and faster rate than the rest of the country. Between 2007 to 2014 by 19.3%. Our economy has seen low skill manufacturing give way to automation and workers have seen their jobs migrating to lower labor cost countries. As the economy transforms, Latino and African immigrants who are the most recently arrived, and all those who share their neighborhoods, are challenged by a lack of opportunity, and certainly their children are not being prepared for the jobs of the future. The state’s Latino-White achievement gap for children is the worst in the country! In other words, our local businesses will not find the workforce necessary to thrive and grow in a hypercompetitive global economy. The chain of success where immigrant children did better than their parents is broken, and for the first time in history, second generations may experience worst outcomes as a result. This is what might be next, but only if we allow it.

Great results are being achieved by schools that are supported by their communities. District, charters and private educational institutions who have refused to accept failure in their students and who have been able to marshal the resources of business, philanthropy and community involvement, have wiped out the gaps and equalized opportunity for thousands. Instead of focusing on the methods behind this success, we have sacrificed the education of our immigrant and poor children in the altar of the politics of money and school formulas. What’s next is a confluence of macroeconomic forces that will force a change. Our job, as responsible members of the philanthropic community is to provide the factual underpinnings of reform and to support those efforts which based on the evidence demonstrate success. We would not accept a 100-year-old design for almost anything, but we continue to support one which is giving us more failed lives, incarceration and poverty. Let’s fix our schools. So that one day I can tell a colleague “Hey, have you been through La Broad lately?”


One Union Station
Providence, RI 02903


(401) 274-4564

E-News Sign Up