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An event unpacks the 'black vote' in Providence

The Political Scene
By REZA CLIFTON  |  March 26, 2014

 0328_TJI_vote_wrap.jpg
EDUCATING VOTERS Ranglin.
It’s an election year in Rhode Island, aka that time every few years when newsmakers try to address race relations through questions like, “Where is the Latino vote swinging?” and “How will she/he win over black voters?”

It’s important to note how difficult these questions really are when we consider the differences — including varieties in income, education, and national origin — that exist within every racially- or ethnically-selected grouping. The black community in Providence, for instance, includes people with parents and grandparents who emigrated from Haiti, Liberia, and South Carolina; English-speakers, English Language Learners, and multilingual families.

That’s why it is striking to hear president of the RI Black Business Association, Lisa Ranglin, describe how all the groups she’s been working with agree on the most pressing issue facing the Providence black community: jobs.

Consider this. The Providence-based think tank, Economic Progress Institute, reports that, though “[t]he Ocean State has suffered from some of the highest unemployment rates in the nation. . . minorities were hit particularly hard by unemployment during the downturn.” EPI found that while whites in RI saw an unemployment rate of 8.9 percent in 2012, blacks faced a 15.2 percent rate. Meanwhile, data collected by the Providence Plan — an organization dedicated to “improv[ing] the economic and social well-being of Providence, its residents, and its neighborhoods,” in part through data analysis — shows the median household income for blacks is $32,386, significantly lower than the $46,705 for white households.

To discuss this and other topics, Ranglin has been working to organize a “Providence Mayoral Candidates Forum,” on March 31. The event — which will feature candidates Lorne Adrain, Jorge Elorza, Daniel Harrop, Brett Smiley, and Michael Solomon — is part of a series, says Ranglin, “designed for the urban community and communities of color” to become more informed about the upcoming elections and “ensure that voters are educated around issues that impact us.”

The RIBBA is part of a long list of groups planning the event, including the African Alliance of Rhode Island, Higher Ground International, and Oasis International (which all build bridges to the different African cultures and immigrant groups in RI); the NAACP’s Providence Branch, the RI chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, and Rhode Island Young Professionals (all tied to national organizations with roots in the Civil Rights Movement); and other groups, including the Women of Color Political Action Committee, the RI Black Democratic Caucus, and the event’s host, Ebenezer Baptist Church.

There is no shortage of concerns to discuss. Look at Mary Kay Harris, an African American community organizer with Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE) who recently helped organize a “women of all colors” assembly at Rhode Island College. Harris points to a lack of enforcement for policies like the First Source ordinance in Providence, which was resurrected and refortified in 2012 after community members and activists raised awareness around a lack of enforcement dating back to 1985. The original ordinance dictates that if the city provides a tax break, grant, or loan to a business, that business must refer to a list of unemployed residents as the “first source” when making any new non-managerial hires.

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