Helping others common to RI Black Business award recipients

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Mary Schwarz of Cranston and Ester Price of Warwick are among seven who will be honored at the 7th annual awards gala of the Rhode Island Black Business Association October 5 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Warwick.

The Corporate Leadership Award will be awarded to Schwarz of Citizens Bank. Price, executive director at the St. Martin de Porres Center, will receive the Christiana Bannister Community Service Award.

Schwarz has done much work in the corporate industry, both in the United States and internationally. She has worked for companies such as Paramount Pictures, J.P. Morgan Chase, PAREXEL, and have held leadership positions at Citizens Bank, where she currently is Head of Governance and Standards. 

Prior to working at Citizens, she worked in Germany at the biopharmaceutical company PAREXEL. She wanted to come back to work in North America, and also saw the “potential growth” for Citizens Bank at the time of her decision. While at Citizens, before becoming Head of Governance and Standards, she also served as the Portfolio Delivery Manager. 

While in Rhode Island, she has been involved with the non-profit Year Up since 2015. She stated that supporting an “internal program” helped the growth of over 24 interns annually. In addition, she has helped to raise the intern-to-hire rate from 33 percent to 69 percent. 

“I have helped to reduce the opportunity divide with young urban adults, by championing the growth of the program that gives them the chance to transform their lives,” she said in an email. 

Schwarz added that some interns were working two or more jobs but now had the opportunity to join the Citizens Bank business. Additionally, if she picked 10 interns, she could name 6 who have moved onto higher education to get Associate’s degrees and Bachelor's degrees.

“The program has reminded me that giving back and being present is so important. I never thought about myself as being a role model,” she added. “I have always just tried to be at 150 percent, so if I fell short, it was not really ‘short’. I want everyone to know that no matter what, it has to be about you…how you love, how you think and how you give.”

Schwarz’s motivation for success is putting in hard work, discipline, and doing the right thing. She said that her whole career, she has been focused on creating bonds and maintaining them with others. She also claimed that creating diversity in her career is being a “true change agent”. 

“Companies that flourish – embrace change, people that drive change – flourish,” Schwarz said.

She emphasized that diversity is important, and since she has been at Citizens they have embraced people of different cultures into their company.

She said education has also always been a driving force in her success, and promotes the importance of it as much as possible. Schwarz has her Bachelor of Science from Trent University, and two Master Certificates from Cornell University: Project Leadership and System Design. She said education has helped her “stay focused in terms of growth”. “I hope that it represents to young women that diversity is not a barrier for success,” she said. “This award is also for Citizens Bank who have given me the platform and support to give back to the community and build on our inclusion program.”

Price is from Clarksdale, Mississippi. She remembers segregated schools, KKK members driving through the streets promoting violence, and “walking 5 miles to and from all-black schools”. She remembers members of the community being harassed by white people using racial slurs and throwing rocks and fruit at them. She says she is “in some way a product of the civil rights movement.”

“My first recollection of this time was when Dick Gregory and the SNCC organization donated frozen turkeys to our communities in Clarksdale, Mississippi. I was one of the volunteers for distribution,” she said in an email. “Simultaneously, as all hell was breaking loose around us; KKK drive through with white sheets and burning crosses, as reminders or in their effort to promote fear in the African American communities.”

She went on to say that she found “liberation” in being a product of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s “Freedom Schools”, where she participated with her parents’ permission to integrate schools and other places in her community. She said that the schools, restaurants, and department stores were targeted for violence as they took part in these events. 

At the age of 16, Price moved to Rhode Island and attended Central High School in Providence. From a young age, she was inspired to go into social work from her experiences as a child and teen. When asked by her counselor about her major after high school, she immediately responded with “social work” because she “knew that this was the right track.” 

“I was a single mother and depended on welfare as I pursued my college career. I became appalled at the way people were treated at the local welfare office, I noticed how embarrassing and impersonal that process was,” she said. “I decided that I will become a social worker, and spend the rest of my life treating people with respect as human beings, with dignity, and value, no matter their circumstances. I desired to treat people the way I wanted and deserved to be treated.”

How did she end up at the St. Martin de Porres Center?

Prior to working at the senior center, she was employed by Urban League for three years. She was the coordinator at the time for the “One Church, One Child” adoption program, but did not like working so far from home (the job was based in Newport). During a nighttime commute that included sleet and rain, she was in an almost fatal accident on the Newport bridge, and she said that it was then she decided to “look elsewhere for employment”. Price said that the Sunday Journal that came out after that incident had a listing for a social work position at the senior center, and “20 years later, the rest is history.”

The center is located in Providence, and was originally only focused on areas like South Providence and the West End. Because of many senior centers shutting down in recent years, the center has extended services to the East Side, East Providence, North Providence, and Cranston. According to Price, the membership of the program has increased “drastically” and they also service members of the community who are under 60 who are disabled.

Price is humbled to accept the Christiana Bannister Community Service Award. She said she is “grateful for the nomination”.

“I studied and contemplated the life of Christiana Bannister, and quite frankly, feel unworthy of an award baring her name. The work that I do, however, is based on some of the same values and ideals held by Mrs. Bannister. If my life has been anything at all, if I have made any kind of positive contribution to this life, I can only say that I am in good company,” she said. 

The RIBBA works with communities to advocate for and provide leadership that will allow business and professional growth in the state. One of the most critical elements of their mission is to “maintain visibility and relevance” in the RI business community and the black business community. Their goal is to also advocate for the black business community’s role in the state economy, and encourage entrepreneurship with the black youth.

For more information about the event, visit www.ri-bba.com or contact Lisa Ranglin, president of RIBBA, at 465 3669.

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