We can make Warwick a community where all races feel welcome

Posted 1/12/22

James Baldwin said, "Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced." 

I know the people of Warwick care about this community, but we need to face …

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We can make Warwick a community where all races feel welcome


James Baldwin said, "Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced." 

I know the people of Warwick care about this community, but we need to face and address the issue of racism in the city. 

I was born and raised in Warwick and still live here today. I went to Warwick Public Schools, Community College of RI, and RI College. My family was very involved in the community, and my grandfather served on the school committee for twenty years. I appreciate being a part of this community – but addressing the issue of racism in our city is long overdue.

The Saturday after Thanksgiving, my eight-year-old son and two friends went to the school playground. They returned in five minutes to report that the school door was vandalized with racist and vulgar profanity. We took a picture of the door and alerted the police. I emailed the principal to report the incident, but unfortunately, it could not be determined who was responsible for this heinous act after investigating. 

Warwick is a homogeneously white community, with about 92% white residents. The act I spoke of was blatantly racist in its violent and hate-filled message, but it is not the only kind that exists. When I was growing up, I heard racist stereotypes, jokes, and microaggressions all around me. In my opinion, they could flow freely with little concern for the harm they could do to others because of the homogeneously white community we live in. Today in Warwick, I still see and hear these things and resist the belief that white privilege is real and that racism is an ongoing issue. The difference now is that I speak up and challenge those things as an adult and educate my children to do the same. 

As a predominately white community, when we hear things like this, we can choose to say and do nothing and preserve our comfort because every day, most of the people we are surrounded by are also white. But what about our fellow community members who are people of color. If we choose to say and do nothing and not educate ourselves and our children about the experiences of others so that we can speak up, we are causing harm to the families of color that live in our city and all families. Further, if we choose to look away from the racist act of hate on the school door, we are complicit in its violent nature.

We need to do better. We need to ensure that things like this do not happen. To do that, we must first face that there is a problem. I feel an overdue responsibility and sense of urgency to create a broader community movement to have honest conversations about history, racism, equity, white privilege, white supremacy, and the responsibility we must do better.

I have been having these honest conversations with my children for a long time. I believe we all have a responsibility to educate ourselves and teach our children the real history of this country, recognize that racism and injustice are still alive and well today, and do our part to work against it. We have an opportunity as we start a new year to invest in Warwick being a place where everyone that lives and visits here, regardless of race and identity, feels a sense of safety and belonging.  

After a follow-up conversation with school leaders and district staff members, I am encouraged that they feel a similar sense of urgency. We are planning to work together with other parents to address the issue of racism and honest conversation about Diversity, Equity, Inclusivity, and Belonging at the school, within the district, and across the city. 

As fellow parents and community members, I hope that some feel the same sense of urgency. Even more important, I hope there is a widespread willingness to learn, engage, and challenge ourselves and each other. 

I want Warwick to be a city where families of different races and identities feel safe and welcome to live and raise their families. I want our schools and homes to be places where we teach children to understand history as it happened and not how it was written, honor and respect the experiences of people of color, and use their privilege to speak out against racism and work towards equity. 

To close, while I am angry and disgusted at what was written on the school door, I'm also hopeful for the next generation. My son and his friend's immediate reaction was not to ignore what they saw but to act with a deep concern for how their classmates of color would feel if they had seen it.

My hope in the coming months is to work with the school, school district, and other parents to get some work started. If you are a parent or a community member who wants to get involved, you can reach out to me at jjohnsonwarwick@gmail.com.

I have done and continue to do this work, and it is uncomfortable – but let's remember that people of color have been uncomfortable and suffered worse for too long. We need to do this work to become a community where people of all races and identities feel welcome and safe to live and raise their children. 

Let's face it, and let's change it for the better. 

A Warwick native, Jennie Johnson has children in Warwick schools and is the director of City Year, a Providence-based program that works with young people. She has done intensive Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion work individually and in the organization. She said in an email, “I think we have an opportunity to create positive change in Warwick if we work on this issue.”


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