The Providence chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People called a press conference Monday at 12:30 p.m. at the intersection of Brook and George streets. Around 100 people gathered for a period of 20 minutes to show community solidarity in response to the discovery of racist and violent printed matter found around the University and many local areas, including Hope Street and Pawtucket. The paraphernalia included pink flyers captioned “Negro Crime in Mayor Jorge O. Elorza’s Sanctuary City” and booklets that displayed disparaging captions alongside photos of black Providence residents, including Jim Vincent, president of the Providence NAACP, the Providence Journal reported. The person or group who distributed the flyers remains unknown, according to the Providence Journal.
The press conference was attended by Mayor Jorge Elorza, other local politicians and community leaders, including Ward 3 City Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune, who recited Maya Angelou’s poem, “Still I Rise.” Elorza called the flyers’ message “deeply disturbing,” and further stated that “there is no room for this type of disgusting bigotry in our city.”
Ellen Cola ’20, who helped organize the demonstration, said she was appalled by the “blatant racism and anti-blackness” that the posters were proliferating. “Racism is so persistent in this (Providence) community,” she added.
Pilar McCloud, youth council chair and assistant secretary of the Providence chapter of the NAACP, agreed that racism is very much at large in the United States. “We have a president of the United States who’s made it very comfortable for people to feel like they can say and do whatever they want — especially when it comes (to addressing) people from other countries, black and brown people,” she said. “If anybody said that racism didn’t exist anymore, they’re lying. The closet racist is long gone. That’s why it puts the city of Providence at risk.”
The Providence chapter of the NAACP has encountered denigrating remarks and threats before through social media, emails and letters, but the appearance of the flyers signals a larger menace, McCloud said. “These people have targeted specific people of the community — and definitely people of color.”
The incident was met with an urgent response, as the press conference and demonstration were organized within 48 hours of when the flyers were found, Cola said.
“What made the rally really powerful was that we had the ability to galvanize ourselves together in a really short amount of time,” McCloud said. She added that the presence of a large number of youth, including many students from the University, was encouraging. “We need young energy and youth to keep us motivated,” she said.
The demonstration served the purpose of “sending a message to (the perpetrators) that what they are doing is not okay,” Cola said, adding that demonstrators aimed to show a message of unity and collectivity. “There will be consequences,” she said.
“(The people who did this) want (us) to be afraid,” McCloud said. “They want (us) to run and hide. They presumably want (us) to stop what (we’re) doing.” But McCloud asserted the importance of not giving in to racist sentiments. “We are not going to let anyone or any group of racist individuals keep us from doing what we’re here to do,” she said.
McCloud spoke of the importance of taking up a more active role in response to acts of intolerance. “Get involved. Be a voice. Be heard. Stand up for what you believe in. Or more importantly, stand up, because you never know when you’re going to need somebody to stand up for you.”