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United Way of Rhode Island pledges $100 million over five years to promote racial equity

The nonprofit, with University support, advocates for racial justice and equal opportunities in R.I.

United Way of Rhode Island has pledged $100 million to promote racial equity through accessible education, affordable housing and unemployment for Black, Indigenous and People of Color in Rhode Island as part of the organization’s LIVE UNITED 2025 plan to help address systemic racism announced Jan. 15, according to a United Way press release.

United Way is a nonprofit organization that strives to achieve racial equity “through community initiatives that provide essentials like food to individuals and families struggling with food insecurity, ... housing, childcare, utility assistance and more,” University Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Barbara Chernow wrote in an email to The Herald. The University has supported United Way for over three decades and has deepened its commitment by donating to this new initiative.

In Rhode Island, the median income gap between Black and white residents is the third largest in the country, according to Jim Vincent, president of the Providence branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. This inequity has created “a dire situation in Rhode Island, much worse than most people realize.”

The LIVE UNITED 2025 plan aims to promote “increased access to afterschool and summer learning programs for Black, Indigenous and People of Color youth, increased reading proficiency for Black and Latinx youth by (fourth) grade, reduced (unemployment and underemployment) for BIPOC Rhode Islanders and those with lower educational attainment,” wrote United Way Chief Impact and Equity Officer Larry Warner in an email to The Herald.

Over the next five years, the $100 million will be allocated to doubling “the number of R.I. cities and towns that meet the 10 percent affordable housing threshold,” promoting access to “out-of-school time learning,” investing in local nonprofits and reducing unemployment and underemployment among BIPOC, among other initiatives, according to a United Way press release.

The $100 million pledge is made possible by several donors, including individuals, the University and other partners, Warner wrote. “401GivesDay” — 24 hours dedicated to raising $1.3 million for nonprofits in Rhode Island — will also raise money for this initiative in April.

The University has supported United Way through its Brown Gives fundraising platform since the 1980s. In addition, the University has pledged $150,000 a year for the next four years toward the LIVE UNITED 2025 campaign.

“Working toward a more fully diverse and inclusive academic community has been a campus-wide priority at Brown through our diversity and inclusion action plan,” Chernow wrote. “We believe United Way’s approach toward explicitly addressing systemic challenges offers an opportunity to meaningfully impact racial inequities that have affected Rhode Islanders for generations.”

Vincent foresees positive outcomes from this plan. In order to extend this same confidence and optimism to the community, he believes that United Way should spread more awareness of the plan. Vincent, who has been an unofficial advisor for United Way for years, plans to remain involved.

Promoting awareness of systemic racism is one of the primary goals of United Way’s 21-day Equity Challenge — a component of LIVE UNITED 2025 — which began Feb. 24. “Education and awareness are vital, meaningful steps to truly creating justice and opportunity for all, and realizing a Rhode Island that’s the best it can be,” according to United Way Director of Research and Data Analytics Adama Brown, as reported by the Warwick Beacon.  

The Equity Challenge aims to “increase awareness, deepen knowledge, challenge assumptions, and change behaviors and practices,” Warner wrote. By engaging with readings and videos for 15 minutes each day to learn about “racial identity, implicit bias, privilege, racial trauma and allyship,” Rhode Islanders can learn about racial inequity, he added.

Vincent called United Way’s and the NAACP’s common themes of equity, inclusion and diversity “inextricably linked.” Especially in a state as small as Rhode Island, collaboration and discussion is necessary, as it is "better to work together than work apart.”

United Way made sure to factor in community input when formulating their plan, according to Warner. This local input was gathered through a series of Community First Conversations, during which Rhode Islanders were asked about their hopes for the state by 2025 and the role they wanted United Way to play in helping that vision come to fruition. To create a plan “for the community, and by the community,” United Way also considered quantitative data and feedback from a planning committee composed of community members.

Though COVID-19 postponed the release of LIVE UNITED 2025, the pandemic “only confirmed the importance of addressing the areas that had been highlighted during the qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis,” Warner wrote.

Warner recognized the ambition of LIVE UNITED 2025 but emphasized that its “focus on racial equity couldn’t be more timely or important.”

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the University pledged between $600,000 and $150,000 toward the LIVE UNITED 2025 campaign. In fact, it pledged a total of $600,000 over four years, or $150,000 a year. The Herald regrets the error.


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