2016-12-29 / Opinion


One Voice

Since New Year’s is a time for messages of hope and personal resolutions about life-changing behavior, one suggestion we would like to circulate for 2017 is to initiate some civic unification for the “greater good.”

Although the three municipalities on Aquidneck Island often struggle to come together, for our residents, we are one island. For example, a recent series of community-led meetings has attracted a standing-room-only crowd at Gather on Broadway, following incidents of racial bullying directed at children. The growing concern has attracted police officers, educators and city councilors, who have all attended on their own time (see “Educators Join Conversations on Racism”, Dec. 15).

Jessica Coulter and Niko Merritt (the founder of Sankofa Community Connection) called the first meeting in November after an 11-year-old Newport boy was punched and called “nigger” by a Middletown child. By the second meeting, another racial bullying incident had occurred.

The growing group, which includes residents from all three communities, is calling for island schools to issue a public statement on the incidents. Neither school nor municipal officials have addressed the concerns publicly – which is unfortunate.

Last July, in response to police brutality against black men across the country, Seneca Pender of Middletown organized a well-attended rally in Newport’s Washington Square. The assembly was another grass-roots effort that brought the community together.

Over the years, efforts to consolidate resources have appeared in workshops and on ballots. However, outside of these grassroots efforts, our local officials are often hesitant to work together. The word “regionalization” has actually become stigmatized. In 2014, Middletown voters rejected a nonbinding question to gauge public support for a unified high school with Newport. However, facing a shortage of hockey players, the two districts formed a unified league that same year.

We tell our children to put differences aside, and so should our officials. We recommend the three superintendents start collaborating and organize an island-wide workshop to address concerns about the recent incidents of racial bullying. It is time to work for the greater good.

Our challenge to leaders and administrators is this: Work together, to find common ground and a common voice. Be a role model for the island’s youngest. If the three school districts supported such a forum, the CCRI auditorium could be brimming with concerned residents, parents, and youth to talk about a centuries-old issue many of us thought had been mostly resolved decades ago.

If collaboration could occur regarding this topic, it might generate other discussions focused on other important issues affecting the quality of life for all island residents. One voice.

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