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AfriGeneas States Research Forum

[RI] Providence Freedom Festival

Throughout October, the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities is sponsoring lectures and films, presentations and cultural gatherings, all celebrating the same message: freedom is too precious to ever be taken for granted.

“We put our heads and talents together to create a series of events that not only commemorate the bicentennial … but also to celebrate the many accomplishments of African-Americans in our state,” said program director Risa Gilpin.

Yesterday’s event offered a chance for the youngest Rhode Islanders to learn about the history of African-Americans in this country through stories, drumming and song.

“I think it’s important for her to understand her heritage,” said Shareese Simmons, who brought her 13-year-old goddaughter Gazimine Mason to the event.

“It’s not something we sit down and talk about,” Simmons said, pulling Gazimine close. “I’m in my 30s and a lot of us weren’t directly affected, so we don’t necessarily know what it took to get freedom. To hear some of the stories makes it more real for me and more a part of my identity. I wanted my goddaughter to be a part of that too.”

On stage, the gospel music ended and Valerie Tutson, of the Rhode Island Black Storytellers, took the floor, her rich voice carrying the tale of a young girl marching in Selma, Ala., on March 7, 1965 –– Bloody Sunday.

Even the youngest in the audience sat rapt.

Given Rhode Island’s deep ties to slavery and the slave trade, Gilpin said it’s particularly important for people in this state to learn about the long history of African-Americans.

“Freedom Festival also helps us focus on some of the neglected stories of free black life in Rhode Island,” she said. “Our purpose in making this all happen is to reintegrate those stories into the collective consciousness of all of the citizens in our state.”


18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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