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RACE

Providence to consider reparations program for people with African or Indigenous heritage

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza (center back) visited Roger Williams Middle School students in 2019.
Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza (center back) visited Roger Williams Middle School students in 2019.Ryan T. Conaty/For The Boston Globe

PROVIDENCE ― Mayor Jorge Elorza signed an executive order Wednesday to begin examining the feasibility of establishing a reparations program in Providence for residents of African heritage and Indigenous people.

City leaders have no estimate on how much a reparations program would cost or how it would work, but Elorza said studying the issue will be the “first step in accepting the role Providence and Rhode Island has held in generations of pain and violence against these residents and healing some of the deepest wounds our country faces today.”

“As a country and a community, we owe a debt to our communities of African and Indigenous heritage, and, on the local level, we are using this opportunity to correct a wrong,” Elorza said in a prepared statement Wednesday.

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Elorza spoke to dozens of community leaders and elected officials gathered Wednesday morning at Dexter Park and Training Grounds, the site where the first Black company of soldiers from Rhode Island trained during the Civil War.

He urged people to “trust the process” and said it will address such pressing concerns as cost. The first step is to understand the true extent of Rhode Island’s role in the slave trade, followed by a public reconciliation process to atone for the “pervading anti-Blackness” that is still present in society, he said.

The executive order laid out a multi-layered process that could span many months, beginning with a city employee or employees who will be assigned to begin a “collection of truth” that will examine the role the city and the state played in slavery and genocide.

The findings will be used to begin what Elorza calls a reconciliation process, in which the city will publicly acknowledge the injustices. Then the city will begin considering reparations, which could include policy changes and new projects and programs designed to support people of African heritage and Indigenous people.

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Elorza, who has been preparing the announcement in recent weeks with an advisory committee of African-American ambassadors, has not said whether he wants the program to result in direct cash payments to individuals or if the city will explore incentive programs for housing or educational scholarships.

Providence is modeling its reparations work after programs in South Africa, Canada, and Evanston, Ill. Other cities and institutions with reparations programs include Chicago and Georgetown University.

“May this process of truth bring us education and awareness of these wrongdoings and may our reconciliation change the systems that continue to oppress our communities, while reaffirming our commitment to building a brighter, more inclusive future,” Elorza said in his statement.

Elorza, a Democrat, will step down in 2022 because of term limits, but has said he is considering running for governor that year.

In June, Elorza announced the city would remove the word “plantations” from in state’s formal name — the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations — from all official city documents. Governor Gina Raimondo followed suit several days later, and voters will be asked to consider permanently changing the state’s name in November.


Dan McGowan can be reached at dan.mcgowan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @danmcgowan.