NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — In the memory of the late civil rights icon Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Towards An Anti-Racist North Kingstown (TANK), put on their first public event via Zoom, “Honoring Dr. King’s Legacy: Our Community in Action,” Monday night, featuring a candle light vigil, music, art and talks from members and activists.
The group was first started in October, with founder Jen Lima saying she was inspired by a similar group in South Kingstown.
“We were inspired by a similar organization in South Kingstown called TASK, and we were inspired by the work they did in getting some anti-racist education reform passed in South Kingstown over the summer, so we started meeting in October and we’ve been meeting twice a week since then,” Lima said.
With the group looking for a way to get themselves and their message, Lima and TANK saw the holiday as the perfect opportunity to introduce themselves to the community at large.
“We figured pairing it up with Martin Luther King Day and sending a message about the need for anti-racist education reform would be a good way to do it, so this is basically our first forward-facing event to the public,” Lima said. “We put up a bunch of banners and we solicited a bunch of art from students in North Kingstown, so they’re plastered all over downtown Wickford (Monday).”
The event, which was held via Zoom and broadcast over Facebook Live through the group’s Facebook page, began with a candle lighting in memory of King, followed by an explanation of the group’s name and mission by member Carlos Hernandez.
“Our mission is clear: we want to move North Kingstown forward as a community that acknowledges its history, celebrates its potential and fosters a climate honoring and encouraging diversity, equity and the unique character of all of its residents through anti-racist policy reform, education and advocacy,” Hernandez said.
Along with speaking portions featuring the members of the organization, the group also featured pre-recorded videos from activists and community leaders around the state on the importance of their mission and the day at hand.
“Anti-racism reform is a must,” Diana Garlington said. “It’s necessary and you must join in the fight with us in order to continue to build integrity, diversity, inclusion (and) equity. So, North Kingstown, today, in the great words of Dr. Martin Luther King, I also have a dream. My dream is for you to stand up and join us in this fight in reforming anti-racism.”
Lima addressed the group’s founding, saying she was impressed by the work TASK had done in getting several anti-racism education reforms passed in South Kingstown, which inspired her to try the same in North Kingstown.
“Unfortunately, TANK’s membership reflects our demographics and over 98 percent of our members are white,” Lima said.
“I’d love to wait until TANK had a majority BIPOC membership until moving forward, but I don’t want to sit idly by doing nothing in case it never does.”
She said a large part of that starts in the classroom.
“Our education system has been founded on historically racist thinking,” Lima said.
Lima referenced King’s work and belief that power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and how the group wants “to make North Kingstown a community that values every resident and treats all with decency, honor and kindness.”
A collection of MLK and BLM-inspired art from North Kingstown students, some of which was displayed in Wickford Monday, was shown, featuring calls for unity, kindness and love of one another.
A previously recorded performance by the Exult Choir of the Mixed Magic Theatre, which was founded in North Kingstown but is now based in Pawtucket, singing “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round” was also played.
Others also gave pre-recorded messages, largely calling on the importance of raising children for a multicultural world and teaching them to respect one another.
“I think that’s something we can do to help further Dr. King’s legacy: to bring different voices in, to have different ideas and just a good melting pot of ideas,” BeWoke Enterprises founder Anthony Sanders said. “There’s a lot of different things that are going on within the world, but the one thing that we can do is listen to each other and care about each other’s perspective on what the world looks like and where we want to go.”
Lisa Scorpio encouraged viewers to watch the YouTube series “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man,” noting something he said particularly stuck with her.
“Something he says that resonates with me is ‘proximity breeds care, distance breeds fear,’” said Scorpio. “The color of one’s skin doesn’t make you smarter or scarier; people are afraid of what they don’t know. Our children need to not only know that racism and bigotry are wrong, but something that needs to be stood up against. The world will never get better if we don’t learn how to live together.”
The event closed out with Wickford on the Water owner John Brito reading King’s “What is your life’s blueprint?” speech.
The group also laid out its plans for a series of events in February, including a talk with North Kingstown Town Historian Tim Cranston titled “Setting the Record Straight- The Unfortunate Truth about Rhode Island’s History with People of Color” via Zoom and Facebook Live on Feb. 23 at 7 p.m.
While the group is still new and hasn’t accomplished much yet Lima says, there have been small improvements she’s said that have meant the world to her.
“There’s a girl who’s part of TANK and she probably graduated a couple of years ago and she came to the meetings initially (and) she had talked about some of the difficult experiences she had had at the high school, some of the racial bullying instances she had experienced and how she kind of felt uncomfortable being in town,” Lima said. “After today she said seeing all of the stuff that we’ve been working towards, seeing what we put together for tonight, seeing banners go up all over town, she says she’s starting to feel welcome in this town as a Black person and I have to be honest, that brought tears to my eyes, because that’s what we’re working for. My husband’s Black, my children are biracial, so I see it through them too, so to see the change from October, not that it’s going to change everything when you put up a couple of banners, that’s what we’re working for is to just make people feel welcome in their home.”
For more information on Towards An Anti-Racist North Kingstown, visit their Facebook page under the same name or Instagram page, @towardsanantiracistnk.