Providence, R.I., Black community fights racism, poverty

The 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Dream” speech and the 45th anniversary of the Poor People’s Campaign were remembered here on April 4 at a historic gathering for the purpose of rebuilding the movement.

The event was organized by “The Dream Team” 2013, a project of the R.I. People’s Assembly. It was co-chaired by Mary Kay Harris and Rozina Otero, who called upon honoree Robert Traynham and baritone Joseph Buchanan to lead everyone in the singing of the Black National Anthem — “Lift Every Voice.”

Dr. John McCray, vice-provost of the University of Rhode Island, welcomed all on behalf of the university. He spoke of his father, who influenced his development and established The Light-Tower newspaper in South Carolina in 1941. McCray presented certificates of thanks and appreciation to Henry Shelton, Robert Traynham and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Union.

Shelton is the beloved elder statesman of the anti-poverty struggle in Rhode Island, who has given his life totally to the eradication of poverty and injustice. He has supported MLK’s Dream, the Poor People’s Campaign and César Chávez’s organizing of migrant farmworkers.

Traynham, originally from Red Star, W.Va., is a lifelong anti-racist freedom fighter who fought the Ku Klux Klan, provided security for Dr. King when he visited West Virginia and is now a Boston school bus driver and member of Steelworkers Local 8751.

AFSCME was honored for organizing Black workers in the public sector, especially sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn., and for being an early supporter of the Poor People’s Campaign.

Joshua Robinson case

Civil Rights investigator, Terence Jones, came to Providence for the April 4 event and an April 5 press conference at police headquarters. At both events he explained his evolution from a highly decorated Philadelphia cop to a civil rights activist and the outrageous level of police brutality and cover-ups occurring in the city of Providence.

Joshua Robinson, a 115-pound young Black man, was driving on the South Side of Providence in the early morning hours of March 5 when he was pulled over by Sgt. David Allen. Several police then unleashed a furious beating on him. Robinson was hospitalized with Rodney King-type facial and bodily injuries. Despite being the victim, Joshua was immediately imprisoned and charged with assault and resisting arrest.

His mother, family and friends have been heartened and uplifted by the outpouring of support. The Justice 4 Joshua movement is gaining individual and organizational supporters daily.  Its full strength will be on display May Day in a mass march from the heart of Providence’s Black community through downtown to police headquarters and the Rhode Island Statehouse.

Demands for the May Day march include: Immediately drop all charges against and release Joshua! Fire Sgt. Allen! End racial profiling and police brutality! Money for jobs, not jails! Money for education, not incarceration! Hands off Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance and the U.S. Postal Service!

The R.I. People’s Assembly will be spreading the word and signing people up for the May 11 Poor People’s Campaign rally in Baltimore.