The lives and struggles and contributions of African-Americans in Rhode Island is not separate from the history of our state, but an important, interwoven part of it, said Sen. Harold M. Metts (D-Dist. 6, Providence). Although we already celebrate Black History Month, we should acknowledge, and start teaching our school children, that the story of African-Americans in Rhode Island is rich and interesting and deserving of greater attention and study. Including that story as part of the regular school curriculum will provide a more well-rounded and complete view of how African-Americans have played a role in the development of our state.
The Senate today approved a resolution sponsored by Senator Metts, 2014-S 2418A, that would create a special legislative commission to be known as The 1696 Historical Commission, which would be organized to develop a comprehensive African-American history curriculum for public schools, ranging from kindergarten to grade 12.
In discussing the legislation today on the Senate floor, Senator Metts quoted Randall Robertson, who in his book The Debt: What America Owes to Black, wrote Achievement gaps cannot be fully closed until Americans all Americans are repaired in their views of Africas role in history. & How can we be collectively successful if we have no idea or, worse, the wrong idea of who we were and, therefore, are?
The 15-member commission would include the secretary of state, the education commissioner, the executive director of the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission or their designees, and 12 members of the public appointed by the House speaker, the Senate president and the governor. The Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commissions and Rhode Island Department of Education would provide support staff to the commission, under the bill.
The commission would be charged with creating a curriculum that includes a history of people of African heritage, including the history of African peoples before the political conflicts that led to the development of slavery, the passage to America and Rhode Island, the enslavement experience in America and Rhode Island, abolition and the contributions of Africans to America and Rhode Island. The group would consult with the Department of Education to develop guidelines, and would make recommendations on facilitating the inclusion of these elements of history in teaching in Rhode Island public schools.
The legislation requires the commission to prepare its findings and recommendations by January 2015, and sets a goal of funding and implementing the curriculum for the start of the 2016-2017 school year.
The Metts joint resolution was co-sponsored by Sen. Juan M. Pichardo (D-Dist. 2, Providence), Sen. Paul V. Jabour (D-Dist. 5, Providence), Sen. Elizabeth A. Crowley (D-Dist. 16, Central Falls, Pawtucket) and Sen. Gayle L. Goldin (D-Dist. 3, Providence). It now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration. A companion House bill, 2014-H 7490, introduced by Rep. Joseph S. Almeida (D-Dist. 12, Providence), is currently before the House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare.