Rhode Island church fights racial inequity by helping students

After George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis last summer, a church in Rhode Island put up Black Lives Matter signs — and didn’t stop there.

The leaders of Newman Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Rumford, decided “a more proactive approach was necessary,” said their pastor, the Rev. Timoth Silvia.

Newman Congregational Church, Rumford, R.I., is among many UCC congregations that display racial-justice messages. Newman’s latest action is a scholarship for BIPOC students.

Part of that approach is its new Community Racial Equity Scholarship for Black, Indigenous and other people of color. The church gave its first $4,000 award to a local student Aug. 4 and is raising funds to expand the program.

Moral responsibility

In announcing its first recipient, the church said its Racial Equity Team saw the scholarship as a concrete way to counter “racial inequities in our society.” “Tangible efforts to ameliorate the current situation are important building blocks toward justice for all,” the announcement said.

The church said it has a moral responsibility to fight historic — and ongoing — inequalities. That insight matches a wider UCC emphasis, Join the Movement Toward Racial Justice, announced in July at General Synod and launching in October.

“Historically, American institutions, including religious institutions, have contributed to the unequal treatment of many of its marginalized citizens, particularly those identified as Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC),” Newman’s announcement said. “Unjust policies involving housing, politics, hiring and education opportunities are depressing examples that continue to hinder this large segment of our society.”

‘Break down barriers’

Scholarship winner Desiree Weeden agreed. She will use the money at Providence College, where she starts graduate studies this month. The scholarship, she said, will help her “start closing the educational gap that prevents me, and others like myself, [from receiving] an equal education that relies on financial stability.”

Scholarship recipient Desiree Weeden

“People in my community aren’t afforded the same generational wealth and equity to attain a post-secondary education, and that within itself prevents student achievement and success,” Weeden said. “This scholarship has created an opportunity for me to break down barriers that I have experienced so I can excel in college, and pursue a career that requires me to assist students in achieving their goals as well.

“From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank the Racial Equity Team at Newman UCC, and Rev. Timoth, for their generosity, support and blessings, for assisting in my academic journey.”

The church is now seeking donations from community partners to enable more and bigger scholarships. “Though funding for the inaugural award originated within the Newman UCC faith community, many other donations were and will continue to be vital to the program,” it said. “By joining together a vast array of businesses, faith communities, individuals and community organizations, the Community Racial Equity Scholarship can grow to provide the much-needed resources for our BIPOC neighbors.”

Categories: United Church of Christ News

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