In Your Neighborhood

Cranston is working on racial equity

The Cranston Public Library is becoming a hub in building a more diverse community

Image courtesy of CPL website

Cranston Public Library will be hosting training in racial equity for town officials.

By Edward Garcia
Posted 9/16/19
An innovative training program at Cranston Public Library is taking a proactive approach to racial equity as the town's population grows more diverse.
Is this an example of how Rhode Islanders can become more comfortable having uncomfortable conversations about racial equity? Can the Cranston program be replicated in other cities? Are there best practices that can be developed? Will the working cities challenge grant be given new funding? Will Mayor Fung take the training?
An important connection needs to be developed around racial equity and health equity related to environmental policies.

CRANSTON--Recently the Cranston Public Library was awarded a community grant from the Rhode Island Foundation to host racial equity training for Cranston leadership. The library applied for this grant as a direct result of our recent work helping to build the OneCranston Working Cities Challenge Initiative.

Three and a half years ago, I reached out to the City of Cranston Director of Economic Development Larry DiBoni about convening a community forum to apply for a $400,000 Working Cities Challenge Initiative grant from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. From that initial meeting, the OneCranston Initiative was born. The OneCranston Initiative seeks to embrace the changing demographics in our population and increase social cohesion among and between residents in the city, with a focus on Cranston's growing low-income and minority populations. OneCranston recognizes that the work is centered on four guiding principles: advancing racial and social equity; connecting people and building relationships; supporting entrepreneurial action; and promoting greater civic and community engagement for all.

The OneCranston Working Cities Challenge Initiative is a partnership of many local government and non-profit agencies including CCAP, Cranston YMCA, United Way, the City of Cranston and many others.

Becoming a more diverse city

Cranston has become a more diverse city. Between 2000 and 2015, the percentage of minority residents increased in every Cranston neighborhood and the percentage of residents living below the federal poverty level increased or remained level in 82 percent of the city’s seventeen census tracts. While the city grew at a rate of 1.9 percent, the number of residents who are people of color increased 100 percent and the Hispanic and Asian populations grew by 187 percent and 65 percent respectively. There is a growing number of Cranston residents who face economic and educational disparities. For many residents the digital divide is still a barrier to access. These disparities impact all the residents of Cranston and can block access to opportunity, slow economic growth, and disincentivize civic engagement, particularly among the city’s growing number of low-income and minority families. 

The library has fully embraced the growing diversity of our city and is trying to address many of these disparities. We’ve updated policies to address equity, diversity, and inclusion in an effort to codify our commitment to make Cranston Public Library a welcoming and safe place for everyone. We are working to increase diversity in our hiring to ensure that our staff reflects our community which includes having the only municipal director who is a person of color. The Cranston Public Library has also included a diversity statement in our staff handbook and in all job postings to announce our commitment in this area. 

The library has eagerly welcomed our new immigrant communities by celebrating their culture as reflected in our recent outreach efforts in our Cambodian community. We have also provided help for new and established immigrants to navigate American life with the “You Are Here” program. For the past 20 years, the Cranston Public Library has partnered with the Rhode Island Family Literacy Initiative to hold ESL classes and U.S. citizenship test preparatory classes at three of our library locations. In the past year, we have had participants from 38 different countries including Syria, China, Cambodia, Ukraine, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic represented. In the past four years, 104 students have completed our citizenship classes and have become U.S. citizens. In that same span, 480 students have completed our ESL programs.

We have demonstrated how the Library can play a vital role in the community by hosting a series of community conversations this past year around important issues. Examples of this include The Hate U Give, a 3 part program series in which we discussed racial equity and police/community relations; a First Amendment and the Free Press panel discussing the importance of the First Amendment in this era of “fake news,” a climate change community conversation with Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, and a screening of the documentary American Creed with community conversation to continue the discussion on racial equity and what being American means to everyday people. 

Social cohesion

After this work, the library seemed to be the logical safe space to host racial equity training. We applied for the Rhode Island Foundation grant in partnership with OneCranston and the Cranston City Council. Our grant team was Lisa Kirshenbaum (Cranston City Council grant writer), Edward Garcia (Library Director) and Ayana Crichton (OneCranston Initiative Director). We also received important support for this training from City Council President Michael Farina and Mayor Allan Fung. 

We believe the library can play an important role in making Cranston a more socially cohesive and resilient community. One of the first steps is if all of us, all our residents, and especially our elected officials and city workers acknowledge that there are systemic biases at have been built into all of our systems over time, not just in Cranston, but across our country. As our population changes we have to strive to make our communities, and our government equitable for all and that means addressing existing disparities and biases.  The goal of this training is for the participating individuals to gain the necessary knowledge to apply what they have learned to their everyday practices as they interact with each other and the residents of Cranston. That is why we chose to hold this training for Cranston leadership to focus on how to address the many and varying needs of Cranston residents who represent the minority and low-income population. Invitations will go out to elected officials and municipal department heads, along with non-profit leaders and members of the religious community. We hope this training will inform us about how our government can better reflect our community and improve access to city services. 

The grant from the Rhode Island Foundation will fund a full day training in early November at the Cranston Public Library for up to 50 leaders by the Racial Equity Institute located in North Carolina. The training will utilize their “Groundwater Approach to Addressing Racial Inequities.”  

The intent of the training is described as follows: “The groundwater metaphor is designed to help practitioners at all levels internalize the reality that we live in a racially structured society, and that that is what causes racial inequity. 
The metaphor is based on three observations: racial inequity looks the same across systems; socio-economic difference does not explain the racial inequity;  inequities are caused by systems, regardless of people’s culture or behavior.
Embracing these truths helps leaders to confront the reality that all our systems, institutions, and outcomes emanate from the racial hierarchy, on which the United States was built. In other words, we have a 'groundwater' problem, and we need 'groundwater' solutions. Starting from there, we begin to unlock transformative change.” 

Discussing racial inequity is an uncomfortable subject for most people; it will be extremely beneficial to have Cranston leadership participating in the training together where they can hear the same message and then be able to work together to implement viable solutions. We don’t anticipate this one day training to be a quick-fix, rather that it will be the start of a conversation, allowing leaders to self-reflect and begin the necessary conversations for long-term improvements. At the end of training day, we will have a discussion regarding what participants have learned and help them create both Department-specific and Cranston-wide attainable goals. 
The Cranston Public Library’s mission is to bring people, information and ideas together to enrich lives and strengthen the community. This grant is another way the library is building community.


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