PAWTUCKET — As part of Black History Month, the community of Woodlawn Catholic Regional School in Pawtucket welcomed James Vincent, president of the Rhode Island National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Vincent spent the afternoon getting to know students while sharing his experiences working in the civil rights movement and discussing the many black lives who have made, and continue to make, strides for racial equality. The audience included students and faculty from the school as well as Patty January, coordinator of the Office of Black Catholics from the Diocese of Providence.
Principal Mary-Regina Bennett shared that the students were extremely enthusiastic about having Vincent visit their school on Feb. 8, especially grades 5-8 who had been preparing biographies on civil rights leaders throughout history.
“It was a wonderful opportunity for students to connect to someone who was both involved in the civil rights movement and who has met many of these leaders personally,” said Bennett. “The most important part of the visit was the personal message of how one should not let the color of their skin or their economic circumstance determine their life’s destiny. If you work hard and believe in the destiny of your dreams you can make those dreams a reality. This important message resonated with all of the members of the audience. The students are still talking about this day and how his positive message will help them as they formulate their own future plans.”
The NAACP is a non-profit organization established in New York City in 1909 by a multiracial group of activists who answered the call in response to increasing violence against black people in all parts of the country. According to the Rhode Island NAACP, the goal of the organization is eliminate racial prejudice and remove all barriers of racial discrimination through advocacy, the electoral process, lobbying, litigation, organization and protest.
One of the group’s local objectives is to provide youth and young adults with personal and leadership training. Vincent’s visit offered great insight into all that the NAACP offers for the community.
Vincent spoke about his personal experiences growing up poor in the inner-city of Boston and how his Catholic faith and determination led him to pursue higher education and a successful future — despite being told that by the time he was 30 he would either be dead or in jail.
He shared his gratitude to being brought up around people with strong character and credits the heroes of the civil rights movement such as Rosa Parks, Ella Baker, Dr. King, and so many others for inspiring him on his journey.
“I felt so fortunate and humbled that I got a chance that many people before me didn’t,” he said. “I thank God for being alive and to be able to come before you and speak truth because it is so important for us to have your generation continue the work. There is still inequality in America. There are still people being treated different because of the color of their skin. And I’m sure some of you have experienced that in your young lives today. The civil rights movement continues. It didn’t end with Rosa Parks.”
Vincent and the students discussed the well-known heroes and many of those who are not household names. They shared stories of those who fought for the right to vote and those who continue to fight in their own way for racial equality today.
“People marched, fought, bled and died so that there would be fairness in America. These people wanted America to live up to its promise that all men and women are created equal. They are the true patriots. I thought the civil rights movement ended with the March on Washington when I was 11 years old, but you’re part of it now. You’re going to do well. Failure is not negotiable. You will succeed. You will compete with kids that have parents who are millionaires and you will show them that you are as good as them if not better. You need to understand that you are beautiful, that you are as smart as anybody, that you are as good as anybody. Don’t let anyone tell you different.”