October 19, 2018 — At the 2018 Celebration of the Humanities, over 300 community and business leaders, scholars, artists, and government officials gathered in Providence to honor this year’s awardees. The Celebration’s theme – BRIDGE – is about the power of the humanities to link diverse communities, increase access to culture and education, span understanding of the past and imagining the future, connect to societal challenges, and strengthen the ties between information, awareness, and democracy. Each of this year’s honorees do this with great dedication, talent, and skill.
Read on for remarks from Robb Dimmick and Ray Rickman of Stages of Freedom, an organization that uncovers, interprets, and empowers African-American history in Rhode Island and the 2018 recipient of the Innovation in the Humanities Award – the fourth and final installment of this year’s In Their Own Words series.
Bridges are designed to take us over impediments, those troubling ravines of uncertainty, so we may experience the wonder of what’s on the other side. To that end, we are honored beyond these meager words to be the recipients of the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities’ Innovation Award. In many ways it acknowledges Ray’s and my forty-year Black and White collaboration of arts and ideas, a celebration of who we are in the midst of where we are. We are happy that others have joined us on this journey, including our board and staff. Constance Jordan, Cheryl Jordan, Judy Barrett Litoff and Jonathan Nordin are here with us tonight. Thank you so much for making what we do possible.
The “stages” in Stage of Freedom, are the incremental steps we collectively take to reach that true but elusive sense of freedom.
As public scholars, we have used the arts and humanities to explore the incredibly rich contributions of Rhode Island African Americans. These stories are often so compelling and far-reaching that few believe they are ours alone, because they have never been told. From slavery, foodways, theatre, religion, opera, and art, we have sought new and engaging ways to tell these stories of Black determination, invention and excellence to as wide an audience as possible. We hope we have created bridges which both Black and White may safely and continually cross over to freely talk to each other and build community.
With a deep and abiding faith in our future, we provide opportunities to empower, engage, and excite our youth. That is why at every event we host, you will see young people of color as greeters, docents and participants, and why we are six years into teaching social skills through our tea party for girls and bow ties for boys events, and performance skills through our seventeen year old summer intensive, Jazz is a Rainbow.
Dear Touba, Elizabeth, your board and your staff: For seeing our passion for our history and our children as innovative, we thank you very much!
2018 has been a year in which scores of individuals and several organizations have recognized my 60 years as a civil rights activist. This has been heartening, but nothing has touched me more deeply or meaningfully than the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities’ Innovation Award for the work that Robb Dimmick and I engage in daily at Stages of Freedom. Stages of Freedom’s efforts to empower youth through its swimming initiative, social engagement, and arts programs, and to bridge communities by sharing the remarkable stories of Black Rhode Island achievements, is the most exciting and satisfying work of my life. When you enrich the lives of children, you have found your purpose. Being able to do all of this here in Rhode Island while being acknowledged and embraced by your peers is a glorious reward.
– Robb Dimmick and Ray Rickman