On Thursday, October 17, 2019 the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities honored the White Family, philanthropic leaders; Silaphone Nhongvongsouthy, intercultural program developer; the Edible Schoolyard at Green Animals Topiary Garden; and Joe Wilson, Jr., educator, advocate, and actor. Over 300 community and business leaders, scholars, artists, government officials, and Rhode Islanders gathered at the Renaissance Downtown Hotel in Providence to raise over $70,000 to support the public humanities including culture, history, heritage, and civic education in our state.
With the timely theme of IMAGINE, the Celebration evokes our yearning for positive steps toward the future, honoring families, individuals, and organizations in our state who are taking those steps in inspiring ways. This year’s honorees exemplify the humanities in action–building a philanthropic legacy that will ensure lasting support for arts and culture in Rhode Island, encouraging young people to understand and value cultural heritage and to connect with others, creating dynamic new uses for historic sites, connecting the humanities to healthier lifestyles and communities, and using performance to illuminate injustice and create change.
As the award presentation got underway, Council Board Chair Touba Ghadessi remarked to the audience and honorees:
“Tonight, we recognize that our state, our world, is better because many of you dared to imagine audacious truths. You are courageous thinkers, dedicated practitioners, and cultural heroes. You believe that difference is to be celebrated, that advocacy for just civic systems is a badge of honor, you believe that an abundant life is a fundamental right, and that intentional giving is an inherent part of decency. So with you, here, right now, I see what our collective imagination can do. I am humbled by it and I know that our future will be as brilliant as the people whom we are honoring!”
The Honorary Chairs’ Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Humanities was presented to the White Family, including John Hazen White, Jr., Liz White, and their sons John Hazen White III and Ben White, for the sustained and meaningful ways they have supported the education, humanities and arts institutions that strengthen Rhode Island’s civic fabric.
The Tom Roberts Prize for Creative Achievement in the Humanities honored Silaphone Nhongvongsouthy for her dedicated and creative leadership as an intercultural program developer with the Laotian Community Center of RI and the cross-cultural partnerships she has forged.
The Innovation in the Humanities Award went to the Edible Schoolyard program at Green Animals Topiary Garden, a historic house and landscape in Portsmouth, RI, managed by the Preservation Society of Newport County. The award recognized their development of an impressive model for re-thinking the use of historic sites to teach healthy nutrition, food growing, and foodways to hundreds of students each year.
The Public Humanities Scholar Award was presented to educator, advocate and actor Joe Wilson, Jr., for the ways he employs his talents as an actor, scholar, and advocate to draw attention to civic life, education, and the voices and stories of underrepresented communities.
Each of this year’s honorees offered inspiring acceptance speeches which called on the gathering to think about the ways that they too can imagine a more connected, empathetic, just world through collaboration and innovative practices.
Special thanks to the 2019 Celebration of the Humanities Event Committee for their dedicated efforts to make this special evening such a success!
Francis Parra & Gonzalo A. Cuervo
Touba Ghadessi & John Richard
Jessica L. and Aaron Q. Weinstein
Diana DeCesaris Champa
Elaine B. Fain
Dennise M. Kowalczyk
Taylor M. Polites
Rebecca R. Riley
All photos by: Matt Ferrara Photography