Raimondo Committed to Making Healthcare More Affordable: Summary of the governor’s June 4 press conference

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo speaks at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Providence Pedestrian Bridge.

Governor Gina Raimondo, Dr. James McDonald from RIDOH and DoA director Brett Smiley gave the COVID-19 press briefing today at 1pm.

The data for Rhode Island is as follows: 100 new cases of COVID, and 185 people are hospitalized, 42 are in the ICU, and 29 people are on ventilators. DOH reported 14 new deaths today, with no age breakdown offered during the presser.

Governor Raimondo today made several announcements regarding healthcare in Rhode Island. Federal aid of up to $150 million would be made available to hospitals across the state. That comes after hospital systems in the Ocean State face revenue drop-offs from shutting down due to COVID. Healthcare frontline workers will continue to receive a pay boost from the CARES Act funds. Director Smiley today reported the effort had cost more than $8 million dollars, and they had budgeted a few million more for the new two-week extension.

The governor today also reported her administration would make an effort to re-tilt healthcare in Rhode Island. She is committed to health equity zones and making healthcare more affordable. Her telehealth executive order has been extended. This comes after COVID hitting Rhode Island’s vulnerable communities the hardest. Child immunizations are estimated to be down 35% to 50%, people have put offer PCP visits or treatment. “It’s time we start addressing that,” said the governor.

The governor and Dr. McDonald announced there were going to be metrics for nursing homes to start visitations, however, neither elaborated on what they would be. Dr. McDonald said to hold on for a few more weeks as congregate care settings figure out what to do with state and federal guidance. 

Starting next week, the governor is expected to make a series of announcements regarding schools. She says she thinks school will return in some form this fall. Distance learning has overall been a success, said Raimondo. RIDE is making an extensive focused assessment, which should be completed after the school year closes. Raimondo said she’s pleasantly surprised with the results, but that it gets more difficult the longer it goes on. She also half-joked that with distance learning, snow days might be a thing of the past.

Providence still has a #BlackLivesMatter rally for George Floyd tomorrow. Governor Raimondo said she supports the effort and reminded people to exercise caution and observe social distancing and face masks regulations. Some form of security will be present at tomorrow’s rally, the governor is getting briefed on that this afternoon. The National Guard isn’t going away anytime soon. Governor Raimondo said it would be active for security measures at least through the weekend, until she feels Rhode Islanders are safe. Rhode Islanders will have to get used to helicopters and Humvees at least until next week. Meanwhile other parts of the guard National Guard will continue to be deployed in COVID work ,such as contact tracing and quarantining. New federal measures allow states to be reimbursed for using their Guard units through August 21st, so we can expect them to be activated at least until then.

Tomorrow’s press conference is at 1pm, with the one following that scheduled for Monday. Starting next week press conferences will drop down to three days a week on a Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule. You can watch them on local news, Facebook Live, or Capitol TV. Motif will have its summary up following the press conference a few hours later.




Be of Service: Five do’s and don’t’s for white people taking anti-racist action

I am a white woman who has been blogging about race for eight years. It all started out of my pressing need to explore why, ever since I was a child, I cared so much about cross-racial connection, racism and exclusion of black people in “white life.” It was long before I would ever hear the term “white bubble.” I didn’t have the language for any of this yet. 

When yet another innocent black person is killed by a white vigilante, or white police officer, I want to write about it as a way to show up, to be there in solidarity with black people. I also want my fellow white people to show up. To talk about what happened. To show their support. To take action. And, I am not perfect in this. None of us are. But what is most important is that we show up, and that we do something. 

As I witness the pain and exhaustion of black people through conversation, and on social media, I see and hear them share about what they want and don’t want from us white people. As part of learning how to care for one another and understand the harm of white supremacist culture, racist violence, and white individual words and action cause, and in an effort to undo our own racialized, colonized minds, I want to share what I am hearing, learning and putting into practice. Below are five DON’Ts and five DO’s I am keeping in mind and sharing with other white people to practice as we work to be in solidarity with black people in this country, and to be a part of a new order in which we all are free. This will only happen when we white people acknowledge our history, apologize for it and make amends — reparations, for the centuries of slavery and oppression we have instituted and continue to preside over.

DON’T

  1. Don’t go on and on about how sad and outraged YOU are about the killing of George Floyd, or other deaths of innocent black people at the hands of police officers and vigilantes. It is not our place to take up a whole lot of space centering our own pain about the death of yet another black person. Acknowledge, show up, share articles (see #2 for boundaries on this) and show that you care, but being extra about your emotional response to the death is not helpful. And what I am continuously hearing black people say, is this: Don’t ask them for anything right now. They are exhausted from our racism, and are processing and need rest, away from us white folks asking them, “But what can we do?” I failed at this by recently messaging a black woman friend about an upcoming protest, realizing I seek her out too often to ask her opinion or gather information about a local event, when I can do the work of figuring it out myself, without making her my “go-to” black person, especially at a time like this.
  2. Don’t share images and videos that show the killing of black people.  It is black pain porn that you are sharing. Some white people have said they feel it is important that white people witness the horror so that we can see the terror of what we are inflicting on black people. Witness it privately if you must. But don’t spread the violence and re-traumatize black people, or have other white people view these videos as some kind of sport, like white people who attended public lynchings and took photos of themselves at these events, and even made souvenir postcards out of them.
  3. Don’t ever question whether a black person should have, fill in the blank: run, not run, comply, be polite, have a record. Don’t make a black person responsible for their own killing. Period.
  4. Don’t tell a black person how they, or others that look like them, should respond to a killing of a black person by a white police officer or vigilante. Don’t say, “I understand being upset about the killing, but when they riot and loot, I don’t condone that. They’re only hurting themselves and destroying their own communities.” Is a building worth more than a life? Martin Luther King said, “Riots are the language of the unheard.” First of all, as we are finding out is the case with many of these so-called “riots,” the majority of people doing the destruction and looting are from outside of the states where the incidents took place, and are carried out by many white people with links to white supremacist groups. Second, this country was built by slaves and everything white people have is because of first, stealing land that did not belong to them, using violence to kill the indigenous people whose land this belonged to, enslaving people first from Africa, and afterward through centuries of Jim Crow laws — discriminatory housing laws, discriminatory voting laws, discriminatory business loans and mortgages, segregation of schools, mass incarceration and looting of other countries’ treasures that were placed in our museums. 
  5. Don’t stay silent. If the pain and suffering of black people is not on your radar, or it is, but you feel like you can’t or shouldn’t say or do anything about it, that is a problem.  If you are more afraid of being called racist for saying the wrong thing than you are about putting an end to racism, well, as they say: White Silence = Violence.

DO:

  1. Do educate yourself on the history of systemic racism in this country. Read. Get into conversations with other white people. Get into conversations with black people. Get educated and converse without placing the labor on black people to do the work for you. Be resourceful. There are a lot of books and resources out there now for us white people to read and learn about racism and avenues to engage in the work of anti-racism.
  2. Do something. We white people can be good at saying, “I feel awful about all this, but I feel helpless as to what I can do.” My cousin, a life coach, has said, “When we say, ‘I just don’t know..I’m afraid to (fill in the blank—fall in love, ask for a raise)’ when we get stuck in the ‘I don’t know,’ we can stay there, and have the comfort of not having to make a decision, stay in the comfort of not taking action.” And, so, I plead with all of us white people, to get unstuck, to not stay in the “but, I don’t know what I can do,” or “I don’t want to make a mistake if I say something to a black person about race,” We can see how damaging that is, right? There are concrete things we all can do. (See resource list at end of article)
  3. Do Listen. We white people are so used to being the center of everything, thinking we need to have something to say. Please listen to black people share about their experience, let them speak at rallies, lead and center themselves in the conversation on the racism they have experienced. And do believe them. 
  4. Do accept the invitation to learn and grow. If a black person tells you something you said, or did, or posted on social media, caused them harm, listen. Believe them. Do not get defensive, and please, fellow white women, do this learning and growing without shedding tears. 
  5. Do the most every day to break down systems of oppression and racism. Every day. I hear and witness many black people saying what is happening right now is much bigger than George Floyd. This is centuries of enduring the racism and violence perpetrated by white people on black people in this country. This means it is going to require all we have, and all of us to tear down these systems, and start anew. It requires more than showing up at a protest. It requires vigilance and ownership and the will to make changes every single day. Beyond calling out blatant racist acts when you see them, it is about what we can do in our every day worlds. It’s being in your workplace and looking around and seeing if your workplace is a white bubble where black people and people of color either don’t exist or don’t exist in an equal way to the white people there, especially if it is a white-led, non-profit organization “serving” people from marginalized communities.  And, I don’t mean having more black and brown people so you can say, “Hey, look at our diverse workforce!” Diversity does not equal equity. It means you have policies and a culture that is not surface level, but truly welcoming and inclusive. It means that positions at all levels are filled with black and brown people. It means there is equality and the de-centering of whiteness in carrying out your organization’s or business’s work. It means black and brown people are given the autonomy and support and resources to do their job and not be suspected of not producing quality work, or called aggressive, angry, or said to not fit in. It’s about doing what needs to be done to make sure our public school systems have equal resources. It’s about undoing racist laws within our judicial system. It’s about being willing to connect with and get to know black people and have conversations, and be willing to take guidance on what you can do to help without asking the kinds of questions that feel like a burden. 

There are more than five things we can do, and five things we should not do, but this is a start. We can start where we are, no matter where that starting point is. The critical thing is to do something, to begin. 

Here are links to resources to help us learn, grow and give support to black people and black-led businesses and organizations in our community and nationally.

Resources:

Rhode Island Solidarity Fund

Donate to this newly created fund to support five historically marginalized, local community-led organizations: DARE, PrYSM, AMOR, George Wiley Center, and ARISE. Your funds will support: immediate Covid-19 relief, local and state advocacy for public health policies, economic recovery, and build local networks and resilient systems to sustain these communities for the long-term. risolidarityfund.org

Black Girl In Maine

Become a patron of Shay Stewart Bouley’s blog, Black Girl in Maine. Shay is an author, speaker, racial justice educator, and Executive Director of Boston-based civil rights organization, Community Change, Inc. blackgirlinmaine.com

Google Document: Anti-Racism Resources for White People, compiled by Sarah Sophie Flickr, Alyssa Klein, May 2020 docs.google.com/document/d/1BRlF2_zhNe86SGgHa6-VlBO-QgirITwCTugSfKie5Fs/mobilebasic?fbclid=IwAR2CzV15_p02xyYyF1LXSzCyfDOtFqV28O–RdV_YCSHf1nkptb0-fX0-G4

Black Visions Collective

BVC, a Minneapolis, MN based non-profit organization. Black Visions Collective envisions a world in which ALL Black Lives Matter. We use the guidance and brilliance of our ancestors as well as the teachings of our own experiences to pursue our commitment to dismantling systems of oppression and violence. We are determined in our pursuit of dignity and equity for all. blackvisionsmn.org/about

Wendy Grossman in a Rhode Island blogger whose personal essays on race, racism and cross-racial connection can be found on wendyjanesoulshake.com




Take Action: The Womxn Project is #sustainingcommunity

Photo credit: Sara Archambault

Conversation without action won’t drive change, so The Womxn Project — a local organization always pushing for justice — is taking action and calling on community members to do the same.

Last weekend, in partnership with the RI Democratic Women’s Caucus, The Womxn Project projected a series of statements on the State House calling on white people to take action to stop racism.

We asked Jocelyn Foye, co-director of The Womxn Project, what women’s role is in the quest for racial justice. “Fundamental leadership is coming from women of color, and we want to be a support system to them,” she said. “I think that you’re seeing a lot of activists are women. [The Womxn Project] is not exclusive to a gender, but we also are recognizing that there is a power in that group.”

The organization recently put out a video series that gives tips to white people on how to listen and learn, provides ways people can push for justice, helps parents raise anti-racist kids and gives advice on ways to create change in day-to-day lives.

“This is our problem,” Foye said. “We created this problem and we need to do something about it.”

Find the video series on The Womxn Project’s YouTube channel with #sustainingcommunity: youtube.com/channel/UCrgBHwfrU_8176Q9vjQ7f4A




Rhode Island Is Facing a Huge Budget Shortfall: Summary of the governor’s June 3 press conference

Governor Gina Raimondo, DOH director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, and DOA Director Brett Smiley held the COVID-19 press briefing today at 2:30pm from The Vets in Providence. 

Today’s COVID data is as follows: there are 107 new cases. As the governor noted, the positivity rate statewide is under 5% as it has been the past few days. Some areas continue to be above 10% positive rates, hard hit communities like Pawtucket, Central Falls, North Providence and parts of Providence. There are 189 people are hospitalized in the Ocean State from COVID-19. Of those people, 144 are in the ICU, and 30 of those people are on ventilators. DOH also reported today 12 new deaths from the coronavirus since yesterday. Two people were in their 70s, two in their 80s, and six were in their 90s.

Governor Raimondo today took pains to reassure Rhode Islanders the Crush COVID RI app they launched a few weeks ago was safe to download. People should not be concerned the app will harvest your private information or phone contacts. Any information that could be used to identify you is not kept with your list of locations or people you came into contact with. The app will always be opt in and you can opt out of it at any time. Approximately 45,000 people have downloaded the app since its launch last month. 

Starting on Friday’s #BlackLivesMatter protest, DOH employees will be on site for future protests. They will be providing either verbal or flyer information that will help attendees keep cautious and safe during the time of coronavirus. “The virus is ever present,” said Raimondo. DOH will also distribute masks during protests.

“I am begging you,” said the governor of peaceful protesters, “to exercise extreme caution out of concern for the loved ones you have at home who could get very sick or worse.” She noted she cannot suspend the constitutional right to assembly, and said she would never tell someone not to protest or advocate for change. She did recommend attendees of protests to exercise extreme caution. The governor added she might attend the rally on the outskirts on Friday, and does support the effort.

Today the governor announced state employees in the executive branch would be allowed to participate in a federal workshare program. Department of Administration Brett Smiley gave a rundown on how it will work. Employees would see a 40% reduction in hours. For someone working five days a week, they’d be reduced for three days a week and collect a salary for only those three days. The other two days they could collect a type of federal check akin to UI, with the $600 federal boost to benefits being made available. Smiley acknowledged some of the lower paid employees would come out a little ahead, but only until those federal benefits ran out at the end of July. 

The program itself is scheduled to last for 12 weeks. Some groups of state employees are eligible, first line responders, most people doing work related to COVID, and a few other exceptions. Everyone else, around 4,000 state workers, would be eligible to participate. The state is seeking a minimum of 25% participation and a maxim of 50%. Government could save $5 million if they reach their minimum goal of 1,000 workers participating.

The state of Rhode Island is currently facing a budget shortfall of $800 million from lost revenue due to the state shutdown. Raimondo and other state leaders have emphasized state government would look a lot different on the other side of that budget without federal aid, cuts to essential services unfathomable to any living Rhode Islander. The governor remains hopeful of more stimulus legislation coming out of Congress and is reassured by her communication with other governors (including those of red states) and our own federal delegation. 

Massachusetts announced earlier they would allow some form of outside visitation for nursing homes. When asked for comment, the governor said she was erring on the side of caution. It does not change her thinking, she said, nor does she think Governor Baker is wrong. The reason for the delayed start time today was actually a phone call from the White House. White House officials were leaning on governors to lean on nursing homes to handle infection control and inspections much better. Nursing home deaths account for the majority of fatalities in Rhode Island.

The governor has repeatedly identified the rioters from Monday’s overnight looting as out of state agitators. Motif reporters have looked at the data, and the overwhelming majority of those arrested were from Rhode Island. When asked for comment about this from Motif, the governor said, “We don’t know. It’s an active investigation.” She said she found the tactics used in Providence mirrored other protests, suggesting some kind of coordinated effort from outside the state.

Tomorrow’s press conference is at 1pm. As a reminder, next week the press conferences will drop down to three times a week: Monday/Wednesday/Fridays at 1pm. You can watch them on local news, Facebook Live, or Capitol TV. Motif will have the summary up later that afternoon, as well as any other press conferences related to the Monday night lootings or COVID crisis.




In Providence: The Neighborhood

The day after Providence saw swarms of people running through its downtown area, breaking windows and looting stores, the streets started to fill up again, but this time, it was with people looking to lend a hand.

“The first thing I want to say to you is that I’m still hearing people say this was part of a protest. This was no protest. This was not associated with any protest.”

She was one of the people downtown, checking on a friend’s business and offering help where she saw it was needed. As someone who regularly attends protests, including the peaceful protest in Providence just a few days earlier, she woke up to the news of what had happened and immediately knew this had nothing to do with the Black Lives Matter movement or people who want to see an end to the violence inflicted upon black men and women by the police.

“This was organized by people who want to tarnish what the protests are trying to do,” she tells me. “These people didn’t have signs. This was a show. They showed up– This was terrorism. Plain and simple. Look at that photo that was all over Twitter the next day. White men. No masks. You know who those men are. We can find them. We know how to find them and so do the police if they want to know who started all this. Let’s see if they do.”

Her friend agreed to speak with me, but she didn’t want her business identified.

“We need to talk about this like it’s two things,” he said, “because there are different conversations happening. People who riot because they’ve had it with not being listened to? I got no problem with that. I understand that. You want to know how many times I’ve been pulled over? You want to hear how I’ve been dragged out of a car in front of my own store three months ago? That never made the news. You want to know why I got dragged out of my car? I didn’t come to a full stop at the sign back there. That’s why they dragged me out of the car and put cuffs on me. That’s what they said. I know I came to a full stop. The conversation about rioting — that’s one conversation about it. The other is that someone sent me a video of these boys trying to loot my store. Three white boys doing it, and I have my sign–”

He points to a Black Lives Matter sign positioned in his window.

“–I have it right there. People angry with the way things are? They’re going to throw a brick through my store? I don’t think so. I saw the video, but I already knew what was going on. The other conversation we need to have is about people who are using this movement to stoke fear. The president went on television and said ‘If things stay bad then I’m coming in with tanks.’ What goes on after that? His people go, ‘Let’s keep it going then.’ As in — as in, let’s keep it bad. Then our guy gets to take control. Because they know he’s losing. They know he’s on the way out, and they’re running out of time. That’s what all this is.”

As he’s speaking, I notice a man approach him. They embrace, and the man asks what he can do to help. They speak for a few minutes, and the man ends up going inside the store to talk to a few others who showed up earlier that morning and were already hard at work.

“You believe that,” the owner says to me, turning back to me. “That’s been happening for hours. People poking their head in — strangers — wanting to help. I’ve been seeing that — I went for a walk to clear my head and I was seeing that all through downtown. I saw the news saying this was a war zone. This isn’t a war zone, this is our neighborhood. This is where we live. They tried to bring a war here, and they had to do it in the middle of the night like cowards. That’s what cowards do. Now it’s daylight and look what you got. All these people saying, ‘You broke some glass and you broke things that can be replaced and swept up. You didn’t break us though. You didn’t break the neighborhood, did you?’ They want everybody to stay in their houses and be afraid. Look at all these people coming out of their houses.”

A woman who had been up all night watching the news unfold drove downtown before work and ended up calling in, so she could stay and help out.

“I was just like– I was up crying and panicking. I don’t live anywhere near here, but you know, Rhode Island is so small. I’m down in — I live down in Exeter, but watching the news last night, I was like– This is my home. All these Joe Rogan wannabes are trying to trash my home. I don’t care about these big businesses, that’s not what it’s about. I don’t care if you knock over an ATM, but you walk through the streets with weapons and you try making people feel unsafe and then you act like you’re the same as people who want the police to stop killing people? This was an attack and seeing some of those smug faces thinking they fooled everybody and we don’t have their number– It was too much for me. I talked to my husband this morning and we talked about how when you feel afraid you think to pull back and hide and stay away from the city until all this blows over. But I worked in Providence for 26 years. I’m not going to be scared to go into Providence. All it took was me getting a phone call from my girlfriend who still works down here and she told me people were helping clean up and I told her I’d be there and I got in my car and went. My boss knows where I am. I– Believe it or not, I think he’s down here too. I’m going to keep coming to Providence. This is going on everywhere, and you can’t hide from it. You need to educate yourself and you need to help support the people who are doing the right thing and see that no more families have to watch a video where they see their father getting murdered for doing nothing. I didn’t feel safe last night, but there are people who feel that way every day. There are people who feel that way every morning when they wake up. They can’t walk down the street — and it was going on last night. The police were arresting black people last night who weren’t doing anything and you have a guy on Facebook who took a video of him trying to loot these businesses, and why isn’t he in jail right now? I’ve had it, and I’m– That’s all I can say. I’ve had it. I’m ready to help. Let’s do something.”

One store owner called me over as I was walking back to my car and showed me a jar full of money on their counter. I assumed they were pointing out how crazy it was that nobody had grabbed it. The counter is easy to see from the street, and a few of the windows had been busted. They told me the jar hadn’t been there before, and that they had to go find it in the back, because people kept coming in and asking to donate money. The jar had only been out for about two hours and it was already full. The owner told me they would use it for their deductible, and whatever was left open, they’d donate to a BLM-supported cause.

“That’s how we do it, right,” they said, still looking at that jar filled to the brim with support. “You get it and you give it back. That’s the only way to do it.”

Before I could ask them to elaborate on that, someone came in off the street and asked if they needed any help.

So I guess I got my answer.




Sculpture on the Lawn: Bristol Art Museum features a walking tour of art

Bristol Art Museum recently unveiled an outdoor exhibit featuring works by artists Michael Cochran, Mike Hansel, Rob Lorenson, Paul Menensis, Matt Noiseux, Derek Riley and Mark Wholey. These works appear along Hope Street in Bristol on the lawns of Colt School, Linden Place and the Bradford-Dimond-Norris House.

Guest curator Rob Lorenson, who organized the exhibit, said, “With the closure of institutions of art as part of social distancing, public art has a role to play in availability. Outdoor sculpture is always available and in spaces that are conducive to social distancing. In this exhibit you don’t even need to get out of your car to enjoy the artwork. Over the duration of the exhibit and multiple encounters – a real relationship with the artwork can form.”

Interested art lovers are invited to view the works by car or by taking a stroll down Hope Street. They will remain on display through Labor Day. For more information, go to bristolartmuseum.org




Spiritual Journeys in the Time of Coronavirus: How are people of different faiths dealing with isolation?

“The shock of coronavirus has a lot of spiritual potential, leading us to ask, ‘What is real? Why did it happen? Does it matter why it happened? What is the reason for suffering?’” Shana Klinger poignantly stated via Zoom one quarantine afternoon. I asked if she would share a bit of her spiritual journey in the midst of coronavirus because — as a Christian — I was aware of how the church has adapted, but I was curious about those who have different spiritual or religious practices from my own. What has their experience been like?

Klinger and I met five-and-a-half years ago. She was looking for someone to sublet her apartment while she attended an annual Buddhist meditation retreat in Whidbey Island, and I needed a temporary home. We’ve kept in touch over the years, and I thought of her as someone who might be able to speak about Buddhist meditation.

“As a Westerner, I didn’t grow up in a Buddhist culture. For me it’s been about meditation, looking deeply into what causes suffering and happiness, to understand the nature of what it means to be a human being and how to relate as a human being to others. The practice of meditation is about transforming your mind in a way that leads to greater wisdom, patience, kindness and compassion.”

Theran Van Ostrand, vice abbot at Providence Zen Center in Cumberland, is one of 15 residents who live at the Zen Buddhism center. Life for them has proceeded normally, with the exception of no outsiders being allowed in. Soon, however, they are hoping to open the wrap-around porch for others to join in meditation (with masks, at a safe social distance). Due to the insulated nature of the residency program, Van Ostrand has experienced relief from thinking about what his next move ought to be. “It feels like my life has gotten easier because there’s an extra layer of safety — and I don’t need to go out. I’m less restless, and I’m feeling the freedom to settle in.”

I spoke to Elisa Heath, a member of the Jewish community, on Shavuot, the holiday that is celebrated on the 50th day after Passover on which Moses received the Law (also referred to as Pentecost). Although she doesn’t belong to a synagogue in Rhode Island, she works for Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP), part of whose mission is to create robust Jewish communities — of particular relevance in the midst of coronavirus. “The need to create platforms for community gatherings immediately became clear. As early as March 20, we were offering Shabbat candle lighting and prayers via Zoom. As a way to personalize it, we asked different people to host. They would be given a prompt such as, ‘What are you thankful for?’and after the ceremony, we would open the floor to others. After the first couple went, I was so teary and choked up. It was a meaningful way to connect.”

Normally, Heath commutes to and from Boston every day. Her schedule is packed with back-to-back meetings, so this time of working from home has afforded her opportunities to have morning workouts, to study and take classes from Rabbi Barry Dolinger of Beth Sholom, and has allowed greater time to reflect. “I can practice full immersion: flip my phone over, focus on the present, I even bought a special journal to use just for this class.” 

Since Passover occurred in the midst of coronavirus, and it is a holiday that emphasizes communal gathering at a time when many young people couldn’t go home or be with friends, the CJP sent Seders in a box. “We are constantly thinking in the present as well as the future. How can we provide the essential need of eating and being fed, both physically and as well as feeding the soul?”

Meanwhile, Lisa Roy considers herself to be pagan, but an “eclectic pagan.” “I follow what draws me, what speaks to my soul,” she said, having discovered this practice as a high school student and developed it on her own. “I’ve joined groups occasionally, but I don’t want anyone telling me what to do,” she laughed.

Although quarantine has come with its share of anxieties, it also allowed her time to quiet down, listen to nature and be immersed in it. “We’re typically living in a world separated from nature, so this allows a return to the outdoors. Nature provides sanctuary,” Roy said. “It offers peace. I’m able to meditate. I’m making that time for that now. And I’ve been able to explore what paganism means to me and why it’s part of my life. I can see how it has evolved for me, that how I practice now is different from when I was in high school. I feel like I’m in a transition period, looking to the future.”

Samir Soulaiman is the assistant Imam of the Islamic Center of Rhode Island and the co-founder of Rhode Island’s Americans Helping Others ProspEr (AHOPE). He explained to me that the Quran gives instructions for how to respond in the time of plague: Do not leave your city or homeland, but remain there and demonstrate confidence and faith. Soulaiman was one of the few people who was allowed to be in the mosque at the time of Ramadan — the holiest month of the Islamic calendar — but this year the majority of everyone’s time was spent at home praying together as a family. “We turned our houses into little mosques,” he said. 

His mosque did begin broadcasting services, and some teachers had special programs and teachings (particularly during Ramadan), but it was difficult to not be able to see loved ones, particularly those who are in an assisted care facility that doesn’t allow visitors. “I come from a culture where if I don’t see my mom or dad every day, I feel my day will be ruined. The phone is not the same as being physically present.” 

But ultimately, these challenges were considered more of a test for the believers to see how they respond. “God is not contained in a place,” he said. “It has been a time for us to stay at home, to stop the wheel of life. When there are circumstances that prevent us from meeting, we are still supposed to fast. It doesn’t make our worship any less.”

It’s safe to say these weeks of quarantine disrupted everyone’s routines and prevented religious and spiritual gatherings in the “normal” sense, but a common thread emerged in everyone’s experiences: the time to examine what we believe and its importance to us. There’s an opportunity to dig deeper and, as Klinger said, “examine the inner level. This shattering can be a good thing, if we use it to consider the kind of person we want to be.”

One thing Shana Klinger felt inspired to do was offer her unique gifts, such as meditation classes, for free. She began hosting “Circles of Connection” that allow people to listen to each other, and she teaches people how to listen from a mindfulness and goodheartedness perspective. “Listening can be a form of spiritual practice,” she said, which seems necessary now more than ever. 

“The challenge of the virus has triggered challenges that we haven’t examined before: economic strife, death, the fragility of our circumstances (that it can change in an instant) — and not on an isolated scale, but a grand one,” Klinger concluded. “If there’s anything that shows you what’s most important about being a human being, it’s this. And it’s a choice we have, whether to go back or not.” 

Indeed. What will you choose?

To participate in Shana’s “Circle of Connection” or learn more about her offerings, visit heartmindspace.com

If you’re curious about Zen meditation in a group setting or would like to take an introductory class, visit providencezen.org

For more information about the initiatives of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies, you can visit jewishboston.com (or, for RI-based programming: jewishallianceri.org)

To connect with a RI mosque, please visit ricma.org/mosques-institutions  




Food Truck Fridays Are Go: These trucks won’t stop rolling

Any Providence resident knows that summer is food truck season. While featured at nearly all outdoor events, none highlights them more than the traditional Food Truck Fridays at Roger Williams Park. So, what’s a food truck fan to do when no-contact, 6-foot distanced delivery and take-out are the new normal?

In the era of social distancing, Food Truck Fridays certainly look a bit different than in years prior. Instead of bustling crowds, local music showcases and community intermingling, the focus has been on finding solutions concerning how to enforce proper social distancing regulations while serving diners. But event organizer and owner of FoodTrucksIn, Eric Weiner, is optimistic that Rhode Islanders can still get their food truck fix this summer, albeit with some precautions put in place. 

“We’re going to give the trucks and the consumers and the musicians as much as we can and hope that it’s enough,” says Weiner. As the RI Bucket Drummers finish off their set for May 22nd’s Food Truck Friday Facebook Livestream, tips come pouring in from their virtual audience. The livestream, humbly staged in a driveway, is one of many alterations made to the usual operation. It simultaneously gives a platform for local musicians to once again perform live and advertises the trucks that are open for business and where to find them. 

Weiner explains that trucks have been strategically spread out across the state, limiting two trucks per location, to ensure that large congregations of customers won’t flock to a single spot. Truck owners are also required by the Department of Health and Department of Business to adhere to the same safety rules and standards as brick-and-mortar restaurants that have been put in place due to the pandemic, including not allowing more than five people to gather around the trucks. 

According to Weiner, the fact that food trucks generally aren’t responsible for providing seating removes a major concern that non-mobile establishments must contend with, as folks expect take-away services only. The real problem lies in getting customers to the trucks at all. When not working large events, a food truck typically relies on finding the ideal parking spot with lots of foot traffic to drive sales, but there has never been fewer people strolling the streets. With no Food Truck Fridays in the park, outdoor festivals or even catering gigs to be had, food trucks are in desperate need of patronage. 

Shishkaberry’s, specializing in chocolate-covered seasonal fruits, is one such truck that has felt the impact. Deeply reliant on the summer events that draw hundreds of potential customers, co-owner Steve Aulenback is anxious for crowd restrictions to be relaxed, “…But in due time and when it’s safe to do so,” he says. In the meantime, you can find the Shishkaberry’s truck parked right next to Friskie Fries in Johnston, ready to serve up some sweet treats to-go. 

As a community, we are mourning the loss of the summer season we look forward to all year — the one jam-packed with events where we can support local businesses and artists. We may be stuck at home, but the next time you’re hankering for take-out, check out the PVD Food Truck Events Facebook page for updates on where the trucks are parked. Order ahead if possible, remember your face mask for pick-up and respect any safety guidelines truck owners are putting in place. 

“We’re optimistic that, one way or another, throughout this season and into the future, we’re going to continue to do everything we can to bring you experiences to enjoy local food trucks, community musicians and local beverages,” says Weiner. He is working hard to keep food truck culture alive and well. And all you have to do to help is order some grub!




Providence Curfew: Mayor Elorza asks citizens to stay home

Providence mayor Jorge Elorza pictured here at a Bike to Work Day event in Burnside Park, May 15, 2015.

Mayor Jorge Elorza announced this afternoon he was instituting a curfew starting tonight at 9pm until 6am tomorrow morning. It will be effective for a week until June 9th and if it needs to be extended, Providence City Council will have to vote to extend it. The announcement comes the day after a series of mass overnight lootings in the city’s downtown district. He made the announcement today with Public Safety Commissioner Stephen Pare also present, as well as a local community member who protected the store Expressions last night. The venue for the presser was outside the same store.

The mayor and Commissioner Pare emphasized today that people in cars would not be stopped, but the focus was on clearing the streets and monitoring any activity similar to yesterday evening. The press, people traveling to work, first responders, the city’s homeless and people seeking medical treatment/supplies or fleeing dangerous circumstances are all exempt from the order. The mayor insisted it would make peaceful protesting that much safer. The city now has the legal authority to issue fines and disperse crowds if they break curfew, but Pare commented they would rather just ask. 

Neither Elorza nor Pare had anything to say on where the National Guard would be stationed in Providence. Such decisions they said were up to the National Guard unit itself. Providence police is available to send mutual aid to other cities and towns as needed and vice versa, as many other cities and MA did last night. 

Cranston was the first town to issue a curfew effective at 8pm until 6am the following day. Cranston police are also expected to increase patrols tonight. Warwick as well has issued a curfew with the same 8pm to 6am hours. Garden City and Warwick Mall have been suggested as possible targets tonight by law enforcement, citing intelligence gathering and social media chatter. Both towns have similar exemptions to the curfew as Providence.




Photo Essay: The Streets of Providence on June 2

During the wee hours of June 2, the streets of Providence erupted in violence. Local photographer Josh Bronto was on the scene. His work follows.

All photos credit: Josh Bronto, joshbronto.com; @sorryaboutyoureyebrows