The Boston Globe’s weekly Ocean State Innovators column features a Q&A with Rhode Island innovators who are starting new businesses and nonprofits, conducting groundbreaking research, and reshaping the state’s economy. Send tips and suggestions to reporter Edward Fitzpatrick at email@example.com.
This week’s Ocean State Innovators conversation is with Mark Fisher, senior director for Black Lives Matter Rhode Island.
Question: What is the African-American Innovation Center?
The African-American Innovation Center is going to be the first African-American charter school in all of New England. It will be located in Pawtucket. We are working with the state and looking for sponsors. The school will be primarily targeted at people of color – Black and indigenous people – but all are welcome.
The school will be run by Black Lives Matter Rhode Island, a nonprofit community organization, and it will be under African-American leadership. Historically, Black men and women have been disrespected. Our leadership is not taken seriously. So we are trailblazers in the area of education and the economic development of our community.
Q: How will the charter school focus on innovation?
A: We are looking to develop and equip Black engineers, Black scientists, Black information technology specialists, and so forth. We are looking for curriculum that is pertinent to life and living experiences and not just the traditional curriculum. We are used to seeing curriculum that is of no benefit to our community after graduation, given the current setup and an environment that is uneven. We want to equip people to be self-sufficient self-starters and creators of their own wealth.
Q: What will the charter school provide that is not being offered in traditional public schools or existing charter schools?
The vision is to create a school where we can make Black people whole. For so long, ever since we were considered three-fifths of a person, Black people were never complete. Through education and economic development, we aim to make Black people fully complete both internally and externally.
Q: Black Lives Matter has organized protests in Rhode Island. Is this charter school a new direction for the group?
Black Lives Matter protests are meant to raise awareness about the plight of Black people. The objective – the main end – is rebuilding education and wealth within our community through education and a sound economic development plan.
There are so many Black people who are brilliant and don’t have the opportunity and the right guidance. People of color are underrepresented in science and engineering. That is the issue. That is the point of the African-American Innovation Center. It’s just the beginning, and hopefully a model that we hope to see last for generations to come.
Q: Where will the charter school be located and what is the time frame for opening it?
It will be in downtown Pawtucket, at one of two addresses. It’s in progress so we can’t reveal the exact addresses yet. But it will be in the heart of downtown Pawtucket. That will be our home base. We will call it New Black City. We are working on the formal application right now. We are working with the Rhode Island Department of Education to work out the details as far as the timing and all of that, but in the immediate future.
Q: What is the Unity Fest?
The Unity Fest is a fundraiser that (took place) on Sunday, Oct. 18. We are partnering with the Pawtucket Red Sox to hold it at McCoy Stadium. Funds raised will go to the charter school. It includes local speakers, gospel artists, “Dining on the Diamond,” and a Harriet Tubman Awards ceremony. Due to COVID-19, we can’t have as many as we’d like, but the capacity is set by state guidelines. If you missed the Unity Fest, you can find out more about the charter school project by going to www.blmri.org.