fb-pixel Skip to main content
COLUMN

Think Vice President Harris didn’t need to visit Rhode Island? Tell that to the people who met her

Sterling Clinton Spellman, founder of Incred-A-bowl Food Company, third from left, speaks with Vice President Kamala Harris after a meeting at the Social Enterprise Greenhouse, Wednesday, May 5, 2021, in Providence, R.I.
Sterling Clinton Spellman, founder of Incred-A-bowl Food Company, third from left, speaks with Vice President Kamala Harris after a meeting at the Social Enterprise Greenhouse, Wednesday, May 5, 2021, in Providence, R.I.Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

It’s true. Vice President Kamala Harris didn’t need to travel to Rhode Island on Wednesday.

Sure, everyone should visit Books on the Square at least once in their lives, but a Democratic vice president visiting our state is a bit like preaching to the choir.

But then you watch the pure joy on the face of someone like Christine Paige, a Black salon owner who makes custom wigs for people suffering from hair loss for medical reasons, as she realizes that she just spent an hour talking to the vice president about what her business needs to survive.

Or you listen to Eugenio Fernandez, a Providence kid who somehow quadruple-majored at the University of Rhode Island, then got a graduate degree from Harvard, and came back to start a community pharmacy called Asthenis, confidently explain to Harris and our congressional delegation that one of the top things his patients need is access to reliable information to make health decisions.

Or you hear Sterling Clinton Spellman, a Black woman who founded Incred-A-Bowl, discuss her plans to hire 2,500 “hard to employ” individuals, like the formerly incarcerated, as part of a nationwide expansion of her food businesses.

Advertisement



Ask any of the people Harris met in Rhode Island Wednesday and they’ll tell you this was exactly the kind of place the vice president needed to visit.

A day with real people who run real businesses talking about the challenges they face and how the government might be able to make things just a little bit easier on them.

People in Providence try to get a glimpse of Vice President Kamala Harris  during one of her stops in Providence.
People in Providence try to get a glimpse of Vice President Kamala Harris during one of her stops in Providence.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Harris’ mission for the day was to tout President Joe Biden’s $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan and the $1.8 trillion American Families Plan, two massive spending packages that cover everything from infrastructure and manufacturing to child care and free community challenge.

But her real job on Wednesday was to listen.

Advertisement



She heard two-minute pitches from entrepreneurs like Fernandez and Spellman during a visit to the Social Enterprise Greenhouse, a business incubator that focuses on startups that want to create positive social change. She and Spellman had a particularly engaging conversation about what it will take to get more businesses to hire workers who might not all have glamorous LinkedIn profiles.

During a roundtable conversation with a group of resilient women who run small businesses, she made it clear that she believes child care counts as infrastructure, and she fully expects funding for those kinds of programs to remain in the American Jobs Plan. She also talked about the need to expand access to capital for women and minority-owned businesses.

So no, Wednesday wasn’t the most difficult day Harris will have as vice president.

She isn’t going to have a hard time convincing Rhode Island’s congressional delegation to support President Biden’s signature initiatives. And it’s possible she wouldn’t have made the trip if her new friend Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo wasn’t the former governor of Rhode Island.

But there are a whole bunch of Rhode Islanders who will never forget this day, who are inspired now to do even more. And that’s definitely worth the trip.


Dan McGowan can be reached at dan.mcgowan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @danmcgowan.