You were the longtime president of the NAACP Providence Branch. From that experience and your work today, what do you see as the major issues facing Black communities in Rhode Island today?
I feel the main issues facing the Black community are Institutional racism and white supremacy. These aspects of American life are the root causes of all the negative disparities we witness in the areas of wealth creation, education, housing, health, voter empowerment, police accountability and overall violence.
What progress is being made in these areas?
Up until the past 15 years, I feel, progress was being made in the areas of K-12 education, homeownership and voter empowerment. However, many of these gains and other gains are being reversed. Particularly since the 2016 Presidential election, I feel a sense of urgency.
What challenges still exist?
Today, challenges exist in almost every social and economic area. One of the biggest challenges is the 1) fight against voter suppression, 2) a woman’s right to choose, 3) reversal of affirmative action and the 4) unrelenting police brutality against people of color. There are other challenges as well
What people and institutions are in a position to help bring change – and how would you grade their efforts?
The wealthiest Americans with their influence on institutions like Congress and the financial sector are in a position to exert positive change.
As far as grades, I need to single out the National Republican Party and give them an F, particularly since 2016. It is clear to me that the current party, in general, does not favor a multi-cultural democracy where everyone has an opportunity to flourish.
I applaud all the civil rights organizations and individuals who continue to fight for civil rights, particularly, in the harsh environment we find ourselves in today.
How do you respond to those who want to curtail or prohibit critical race teaching in schools?
Outside of graduate schools, including law schools, I see no evidence that Critical Race Theory is being taught in any K-12 or even undergraduate school in America! People that say that CRT is being taught in our primary schools are disengenuous and afraid of true American history which must include slavery, Jim Crow and the institutional racism which exists to this day. I feel, they suffer from anti Black bias. There is no accurate American history without acccurate and true Black history, warts and all.
Tell us about your background – where you grew up, how you became involved in civil rights, and some of your mentors and heroes along the way.
I was born and raised in Boston’s poorest neighborhood, the South End (the Red Light section), to a Cape Verdean immigrant father and a daughter of Cape Verdean immigrants mother. I went to public schools K-12.
In 1968, following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. civil rights organizations like the NAACP pressed universities and the federal government to allow students of color to be accepted the nation’s most elite colleges, in significant numbers. I was accepted to Dartmouth College in 1969 and graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania in 1973 and the rest is history.
My activism actually started in 1968 with a protest walk out while a senior in high school and in 1969 with a demonstration protest as a college freshman. I realized back then that the Civil Rights Movement afforded me and thousands of Black and Brown students a golden opportunity to succeed in life despite our modest beginning and I needed to give back . I vowed then that I would give back to the movement which helped me live such a rewarding life by supporting whichever community I lived in with civil rights activism.
One Civil Rights leader who impressed me back then was Congressman Adam Clayton Powell. I admired how he had the respect of the grass roots community and at the same time was able to get things done behind closed doors by working with powerful people like President Lyndon Johnson!
You have your own TV show today. Tell us about it.
The Jim Vincent television show began in 2002 after a two year stint of hosting Now’s the Time produced by the late Providence State Representative and my mentor, the Honorable George Castro beginning in 2000.
I feel that media, particularly television, is powerful. To have an opportunity to interview Rhode Islanders of influence as well as unsung community heroes for a half hour with no breaks was intriguing to me. I believe I have provided the community with an important voice regarding civil rights over the past two decades and I am proud of the accomplishment. I am not done yet.
You also appear on Rhode Island PBS’s long-running show, “A Lively Experiment.” What is your role?
On PBS’ A Lively Experiment, I serve as an occasional guest panelist. As a person of color with an extensive background in several areas, I feel, I bring a unique voice to any and all issues and discussions. I am proud and honored to have been invited on the show, on a regular basis, for over ten years.
What other endeavors are on your plate?
I am involved in a multitude of organizations and causes: I am RIPTA’s Outreach Officer as well as the Board Chair of East Bay Community Action Program. I will soon be the Board Chair of Providence Promise. Currently, I am the Housing Committee Chair for the NAACP New England Area Conference. Also, I serve as a Board member of the African Alliance of Rhode Island, the Southern New England Association of Black Journalists and Black Lives Matter RI PAC. Additionally, I am a long time member of the Cape Verdean Progresive Center and a member of numerous civil rights coalitions.
What’s next for Jim Vincent?
With a very full plate of current activities, I am not sure what is next. I just appreciate, profoundly, the civil rights work I have been able to do and continue to do, daily, over the past 50 years!! I have kept my vow!