CHARLESTOWN– The Rhode Island Foundation is sending a Charlestown teenager off to college with a scholarship honoring Roger Williams, the state’s founding father. Sherenté Harris won a four-year, renewable scholarship through the Carter Roger Williams Initiative, which was launched last year by philanthropists Letitia and the late John Carter.
“Roger Williams had the opportunity to further his education because of those around him. Thanks to the vision of the Carter family, we are able to encourage students and their parents to think big about what’s possible for their future,” said Rhode Island Foundation Executive Vice President Jessica David, who leads the initiative.
Students from throughout Rhode Island competed for the scholarship assistance. Harris was selected based on academic achievement, financial need, appreciation for Roger Williams’ values and record of community service.
Harris interned with the Tomaquag Museum, the Narragansett Language Preservation and Revitalization Program and the Kettle Pond Visitor Center, received a Rhode Island Civic Leadership Award from the Secretary of State and is a semi-finalist for the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program.
In the scholarship application, Harris, who was accepted into the Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design Dual Degree Program, wrote about the impact Roger Williams continues to have.
“As a proud member of the Narragansett tribe, the legacy of Roger Williams has been salient in my work to revitalize my Indigenous culture,” Harris wrote. “The writings of Roger Williams have served as the basis of linguistic and cultural revitalization, after hundreds of years of erasure and oppression. Roger Williams valued acceptance and used education as a tool to instill accepting ideals unto others.”
Utilizing modern technology and social media to help teach the Narragansett language to tribal members, Harris created a created a Facebook page, called “Speaking our Narragansett Language” which offers video lessons and worksheets.
“My main goal in seeking higher education is to better my tribal community by garnering change through increasing societal awareness of indigenous people and the problems they’re facing in the modern day,” Harris said.
Harris also created a Facebook group called, “Narragansett Tribe: Let’s Move” to encourage tribal members to live a healthy lifestyle, particularly focused on reducing the incidence of diabetes.
“Diabetes permeates throughout indigenous communities across the country due to unhealthy commodity foods and low-income communities within and adjacent to reservations. This goal is accomplished through the reclamation of traditional practices, like running, that were described by Roger Williams,” Harris explained.
That work earned Harris an invitation to the first-ever White House Tribal Youth Gathering in Washington, D.C.
“There I met Michelle Obama and other political figures working to create change within indigenous communities and was able to vocalize the issues that persist today as a result of colonization and the oppressive forces that came with it,” Harris said.
Harris, who attends the Paul W. Crowley East Bay Met School, is one of seven Rhode Island students to receive Carter Roger Williams Initiative scholarships. The winners are eligible for nearly $300,000 in college aid over four years.
In addition to the scholarships, the Carter Roger Williams Initiative offers a website – findingrogerwilliams.com -- that includes educational resources for students and educators and awards grants of up to $400 to underwrite school field trips to the Roger Williams National Memorial in Providence.
“By providing access to resources and opportunities inspired by our state’s founder and his teachings, we are promoting a sense of place and awareness for all Rhode Islanders,” said the Foundation’s David.
The Rhode Island Foundation is the largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island. Working with generous and visionary donors, the Foundation raised $38 million and awarded $43 million in grants to organizations addressing the state’s most pressing issues and needs of diverse communities in 2017. Through leadership, fundraising and grantmaking activities, often in partnership with individuals and organizations, the Foundation is helping Rhode Island reach its true potential. For more information, visit rifoundation.org.