In the end, Taveras and Simmons were natural allies
Lost in the eye-popping size of Brown University’s new commitment to Providence is how two of the figures at the center of the agreement — Angel Taveras and Ruth Simmons — have an awful lot in common.
That might not be evident on the surface. Taveras inherited a city weighed down by unexpected financial problems. Simmons presides over an Ivy League university with intellectual cache and a national reputation for grooviness.
At the same time, both leaders are minority trendsetters — Simmons as the first black president of an Ivy college, and Taveras as the first Latino mayor of Rhode Island’s minority-majority capital city.
More significantly, Taveras and Simmons achieved their separate success through a shared commitment to education.
Simmons was the 12th child born to sharecroppers in segregated Texas. So perhaps it’s no wonder that she today recalled questioning why she was accepted to college as a young woman. As we know, she embraced education, and worked her way up the academic ladder.
As someone who grew up amid poverty in Providence and went to Harvard and Georgetown, Taveras rightly held himself up during his first run for office, in 2000, as the personification of the American dream. Teachers played a big role in that, as he told me during his run for Congress, a harbinger of greater Latino political power in Rhode Island.
As a third-grader at the Mary E. Fogarty School in South Providence, Taveras was precocious enough to declare that he wanted to be a lawyer when he grew up. The statement from the boy, one of three children of Dominican immigrants who came to Rhode Island to New York, made such an impression on Taveras’ teacher that she brought him to share it with other teachers. It didn’t cross his mind until years later, he says, that he had never seen a Latino lawyer as a child.
Back in the present, Taveras has said for months that he expected an agreement with Brown to be forthcoming. The frequency of these statements might have led to some doubts as to when and if it was going to happen.
In the end, the mayor knew of what he spoke — and his Ivy League ally was right beside him at the Statehouse this morning.