Along with her teaching appointment at RIC, Cummings will bring the history of the people of African heritage in Rhode Island into K-12 classrooms using primary sources from the R.I. Black Heritage Society collection.
Last year, Rhode Island College partnered with the R.I. Black Heritage Society (RIBHS) to help preserve and manage their archives, which are now being stored in Building 8 on the East campus. Thousands of items – letters, photographs, quilts and other historical material – will need to be inventoried, cataloged and digitized, with the goal of sharing these archives with the Rhode Island community.
To that end, the college recently hired Sherri Cummings in a joint appointment as assistant professor of history and Africana studies and as historian and director of community engagement for the RIBHS.
Cummings completed her Ph.D. in history at Brown University in May 2022, specializing in Atlantic world history, early African American history and Africana intellectual history. Her joint appointment will allow her to teach a course at RIC on “The Black Experience in Rhode Island” and provide students with a rich reservoir of primary research material from the R.I. Black Heritage Society collection. She will also develop curriculum for K-12 schools in Rhode Island.
“Right now, we’re working on the website portal so that K-12 educators can click on a lesson plan and pull it into their curriculum,” Cummings says. “Teachers can also arrange a field trip to our building, where students can see these artifacts in person, some of which date back to the colonial era. We might have actors re-enact, for example, the life of a Black seamstress in Newport, and we’ll have hands-on activities.”
Cummings emphasized that the impetus for housing this collection at RIC and for developing programs for the community is so that not only RIC students but all Rhode Islanders can come in and learn about their past. “Ultimately, this is not Black history, this is our history – all of Rhode Island’s history,” she says.
It was through the leadership of Theresa “Soni” Guzmán Stokes, executive director of the R.I. Black Heritage Society, that the organization was able to acquire funding from Senator Reed and the Papitto Opportunity Connection. This funding includes the creation of Cummings’ professorship and two paid graduate assistantships dedicated to this work.
Guzmán Stokes notes that “even in the short time she’s been here, Sherri has contributed greatly to the programming for the R.I. Black Heritage Society.”
The RIC Foundation also manages two funds to support the collection. One supports the maintenance of and programming for the collection. The other fund, established by alumnus David Pollak ’87 called the Bold Heritage Fund, supports research and programming around the accomplishments of Black women in Rhode Island.
“Rhode Island College and the Rhode Island College Foundation are extremely pleased to house the R.I. Black Heritage Society collection and to share in the efforts of preserving and promoting it,” says Interim Vice President for College Advancement and Executive Director of the RIC Foundation Clark Greene. “This will be of great value to RIC students and to the Rhode Island community as a whole.
“We are grateful to Theresa Guzmán Stokes and Kim Dumpson, former director of the Foundation, for their passion and commitment to making this happen. Rhode Island College is a stronger institution for its rich diversity. This project, along with our recent federal designation as an Hispanic Serving Institution, reflect our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.”