Grants & Scholarships

Opening doors and minds for young men of color

Princes 2 Kings takes a creative approach to expanding opportunities

A lack of affordable housing was a leading topic in local races this past election season. It’s also why housing advocates and Rhode Islanders facing homelessness pitched tents in protest in front of the State House when the cold weather started to kick in late last year.

This continues to be a problem nationwide.

The Princes 2 Kings (P2K) youth mentorship program, which has a track record of positively impacting the lives of Black, Brown, and other boys and young men of color since 2012, debated the dilemma before a real judge in Federal Court recently. The mock trial—specifically about the pros and cons to a faux housing development proposal in the historic Cranston Street Armory, in Providence—was one of the latest events in their civil discourse program.

“I try to provide exposure to people, places, organizations and careers that they might not engage with in their everyday lives,” said P2K Director Scott Lapham about the overall mission of the now Boys & Girls Clubs of Providence program that is partially funded by a Rhode Island Foundation grant.

P2K was initially funded through a five-year federal grant as a summer program striving to curb school dropout rates and increase the number of students of color attending secondary institutions. Foundation Vice President and Executive Director of the Equity Leadership Initiative, Angie Ankoma, then a co-director within the state Department of Health, managed the program at the state level, while community leader Kobi Dennis served as its director. The Boys & Girls Clubs of Providence and Rhode Island Foundation were among its first supporters.

"I’m a White guy taking over an urban program. I’m not a social worker or a shrink or a psychologist. But I understand the value of what a positive, persistent presence can do for youth. The goal is to have kids spend years, not months, with us."

- Scott Lapham, Princes 2 Kings Director

In his efforts to shape the program into a high quality, year-round program to enable students to interact with P2K longer, Lapham, who worked with and then succeeded Dennis, added, “I’m a White guy taking over an urban program. I’m not a social worker or a shrink or a psychologist. But I understand the value of what a positive, persistent presence can do for youth. The goal is to have kids spend years, not months, with us.”

He said it is the Rhode Island Foundation and Boys & Girls Clubs of Providence that are helping to make it possible to establish a culture where the participants want to stay.

To also get the buy-in, P2K tailors its various programs, tours, and speakers to tie into issues that may directly affect the participants’ neighborhoods. One of their latest projects, Metal Lab, for example, has the students learning metal fabrication skills (welding, cutting, and grinding) while transforming disabled firearms into sculptures that talk about how students feel about gun violence.

The civil discourse program, which started in 2017, started organically when a teacher came to speak to the boys and young men with her husband, who is a lawyer. The talk morphed into a mock trial, learning the phases of a civil trial and even watching the sentencing of a White man—the opposite, Lapham said, of the stereotype seen on TV—who had been dealing opioids and then talking candidly with the judge afterward.

The first case was about environmental racism based on a real proposed trash transfer station in the Allens Avenue area where high asthma rates have been found. They did a deep dive into asthma and the emissions at the Port of Providence. The second case was about domestic gun violence and the students learned about the legal and emotional aspects of such violence as well as toxic masculinity, consent, and healthy positive masculinity.

For the housing mock trial, P2K students researched the importance of community and the need for more opportunities and resources. They also discovered the high rent averages in Providence, how many hours at a minimum wage job it would take to afford such a place and other realities impacting this nationwide problem.

The participants represented a neighborhood organization or a development corporation. The corporation, who said the project was a benefit to the neighborhood, argued that market rate rent and condo fees were needed, since the building has been underused for so long.

“This project is a win-win for the neighborhood residents and the city as a whole,” the students representing the corporation argued.

However, the students representing the neighborhood organization said while the development could be beneficial to the West End, luxury apartments and condos will increase the rent and housing prices across the neighborhood, creating more stress on already tight budgets.

They proposed at least 40 percent of the housing units be designated below the market prices for rent and condo purchase.

“Creating these opportunities for affordable housing would also increase the likelihood that the new units would be occupied by people who more closely reflect the diversity of the neighborhood,” argued the students representing the organization. “We are simply looking to create balance for the benefit of the people and the culture that has existed in our beloved neighborhood for many decades.”

Whom should the judge rule in favor of?