Raymond Watson came home to make a difference.
After college in New York and a master’s degree in community planning from the University of Rhode Island, he could have gone elsewhere.
Watson, 29, grew up in Providence’s Mount Hope and Fox Point neighborhoods, though, and family and community matter most to him. So he returned to Mount Hope, where he has been executive director of the Mount Hope Neighborhood Association for two years.
Watson has concentrated on getting the 27-year-old association on “solid financial footing” and focusing on programs for 14- to 19-year-olds, an underserved group. The association is also poised to launch a youth council with a first meeting Jan. 15.
“I want them to value themselves,” Watson says of the youth he works with. “I think a lot of youth don’t do that.”
Watson says his ties to the neighborhood meant he didn’t need to earn the trust of those around him because he already had it. They knew his grandmother Alice Watson, who raised him, and his mother. His grandmother introduced him to an influential civil-rights activist who was her childhood friend. Michael Van Leesten is now chairman of the Black Repertory Company’s board and chairman of the Mount Hope Neighborhood Association.
“He inspires me,” Van Leesten says of Watson.
“He gives me more than I give him. You don’t have to paint pictures for him. He’s always trying to find ways to create more opportunity and possibilities.”
About six years ago, Watson helped start the Rhode Island Young Professionals after hearing his peers say they felt on the outside because they didn’t know the right people. The group, an auxiliary of the Urban League of Rhode Island, has helped convince many that they can be successful in Rhode Island.
“We try to be that bridge where they can come in, interact with people and meet the right people in order to get themselves plugged in,” says Watson, who recently finished a two-year stint as president of the Young Professionals and will remain as adviser to help ease the transition for new president Den Soch.
While the Young Professionals were “very good on the social scene,” Watson says that wasn’t their main goal, and in this past year he really focused on more civic work for the group.
Erika Read, the group’s past vice president, is impressed Watson “stayed to invest” in his community.
“He always says, ‘I could have ended up like my friends, either dead or in jail,’ ” says Read, who is also an assistant coordinator with the state Department of Labor and Training. “And what’s great is that … he still has ties to his friends. We seem to walk another walk after we get somewhere in life, but he’s always been humbled by who he is and where he’s come from, which I admire.”
You can read more of this article at ProJo.com