‘Stages Of Freedom’ Downtown

The Stages of Freedom Shop & Museum is the bricks-and-mortar location for the nonprofit of the same name run by Ray Rickman, a local notable with a prodigious résumé: state rep, deputy secretary of state, corporate consultant, president of the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society, book dealer, local historian, and he is often called on by local radio and television outlets for political panels or providing commentary. You’ve definitely seen him somewhere talking about something.

Rickman opened Stages of Freedom on lower Westminster Street, on the ground floor of the excellent old Merchants Bank building — a block east of the Turks Head Building — just in time for the streets and sidewalks to be torn up. Now a huge crane has moved in across the way. But he is open! And all week too. The museum side features exhibits on black life and culture, while the gift shop sells posters, artwork, apparel, and many old books, some with original dust jackets. There’s a nice assortment of vintage children’s books.

All profits from the gift shop go to the Swim Empowerment a program under the Stages of Freedom umbrella. Rickman was interviewed by the Providence Journal,

Rickman’s nonprofit, Stages of Freedom, has for years had a learn-to-swim program, but to get African-American kids involved, he’s often had to go to black churches to talk moms into signing their kids up.

“Black women don’t want their children to swim because they have a cousin who drowned,” he explained.

He points out that 70 percent of black youth don’t know how to swim, and their drowning rate is six times that of whites. It’s also a skill many police and fire departments demand in applicants.

This is fixable! If you can’t get to the shop any time soon, make a donation here.

Stages of Freedom also hosts other events such as the Bow Ties for Boys and the Harlem Rent Parties. (I had to ask about that last one. A Harlem Rent Party is a tradition originating in 20’s Harlem for when rent was due: friends would bring $2 and enough food for two people.) Mr. Rickman also leads historical walking tours (next one seems to be at the end of October — Raising Spirits: African American Hauntings) and there is a salon every 3rd Thursday of the month. Go to Facebook and sign up for the newsletter.

Stop in and have a chat with Mr. Rickman. He likes to talk and you can learn a lot. And buy something and support that all-important swimming initiative. (Or make a donation here.)

Open seven days, Stages of Freedom Museum & Shop, 10 Westminster Street, (directions), 401. 421.0606

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