The East Sider

The East Sider: Ray Watson

Opening the door, then helps those who enter

East Side Monthly Magazine ·

Ray Watson, 35, is the part-time Executive Director of Mount Hope Neighborhood Association (MHNA), which focuses on workforce and economic development, health and wellness, art and culture, and community and social services. In his private life, he is one of 15 members of the Providence Journal’s sounding board that offers ideas and advice about the paper’s Race in Rhode Island series.

Who does the Mount Hope Neighborhood Association serve?
There’s no ideal person. We have people in need, we have people from out-of-state coming to see works of art and someone gave a real estate investment class for individuals. We [recently] sponsored the fifth in a series of hip-hop events focusing on nonviolence and promoting constructive music. We do our best to serve whoever walks through the door.

We’ve witnessed the killings of many unarmed, black men by police officers in cities around the country. Where do we go from here?
We have to put the blame on the decisions that people make. Society is doing less [now] than we did in the past. Advancements were made during the Civil Rights Era. Then we got lackadaisical, but the forces of evil don’t take time off. We need to stay vigilant – there are other battles to fight.

Do you still feel we live in a moral society, given the recent murders of the nine black churchgoers in Charleston, SC?
Things of that nature wake people up and force us to have dialogue about issues that are just as real as they were in the ‘60s. We’re starting to have these dialogues in a manner that’s not inflammatory or derogatory but respectful of experiences that people have had in this country; that’s progress.

Does having a person of color as the mayor of Providence make a difference?
I think it helps, but I don’t think it’s the answer; I’m about the content of a person’s character. I think having physical representatives of communities of color and disadvantaged communities definitely can help.

The MHNA is very low-key; is that deliberate?
We’re still battling the perception that we’re a dysfunctional organization. We’re not what we were five years ago. We’ve got no ulterior motive; we’re just looking to make the community the best it can be. I’m trying to work to the point where they don’t need me any more.

Find Mount Hope Neighborhood Association at
Nancy Kirsch is a Providence-based award-winning writer. Contact her at


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