Thank you, John and Margaret.  I am honored and humbled to accept the 2017 Brighter Futures Award, on behalf of Brown University.

I want to thank Family Service of Rhode Island – for hosting the Brighter Futures Award event, and for bringing hope and resilience to so many over the years.  And I want to acknowledge John and Margaret, for their outstanding leadership of this truly beloved organization. 

My thanks as well to Congressman CiciIline – a previous recipient of the award, I should note – for your kind introduction.

So in accepting the Brighter Futures Award, let me say two things.

First, the program notes that this award is being given to me and Brown University.  I am, of course, grateful for this recognition.  But this really is Brown’s award.

Long before I arrived on College Hill, Brown and what was then the Providence Society for Organizing Charity, were already hard at work, strengthening the coordination of care and services for neediest in the city, at a Dickensian moment in history.  

Dexter Asylum, a farm for poor immigrants and the marginalized, teemed with poverty in February 1892, when the Society convened for the first time in Sayles Hall on Brown’s campus.

And for generations since, the kind, spirited Brown community – students, faculty, and staff – have been on the front lines with FSRI, building trust with the most vulnerable.  For more than 125 years, what you have cared about, we have cared about:

Like taking action based on shared values of collaboration and service.  Cultivating volunteers and community leaders.  And keeping Rhode Islanders healthy, educated, and engaged.

So this award is, I think, a tribute to Brown’s support for FSRI over the decades.  And for my part, it has been an honor and a privilege to play a modest role in stewarding this vital partnership during my first five years at Brown.

Second, what is being lauded today is Brown University’s part in fostering healthy families and strong communities.  But what it is really being lauded is how we have helped FSRI do what it has long done: enabling people to have dignity.

From its earliest days, the Providence Society for Organizing Charity offered programs that did just that.  The Potato Patch Plan, which gave needy families the means to grow their own food.  Home Libraries, which brought books into their daily lives.

And more recently, the Walking School Bus program that gets kids to school safely and on time, and AIDS Project Rhode Island, which raises awareness and supports people with HIV/AIDS.

For Brown, all of this resonates.  People at Brown are uncommonly driven by the idea that their work – the advancement of knowledge – will have impact in the world.  This has been a touchstone value of the University since its founding, a value that has connected us to FSRI.

We want our scholarship to mean something in the lives of others, in communities across Rhode Island, and beyond – at the Hassenfeld Child Health Innovation Institute, for example, where we research therapies for keeping kids whole and healthy.

Or in working to bring healthy, affordable produce to underserved low-income Rhode Island neighborhoods through the Food on the Move mobile market program.

Or in bringing to light Dr. Patrick Vivier’s research on lead exposure in Rhode Island children, and its correlation with lower-income communities and impact on school achievement.

All of this, at the end of the day, is about restoring dignity.

And yes, there is a personal dimension to this.  As a scholar, it was always important to me that my research – on racial disparities in health outcomes, or resilience after Hurricane Katrina, or on orphans and school enrollment in Africa – was going to change lives for the better.  I, too, wanted my work to open the door to brighter futures.   

And so now, I see myself and my colleagues at Brown as ambassadors of knowledge who understand that an engaged Brown and the well-being of Rhode Islanders go hand in hand.

To close, the Brighter Futures Award carries with it a bit of historical significance, in that two of my predecessors, Benjamin Andrews and William Faunce, served as the first and third presidents of the organization.

And so this reminds me of what I noted in February at the 125th anniversary celebration, that Brown and FSRI are, and remain, neighbors, distant cousins, and committed partners in a shared role of serving the citizens of Rhode Island.

Know that Brown will continue to be a source of bright, young minds and novel thinkers who will always be there for those in need, alongside FSRI.

Again, on behalf of Brown University, thank you so much for this award.