A nickname Dwayne Keys once earned from a peer is “Rebel with a Cause” – though arguably, those causes are many. In both his vocation with nonprofit Compass Working Capital (where he helps families in subsidized housing build financial assets) and his volunteering efforts as chairperson of South Providence Neighborhood Association, all of Keys’ causes orbit around two issues: poverty and displacement in Providence.
Unlocking the Power of Preservation, an initiative devised by SPNA and Providence Preservation Society, is one way Keys will be addressing displacement and housing disparities this year. Reviving a conversation that began in 2017, both organizations recently returned to the work of identifying the benefits and harms of preservation, which tend to be experienced disproportionately across neighborhoods. The goal is to create a restorative justice model, reforming policies to balance the scales of who benefits from preservation.
“Right now, we’re still in this development phase of really setting up how we’re going to start by collecting oral stories, learning more about the impacts,” Keys explains. “We’re also asking those residents who have been historically excluded from preservation, what does it mean to them? What do they want when they hear preservation? What do they see as something that needs to be preserved?”
Whether advocating for bus riders in the ongoing plight of Kennedy Plaza or exposing environmental hazards of Port of Providence, you’ll find Keys at the center of some of the most contentious issues facing the City this year, and leading with the conversations many of us are uncomfortable having. Poverty, substance abuse, systemic racism, income equality – Keys indicates these factors as essential talking points when discussing the fate of the bus hub in Kennedy Plaza, as well as prioritizing the people who use the bus now before expanding to invite people in from outside.
And with any urban planning and zoning process, Keys and SPNA will continue to champion three tenets: robust community engagement, impact assessments, and democratic decision-making.
In his leadership with SPNA, Keys actively resists the top-down approach to decision-making neighbors are used to and doesn’t want to position himself as the voice of South Providence, but rather a catalyst for open processes. “I am uplifting the voices of our neighbors who have been excluded, who have been shut down from being able to speak, who themselves have been targets of retaliation, and thus are afraid to speak up on their own,” he explains. Keys is also a supporter of Participatory Budgeting, a process that allows residents to vote on how public funds are used, and hopes to eventually test out a PB system for Providence in Ward 11.
The natural next step for Keys is to run for City Council, an opportunity he relishes for the chance to be in a position to make decisions, but he shares, “I support my City Councilor Mary Kate Harris Ward 11 all the way, so the question’s just going to be when.”
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