Meet Our Community Heritage Scholar Marco McWilliams

Published in Announcements, People in Preservation.

Better and more complete storytelling is a pillar of PPS’s strategic plan, and there’s no better place to begin than our historic office building and immediate neighborhood. Here on Meeting and Benefit streets, the complexity of the past isn’t always visible in the buildings that remain, and it is increasingly the work of preservationists and scholars to unveil the intangible and erased histories that leave no physical trace. 

To help supercharge this effort, Marco McWilliams joins PPS as our first Community Heritage Scholar. Marco is a Black Studies scholar, professor, and founder of ProvidenceBJJ in addition to his work as a community-based organizer/educator and published writer with two decades of work experience in convening diverse learning communities through engaged scholarship.

Marco will be leading a collaborative project called Black Benefit, which will critically explore the physical and cultural legacy of African diaspora communities on and around Providence’s historic Benefit Street. The project will concern itself with 400 years of documented Black history in this neighborhood, with special attention paid to the 19th century Black residents who lived, worked, and studied along Northern Benefit. Central to the project’s goals is the creation of a public facing product that engages with the creative liminality of Black life within a world of racial enclosures that sought to define liberty and the question of freedom itself.

Already in its early stages, we expect mapping, scholarly writing, and public programming to be the key outcomes of this work together. Welcome, Marco!

About Marco:

Marco A. McWilliams is a Black Studies scholar, professor of Jiu Jitsu and founder of ProvidenceBJJ. McWilliams is also a community-based organizer/educator and published writer with two decades of work experience in convening diverse learning communities through engaged scholarship. McWilliams was the founding instructor of the influential Black Studies program at DARE (Direct Action for Rights and Equality) where his teaching focused on using the Black Radical Tradition as a point of departure to design strategies for social change.

McWilliams has taught, lectured, and workshopped at colleges and universities across the nation such as Brown University, Morehouse College, Princeton University, Rhode Island School of Design, University of Rhode Island, ArtCenter College of Design, Rhode Island College and more. Additionally, he works with middle/high school students, educators, and families as primary stakeholders in progressive education transformation agendas. He was a program coordinator and educator at Brown University’s Swearer Center where he was honored to be the inaugural 2017 Junior Fellow and Practitioner-in-Residence. In 2020 he accepted a Providence Mayoral appointment to the Special Committee for the Review of Commemorative Works. McWilliams has a BA in Africana Studies from Rhode Island College and is a grad student alum of Brown University’s Department of American Studies.

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