Providing the means to 'think big' about the future


Reading the news over the last several weeks has reminded me that there is a Roger-resurgence happening in Rhode Island. Roger Williams, that is. 

There is much to admire about Roger Williams. His vision and determination built the “lively experiment” that is Rhode Island. After being banished by Massachusetts authorities, Roger founded a new colony, with no permission from anyone in New England or Old England. Here, he set the standard for separation of church and state that the nation adopted. Under his leadership, Rhode Island practiced a particularly open form of democracy. He extended the right of free speech to all, while also expecting them to work toward a common good.

In Roger, we see a man who was humanly imperfect. He made mistakes, acted in ways that are contradictory, and – it seems likely – was just too much to take at times. He aspired to think for himself, work hard, and be fair. He was an entrepreneur, building things from nothing. He was a risk-taker, unsatisfied with the status quo and unafraid to fight for the things he held dear. Aren’t these qualities as relevant today as they were in 1636?

Here’s something else that Roger reminds us: education is a game-changer, and does cultivate world-changers. Access to education was absolutely key in shaping his character, beliefs, and actions throughout his life.

Roger received, by all accounts, a privileged education. Born into modest circumstances in 1603 – his father was a tailor, his mother ran an inn – he attended The Charterhouse and Pembroke College. Sir Edward Coke, one of England’s most respected jurists and a prominent defender of human rights, provided Roger with this opportunity.

For Roger, it was transformative. He was a curious man. Education opened doors, exposing him to law, the natural environment, languages, books, people, and philosophy. Roger’s independent thinking – on which Rhode Island was founded and for which we pride ourselves today – was born of this curiosity. Education also provided skills he needed to explore his interests, think critically, and understand and persuade people. These skills would serve him well not only in securing Rhode Island’s establishment, but also in preserving its existence for several decades by creating and negotiating the relationships and structures by which this tiny and unique colony would govern itself. 

In learning about Roger, philanthropists Letitia and John Carter recognized this age-old story about the power of education to transform a person, and the potential of a person to change the course of history. In that spirit, they created the Roger Williams Scholarship at the Rhode Island Foundation.

This annual scholarship program is intended to inspire students and their parents to think big about what’s possible for their future. It will provide three Rhode Island students with funds for college – up to $20,000 per year for up to four years. The Roger Williams Scholarship is intended to help support enrollment at a college or university that may have otherwise been out of reach for the student and his/her family. Recipients will demonstrate financial need, application of Roger’s legacy, and a strong academic and community track record.

Do you know a high school senior who has world-changing potential? Please direct them to to learn more and apply by February 16.

Jessica David is Senior Vice President of Strategy and Community Investments at the Rhode Island Foundation.


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