QU kicks off third annual MLK Dream Week with discussion on intersectionality

Aidan Sheedy and Samantha Nunez

As a young Black man with Indigenous heritage from Providence, Rhode Island, Raymond “Two Hawks” Watson did not know much about his background or why he should be interested in learning more.

Watson spoke to Quinnipiac University students and faculty on Feb. 6 in the Mt. Carmel Auditorium, to commence the annual MLK Dream Week. He shared his story and how to encourage others to get in touch with their roots.

Watson is the founder and CEO of Providence Cultural Equity Initiative, an organization that promotes cultural awareness within Rhode Island. 

Growing up with his mother and grandmother, Watson recalled being reassured of his culture as a way to never forget it.

“Here is this pressing sort of (Narragansett) identity upon me that I’m not quite sure what that means,” Watson said.

Watson said that questioning what “being Indian meant” has always been in the back of his mind. He explained that he has faced instances in which he’s had to defend his identity to friends.

Shortly after his grandmother’s death, Watson decided to honor her legacy and learned more about his Narragansett heritage.

According to HISTORY the Narragansett are the Algonuian-speaking Indigenous people of present-day Rhode Island. Archaeological evidence has also revealed that the Narragansett people have lived in the area for more than 30,000 years.

To connect with his ancestral heritage, Watson began attending Pow Wows, a dance gathering held by some Indigenous groups, and was surprised to see people that looked like him.

“This thing called Blackness is much more diverse and in-depth than I understood it to be,” Watson said.

This fascination with intersectionality evolved into an appreciation as Watson said he soon realized “how rich and deep the Black community actually was.”

The non-profit group Center for Intersectional Justice describes this concept as “the ways in which systems of inequality based on gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, class and other forms of discrimination intersect to “create unique dynamics and effects.”

“When you get down to cultures, you actually stop to get to know who people are on individual and personal levels,” Watson said.

Raymond "Two Hawk" Watson
Raymond “Two Hawks” Watson shared his story to commence MLK Dream Week. (Casey Wiederhold)

Associate Director for Multicultural Education Veronica Jacobs said she sees Black History Month as an opportunity for the entire university to learn and reflect. But there’s more to Black History than oppression and negatives, Jacobs said.

Jacobs explained that Watson was a part of a multicultural education panel that multiple Quinnipiac members attended, and as the team was trying to find possible speakers for MLK Dream Week, immediately Watson came to mind.

“I spent about an hour having a conversation with him where he shared many of the things he shared tonight, and I could really see the passion he had for cultural authenticity,” Jacobs said. 

First-year nursing major Diana Sliwinski was in the audience during the event. She said Watson brought insight on the topic of intersectionality.

Watson said that adults should encourage young people to connect with their culture to find out about where they come from.

“I think sometimes when we think about Black community, as (Watson) shared, we always focus on slavery or racism,” Jacobs said. “But there’s so much more to that in terms of excellence and creations…and so I think Black History Month is an opportunity for celebration.”