Learn About Ray



Ray Rickman is a lifelong Civil Rights activist with over 50 years of experience in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. At every stage of his career, he has worked to right injustices that cynics thought would never be fixed.


Ray grew up in Detroit when almost every aspect of the city was segregated by race. He attended school in a building that was literally falling apart, where half the students ate lunch on the floor because there weren’t enough tables, and where classrooms crammed forty students into a space built for twenty.


In 1965, Ray was one of the student leaders who led walkouts to demand that every student in Detroit have access to a quality public education. The next year, Ray traveled to Mississippi to take part in the March Against Fear with Civil Rights giant James Meredith, where he was arrested and brutally beaten by sheriff's deputies. 


After recovering from his injuries and attending college, Ray entered public service as the Chief of Staff to Congressman John Conyers. He then moved to Providence and became director of the city’s first Human Rights Commission. He also worked for the Massachusetts Housing Finance Authority and briefly as Acting President of the Boston Women’s Center.


In 1986, Ray was elected to the Rhode Island House of Representatives with 80% of the vote. This was the height of trickle down economics and the “Tough on Crime” movement. Despite the staunch conservatism of most of his colleagues, Ray championed social justice issues such as mass incarceration, gay rights, the right to choose, the rights of Southeast Asian immigrants, voting rights, and the statewide referendum on a woman's right to choose. He remains proud of voting against draconian crime bills that created long, mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent crimes and led to the mass incarceration we are still plagued with today.


Ray has also founded several nonprofits. He is currently the Executive Director of Stages of Freedom, which offers no-cost swimming lessons to low income Rhode Island youth and builds bridges of racial understanding by promoting Rhode Island’s African American history and culture. He co-founded Shape Up RI, the nation's first statewide wellness program, which transformed over 100,000 people. Earlier, he founded Adopt A Doctor to provide financial assistance to African doctors in four of the world’s poorest nations: Liberia, Mali, Sierra Leone, and Malawi.


Additionally, Ray is a rare book dealer and considered the foremost authority on Rhode Island African American history, having edited seven publications on the topic. He lectures widely on African American history and American literature at colleges, libraries, and museums. He was also the first Treasurer of the Heritage Harbor Museum, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institute.

Ray is recipient of the Rhode Island Philanthropist of the Year Award, for his lifesaving work teaching Black children how to swim; the National Parks Service's Frederick Douglass Award for a lifetime of Civil Rights activism; and the Rhode Island  Council for the Humanities Innovation Award for building bridges across the racial divide.

Ray Marching with James Meredith in Sunflower County, MS, June, 25, 1966, 'March Against F


  • In 1964, in his hometown of Detroit, Ray led the celebrated massive student walk-out at Foch Junior High School protesting overcrowding and poor learning conditions, resulting in the building of a new school which he dedicated. 

  • In 1965, Ray co-lead student walk-outs protesting racial segregation at Detroit's Southeastern High School, leading to systemic improvements. 

  • As a teen in 1966, while walking with Civil Rights giant James Meredith (above) in The March Against Fear in Sunflower County, MS, Ray was brutally beaten by the sheriff and his deputies and became known as "The Civil Rights Kid".

  • Ray was US Representative John Conyers' chief of staff, working with secretary Rosa Parks in the Detroit headquarters.

  • As the Director of the Human Relations Commission for the City of Providence from 1979-1981, Ray was deeply involved in police reform. He also served as president of the ACLU.

  • Ray was Acting Director at the Boston Women's Center in 1982.

  • In the late 1980s and early 90s, as a three-term State Representative for College Hill, Ray was a leading reformer and fought against mass incarceration.

  • As Deputy Secretary of State from 2000-2002, Ray championed the  placement of two sculptures of leading RI female activists in the State House; chaired the committee to purchase the State's first new voting machines in forty years; streamlined the State Archives; and oversaw the effort to display the  Declaration of Independence at the Providence Mall for thousands to see.

  • Ray was appointed to the 2000 and 2010 statewide Redistricting Commission. 

  • Appointed by Gov. Chafee, Ray served on the Rhode Island State Parole Board for two years.

  • Ray sat on the Providence Historic District Commission for five years, and on the Rhode Island Historical Society board of directors for seven years.

  • Ray devoted seven years of his life to financially supporting underpaid African doctors in west African nations with his landmark Adopt-a-Doctor program.

  • As co-founder and executive director of Shape Up RI, the nation's first statewide wellness program, Ray enrolled over 100,000 participants.

  • Concerned with the high number of drownings of African American youth, Ray created Swim Empowerment to pay for thousands of free swimming lessons at nine partnering YMCAs.

  • In 2016, Ray co-founded the award-winning BIPOC non-profit, Stages of Freedom, which presents and celebrates the State's rich African American heritage through high-profile events for the entire community.


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