"It’s The Very Least I Can Do!"
When Jennifer O’Connor Lima ran for the school committee in North Kingstown she knew it would be tough but she was not prepared for the level of ugliness that was spewed in her path. The mother of four children, three of them mixed-race children, Lima is a tough woman who speaks her mind and there is never any doubt about where she stands. She ran a no-nonsense campaign for student inclusion for every student including LGBTQ+ and against racism, sexism, and religious inclusion. She received over 9,000 votes and won by a landslide. In November of 2021, she was instrumental in securing a grant from The Rhode Island Foundation for a group she helped to form called TANK which stands for Towards An Anti Racist North Kingstown.
It didn’t take long for the murmurings of discontent to begin and when Lima began an earnest campaign for single-use restrooms for Transgendered and non-binary students things got ugly. Very ugly.
An anonymous group launched a well-funded recall campaign and Lima was forced to launch her campaign for her seat on the school board all over again in the midst of lies and misinformation. Under the guise of fake emails and social media profiles, she was attacked for her advocacy to teach children the truth about Critical Race Theory (CRT). One mother told her if she had known Lima was so leftist she wouldn’t have voted for her. She was accused of being anti-white, although she herself is white and married to a Cape Verdean Man. Their Black Lives Matter flag was stolen from their house and when the couple painted the message on rocks in front of their home the rocks were painted over in the dead of night.
The couple do their best to keep as much of it away from their children as they can. It’s not easy to be out in the community and see your family member attacked. Lima explained “I would be out in the supermarket and someone would approach me and I wouldn’t know if they were going to attack me or say something nice. It’s not easy.” but recently, the mother of four heard her teenage daughter quip on her way out of the house “the first thing is to check the hate brigade.”
The recall movement was not successful but the battle was not won yet. Restrooms were installed per the RI General Assembly’s mandate of federal and state law but vandalism and vaping shut them down. When Trans students were shuffled to the nurse’s office Lima spoke up again to insist that was not acceptable because these students are not sick. It was the students who spoke up so passionately and the school found a way to fix the problem.
Generally speaking, the students don’t have a problem. It’s the adults who do not understand Lima’s message of diversity, equity, and inclusion. They don’t understand that equity includes gender identity, sexual orientation, and religious affiliation. People call her at home and say ugly things to her. One man accosted Lima and seriously asked: “You got a president and a halftime show. What more do you want?”
“These people are the minority in North Kingstown and unfortunately, they are very loud and very organized and very anti-CRT” says Lima. “It’s almost you see something in the news in Virginia and it appears in Rhode Island. It seems to be part of the conservative playbook to overthrow school boards in favor of conservative values of anti-BIPOC and anti-LGBTQ and anything that is not reading, writing, and arithmetic for straight, white people. They don’t seem to understand that not everybody walks through life with the same experiences and just because you haven’t experienced it doesn’t mean somebody else hasn’t experienced it.”
Lima does not give any ground. She has met so many amazing people and has connected with many across the state all working for the same type of thing: towards an anti-racist Rhode Island with diversity, equity, and inclusion. “It’s the very least I can do,” she states, “it gives me hope.”