2019 Higher Ground International Village Leader Award Honorees

Friday, March 1 at 6 p.m.
Crowne Plaza Hotel

Joseph Newsome has made it his mission to help people in his adopted home state of Rhode Island as well as on the continent of Africa.  His 35 plus years of social change work has linked environmental, racial and economic justice and international peace initiatives.

 As the 1991 RI Delegate to the African-African American Summit in Cote d’Ivoire, Joe met with Liberian refugees displaced by the civil war.  In response to their plight, he organized the RI Liberian Initiative, which helped over 80 students complete their education in the US.  These individuals went on to earn over 50 undergraduate and graduate degrees from educational institutions in Rhode Island, Michigan, Texas and North Carolina. 

Joe co-chaired the RI Divest Coalition that resulted in Rhode Island becoming the 7th state in the country to divest from corporations doing business with the apartheid regime in South Africa.  He testified at the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s South Africa Sanctions Hearings and led a fact-finding tour of southern African nations. 

In the civic arena, Joe helped found the Rhode Island Committee for Nonviolence Initiatives, whose non-violence training led to the establishment of the Center for Peace and Nonviolence at URI and Providence’s Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence.  He also helped found the Center for Mediation and Collaboration RI, the Minority Investment Development Corporation and served a co-chair of the Black-Jewish Alliance. 

Joe has been recognized with many awards and citations, including: the John O. Pastore Award for Government Service from the National Conference of Christians and Jews; the Partners in Housing Award from the RI Housing and Mortgage Finance Corp.; the RI Black Contractors Advocate of the Year Award, the RI Minority Advocate of the Year Award from the RI Office of Minority Business Assistance; the NAACP Special Recognition Award for his anti-apartheid work; and the RI Department of Transportation’s Award for Excellence in Legislative Initiatives.  In 2008, Joe was inducted into the City of Providence’s Martin Luther King Jr. Hall of Fame.

 For a decade, Joe was President and Executive Director of the South Providence Development Corporation (SPDC) that specialized in workforce training, job creation and small business development.  SPDC started CleanScape, a commercial recycling and landscaping business providing jobs to neighborhood residents and developed the Gordon Avenue Business Incubator, the first certified “green and smart” commercial building in RI.

 Joe served three terms in the Rhode Island House of Representatives, where he worked to restore banking services to the Elmwood neighborhood, introduced Community Reinvestment Act legislation, the State Equal Employment Opportunity legislation and helped draft Providence’s Fairness in Purchasing Ordinance.  He also chaired the Economic Development Committee of the RI Black Caucus of State Legislators, the Commission on Equal Employment Opportunity and the DBE Advisory Committee that helped re-construct the T.F. Greene airport.


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Eileen Hayes, LICSW, president and CEO of Amos House, received her master’s degree from NYU School of Social Work in 1984. Ms. Hayes has held a variety of positions throughout her career including the director of services for adolescents and young families at the YWCA of New York City. Under her leadership since 2001, Amos House has grown into a comprehensive social service agency that includes 14 buildings that provide a range of recovery-based housing for homeless men, women and families, training programs including culinary arts and carpentry/maintenance, and businesses that generate income and create jobs for the community including More Than a Meal Catering and Amos House Builds.

Ms. Hayes serves on 5 boards of directors including SouthSide Community Charter School, OIC of Rhode Island, Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless, Rhode Island Continuum of Care, and Building Futures.   



Cheryl Burrell has been employed by the State of Rhode Island for over 38 years.  Cheryl has been with the Department of Administration since 1999, where she previously served as the Administrator of the Human Resources Outreach and Diversity Office. Prior to her work in the Department of Administration, she was employed by the Rhode Island Department of Attorney General, where she served under the leadership of five attorneys generals.

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In 2014, she was appointed to serve as the Department of Administration’s first-ever Associate Director of Diversity, Equity and Opportunity. In this role, Cheryl leads the executive division entitled the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Opportunity, which is comprised of four offices: the State Equal Opportunity Office, the Human Resources Outreach and Diversity Office, the Minority Business Enterprise Compliance Office, and the Supplier Diversity Office.  Under her leadership, the division has tripled the participation of minority- and women-owned business participation in the State’s procurement process, and increased the State’s monthly average hiring of workers of color by 6% in one year.

With a passion for diversity and inclusion, Cheryl's advocacy is a culmination of involvement over the years with several community organizations, personnel associations, boards, and committees. She holds a bachelor's degree in management from Bryant College, a certificate in Diversity Management from Cornell University’s Institute of Labor Relations, and a certificate from Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government Senior Executives in State and Local Government Summer Leadership Program. She is married and is a lifelong resident of Rhode Island.


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Michelle (Mimi) Rego, Ph.D, is a Professor of Marketing Communications at Johnson & Wales University (JWU). Before JWU, she also taught at the Community College of RI and Northeastern University in Boston, MA. Her international teaching credentials include lecture engagements at INHOLLAND University in Rotterdam and the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

Dr. Rego's teaching philosophy centers around experiential education and community-based learning. She has worked with countless nonprofit and social venture organizations on a variety of social issues with her students. In 2010, she was awarded the distinction of Faculty Fellow, Community Service Learning by Johnson & Wales.  

Dr. Rego is a published expert in the area of cause-marketing, and was recently honored as a 2018 top paper recipient for her contribution to this field by the Association of Educators in Journalism and Marketing Communication. Her academic research methods include meta-analysis and structural equation modeling for cause-related advertising campaigns.

In Michelle’s own words:   “I believe in the power of communication to advocate for social good — it’s important for this generation to embrace the marketing causes as well as brands.”

In fact, it was through a cause-marketing class project that she was first introduced to Higher Ground International (HGI) nearly 10 years ago. She has served as a volunteer and board member ever since, assisting in a variety of communications roles including fundraising, social media marketing and PR for the organization. 


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James "Jim" Vincent has been a staunch advocate for the civil rights and equality for people of color in Rhode Island for almost 30 years. He was first elected in 2010 as President for the NAACP, Providence Branch and is currently serving his fourth term in that role. Mr. Vincent serves as the Compliance Officer at the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) where he oversees the Equal Opportunity, Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Programs, and Title VI programs. He is the president of East Bay Community Action Program, and is a former board president of the Urban League of Rhode Island, the Center for Hispanic Policy and Advocacy, and the Rhode Island Affirmative Action Professionals.  Mr. Vincent is a board member of the African Alliance of Rhode Island, the College Crusade of Rhode Island, Cox Charities Committee, and Providence Promise. He is a long-term member of the Cape Verdean Progressive Center. He is the producer and host of television’s Jim Vincent Show.  Jim has won numerous awards, including the David E. Sweet Award, Leadership RI’s highest honor.  Jim, a Boston native and Cranston resident, has lived in Rhode Island since 1991.