KINGSTON, R.I. – Jan. 16, 2024 – University of Rhode Island alumnus, historian and community organizer Matthew Aaron Quainoo ’15, remembered for his stirring commencement address in 2015, will return to URI Wednesday, Feb. 7, 12 to 2 p.m., to speak again about the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and how that can be applied today. [The event will also be livestreamed.]
Quainoo addressed the largest audience of his young life when he stepped before a crowd of 15,000 for the 2015 URI graduation ceremony, one of the University’s youngest commencement speakers at age 19. His humorous but inspiring remarks capped an impressive run at the University. The North Kingstown resident graduated from URI in half the standard time, obtaining his bachelor’s degree in two years. Despite the abbreviated time, he found time to help with an Africana studies symposium, speak with prospective students as a Welcome Day representative, coach basketball in North Kingstown, conduct an honors project in Ghana, and serve as a teacher’s assistant in political science. He was awarded URI’s Martin Luther King Leadership Award that spring, as well as the Ana Phelps Political Science Department Award and the Provost Scholar’s Award.
Quainoo’s mother, Vanessa Quainoo, was a tenured professor at URI for more than 30 years and the founding chair of the University’s Africana Studies department. Quainoo was also the president of the Sankofa Fellowship, one of the largest African diasporic organizations on campus, founded by his father, Bishop Joseph Quainoo, an adjunct professor of Africana studies at the University. The Quainoos’ older son Tim Quainoo also graduated from URI, Class of 2013, and was a Sankoka leader, as well.
“My whole family was invested in the upbuilding and upholding of King’s legacy on URI’s campus,” Quainoo says.
After majoring in Africana studies and political science at URI, he headed to the Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey to get his master’s degree in theological studies. He earned his Ph.D. in history from Howard University.
Quainoo referenced King in his 2015 commencement address, calling on the University to serve all and on his classmates to continue to pursue their ideals for a better world.
Today, Quainoo is doing his part as a scholar, minister and community leader in Florida, at the Solid Rock Community Church in Kissimmee. He frequently partners with community organizations in efforts to address hunger, homelessness, and health disparities, and continues to work for non-partisan civil rights advocacy. Quainoo is a frequent speaker on diversity, equity and inclusion and justice topics, including at Bryant University, Princeton Theological Seminary, Howard University, Asbury Seminary and the University of Ghana.
Quainoo is returning to campus as part of Black History Month to speak about the reality and legacy of Rev. King. The annual program will take place in the Multicultural Student Services Center, honoring King and bringing together members of the URI community to foster conversations about change.
The event will also recognize the winner of this year’s Peace and Human Rights Award at URI. Thupten Tendhar received last year’s award, recognizing his work in the University’s Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies.
For more information, contact Bobby Britto-Oliveira in the Multicultural Student Services Center.