EAST PROVIDENCE — Calling it a professional and emotional epiphany of sorts, East Providence Police Chief Joseph Tavares recently returned from of a visit to the Cape Verde Islands, native to his parents, with a far greater sense of being in terms of both his work in law enforcement and of his place of origin.
In April, Chief Tavares, accompanied by fellow members of the city-based Cape Verdean Progressive Club, visited the island nation off the west coast of mainland Africa, once a bustling shipping port for trans-atlantic sea commerce, where he worked closely with local police identifying improvements to be made and reviewing existing policies and procedures in the legal system.
In addition, he toured the home island, Brava, of his parents, Abilio and Benvinda, who were married there in 1954 before emigrating to the United States shortly thereafter. The elder Tavareses first settled in Jersey City, New Jersey then moved to Rhode Island in 1960.
“It was not only a powerful professional and personal experience for me, but I’m also at a point in my life where I realize how important it is to give back,” Chief Tavares explained.
The chief actually visited three of the islands, the capital of Santiago as well as Fogo. At each stop, he said, he gained a greater sense of what it meant to be of Cape Verdean descent.
It was his trip to Brava, however, where he took the most inspiration. The small community of 6,000 still housed residents who knew his parents and relatives personally. They regaled the chief with memories of their shared times together those many years ago.
“I was able to visit the homes of my father and great-grandmother,” Chief Tavares said. “I found people in their 80s and 90s who played with parents as children, who knew my family. It was just an unbelievable experience.
“I never thought I would venture out and have this type of experience, to go back to the place where my parents were born and got married. I was able to hear stories from actual living people about my family. It really changed my perspective.”
The family yarns had an impact on the chief as did his visit with members of the community and to a local orphanage, where clothing remains in short supply for the children there. Chief Tavares has reached out to the East Providence Police Department for help, already receiving several donations from his officers. Anyone from the public interested in aiding his clothing drive, can drop off donations as the EPPD headquarters on Waterman Avenue.
During his visit as well, Chief Tavares said he was fortunate to meet with several dignitaries, including Cape Verde President Jorge Carlos Fonseca and United States Ambassador Adrienne S. O’Neal, along with his peers at the helm of the various police departments. The chief said he plans to help Cape Verdean law enforcement through more donations of used or expired policing equipment when possible.
“There are only 20 police officers on Brava. They’re in need of bullet proof vests and other equipment,” Chief Tavares said. “I’ve found that police officers, no matter where they’re from, are very progressive. Although they don’t have much, they hunger for training. They want to learn and be properly equipped. I’m going to help in any way I can and it’s a relationship I certainly want to continue for many years to come.”
Helping those of his ancestral home is something the chief said he never expected to do. But now that he has visited Cape Verde, he’s been inspired to give back as much as possible.
“I grew up speaking the language and eating the food, but going to visit was a whole new experience,” Chief Tavares added. “I look forward to going back there in the future to do more charitable work. It really was a life-changing visit.”