It might be the nation’s smallest state, but there’s nothing small about Rhode Island’s racial gap in home ownership, family income, educational attainment, health care risks, and incarceration rates.

And since The Providence Journal does a public service project each year, the staff of the state’s largest paper decided to focus on these issues as part of a year-long series — Race in R.I. — and the consequences for all Rhode Islanders.

Assistant Managing Editor John Kostzrewa said The Journal’s staff identified race as an issue to explore late in 2014 after the shooting in Ferguson and the national conversation that followed.

“Reporters, editors, online producers and visual staffers gathered in early 2015 to discuss what we wanted to do and to write a mission statement. It was critical that The Journal’s top editors attended the meetings to support the project,” he said by email. “Then, we dug in to identify stories. We assigned reporters, editors, photographers and online producers to each subject area to develop expertise and set plans to publish stories.”

The result has been a compelling series, that’s tackled such issues as the disparity in recreation opportunities for youths (or what the paper called the “play gap”); how the arts can offer powerful ways for disparate peoples to connect; and even how different groups interpret the harshest of epithets.

The Journal also formed a Sounding Board of 15 members of the community to meet monthly with editors and reporters to discuss issues, offer criticism of their work and suggest ideas.

“Another key to the project has been the collaboration among reporters, editors, online producers and visual staffers to produce our best work for the newspaper and our web site,” Kostzrewa said. “In today’s newsroom, one plus one plus one has to equal 8, and that’s achievable when colleagues are committed to making each others’ work better.”

So far, The Journal has produced 12 Sunday centerpieces with stories, art, graphics, tables and illustrations. The newspaper stories have been supplemented with interactive graphics, videos and quizzes on providencejournal.com.

And there’s plenty more to come as the year winds to a close.

“We are planning plan at least six more Sunday stories and a community forum in November to discuss the inequities among the races,” Kostzrewa said. “We also plan to interview eight state and local policymakers, including the governor of Rhode Island and mayor of Providence, about our series and their plans to close the gaps.

“The Race in R.I. series has informed readers about issues that are critical to Rhode Island’s future and has started conversations among people throughout the state. That’s our public service mission.”

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