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Civil rights activist, nonviolence movement leader LaFayette to speak at CCRI Monday
Feb. 19, 2014
In honor of Black History Month, the Community College of Rhode Island will host the Rev. Dr. Bernard LaFayette Jr., noted civil rights activist and former director of the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies at the University of Rhode Island, on Monday, Feb. 24, at the Flanagan Campus in Lincoln.
The event will take place from 3 to 5 p.m. in Room 1336 and is free and open to the public. Social sciences social sciences instructor Richard Tarlaian, whose own career and dedication to the nonviolence movement has brought him into contact with LaFayette many times over the years, organized the event. The Office of Student Life, Flanagan Student Government and Nonviolence Club are sponsors.
Tarlaian, who at one time was a Providence police officer, shared that LaFayette trained him as part of a group of community leaders and police officers nearly 20 years ago. The police officers then were able to use their training to lead further nonviolence trainings in the community, while community leaders used their training to promote the values of peace and nonviolence in their communities at a grass-roots level.
The work of peace and nonviolence, along with the impressive presence of LaFayette himself, influenced Tarlaian, shaping the trajectory of his second career. He followed LaFayette to help facilitate trainings around the country and beyond, eventually working with the activist leader in the troubled delta region of Nigeria to propagate nonviolence as a healing philosophy and a strategy for change.
It was Tarlaian’s connections to LaFayette, who recently published a memoir written with Kathy Lee Johnson titled “In Peace and Freedom: My Journey in Selma,” that brought LaFayette back to the Ocean State from Emory University, where he now serves as a distinguished senior scholar in residence. Tarlaian is the faculty adviser to the Nonviolence Club at the Flanagan Campus, and said that LaFayette’s talk aligns perfectly with the club’s mission – to educate students on the history, philosophy and principles of nonviolence as well as to teach conflict reconciliation skills with hopes of promoting nonviolence on campus and in the outside community.
Tarlaian said that a daylong nonviolence training session is planned for Saturday, March 22, in Lincoln for CCRI faculty and students as well as interested community members. “I’m hoping that Dr. LaFayette’s visit here will give people at least a basic idea of what nonviolence is,” meaning the philosophy as well as the skills to implement it to make change, “and then make them want to learn more and perhaps become well versed and trained.”
LaFayette himself worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and was a cofounder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in addition to being a leader in the Nashville lunch counter sit-ins and a Freedom Rider. His work in the Selma voting rights movement and the Selma-to-Montgomery marches, as well as his nearly lifelong experience as an educator and an activist, will make for a valuable presentation to the members of the club and the campus community as a whole, said Tarlaian.
“I’m hoping that the students will be inspired by his talk,” he said. “When he started doing this work in a major way that made major changes in this country, he was only 20 years old. He left school at 19 to work for social justice and ended up being beaten and jailed. I want them to be inspired by his courage and his dedication to his cause.”
And there is much to be inspired by in LaFayette’s career, which spans one of the most tumultuous and ground-shifting periods in our country’s history. Hailed as “one of the greatest leaders” of the civil rights movement by the University Press of Kentucky, which published his memoir, LaFayette worked tirelessly to bring voting rights to Selma, a city that had been dropped from the Alabama Voter Registration Project’s punch list because of dangerous unrest.
LaFayette would come to be no stranger to the inherent hazards of preaching nonviolence in some of the world’s most nonviolent corners – Tarlaian said that LaFayette was kidnapped by revolutionaries in Colombia. “His is an amazing story,” said Tarlaian. “He didn’t just stop and rest on the laurels of what he achieved in the civil rights movement, but is still active today around the world doing nonviolence training and education.
“We’re very lucky to have him,” said Tarlaian.
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