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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

URI Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence appointed
as chair of Governor's Commission on Race

KINGSTON, R.I. -- May 3, 2000 -- Dr. Bernard LaFayette Jr., Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence at the University of Rhode Island, has been appointed as chair of the Governor's Commission on Race and Police and Community Relations. The appointment was announced today by Governor Lincoln C. Almond at a State House press conference.

A former Civil Rights leader and national authority on nonviolent social change and nonviolence education LaFayette has served as Distinguished Scholar in Residence at the University since June 1999, where he directs the URI Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies.

"I am very pleased that a man of such distinction has agreed to chair the commission," said Almond. "Dr. LaFayette has devoted himself to the Civil Rights movement and the study of nonviolent social change. Today, I am entrusting him to help move our state forward so our residents and our law enforcement officers can live and work together in harmony."

The goal of the Governor's new commission is to identify and examine the critical conflicts and problems related to race, police and community; gather information related to best practices; and develop recommendations for legislation, policy, education and training programs that will directly affect change in the present conditions that threaten to further polarize the community, damage inter-racial collaboration and cohesiveness, and leave a legacy of unhealthy relations.

"This commission is not a quick-fix committee," said LaFayette. "Though it was born out of crisis, this commission is not established to extinguish forest fires, but rather to plant new trees for the future forest. The long-range work of this commission should result in observable change if its recommendations are implemented."

LaFayette said the Commission is expecting to meet within the next ten days to begin its planning process and develop a working community.

"Bernard LaFayette has brought genuine wisdom to the University and to Rhode Island. We are pleased that he is willing to take on this challenging assignment," said URI President Robert L. Carothers.

"If we can turn to each other rather than turn on each other, we can save Rhode Island from the turmoil of racial strife and rapid deterioration of police-community relations," said LaFayette. "We can only succeed in our mission if we can find a way to ask hard questions with a soft, but determined voice. We are called upon to have tough minds but tender hearts, to seek truth with compassion, to maintain dignity and respect for all involved, yet insist on justice and fairness for all the people of the State of Rhode Island."

As a Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence, LaFayette has been taking steps toward developing a national and international network of centers on nonviolence, with the University and its ongoing work as his base. He has taken a leadership role in incorporating nonviolence education as a focus for the work of several URI programs and helping the University as a whole to learn about the concepts and practice of nonviolence. As director of the URI Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies, LaFayette and others are promoting nonviolence as a philosophy and methodology for relationship development and community building.

LaFayette has been a Civil Rights Movement activist, minister, educator, lecturer, and administrator. He is an authority on the strategy of nonviolent social change. In 1960, LaFayette was one of the eight students who led the Nashville Movement to desegregate that city, and who were the subjects of David Halberstam's recent book, The Children. LaFayette is also featured in Taylor Branch's authoritative book, Pillar of Fire , and in John Lewis' memoir, Walking With The Wind. He is also the subject of a PBS program in a series entitled "A Force More Powerful" that will air this fall.

LaFayette co-founded the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960. He was a leader of the 1960 Nashville Movement, the 1961 Freedom Rides, and the 1965 Selma Movement. He directed the Alabama Voter Registration Project in 1962 and was appointed National Program Administrator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and National Coordinator of the 1968 Poor People's campaigns by Martin Luther King, Jr.

LaFayette has been described as "a leading spokesperson for the traditions of nonviolence and their translation to contemporary conditions in America, South Africa, and elsewhere. He is a direct link to many of the great achievements of nonviolent reconciliation of the twentieth century, and a repository of the peace-building skills needed for the twenty-first."

LaFayette earned his B.A. from the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville TN, and his Ed.D. from Harvard University. He serves as chair of the Executive Planning Committee for the International Conference on Nonviolence; and has served in numerous national and international positions throughout his career including: director of peace and justice in Latin America; chair of the Consortium on Peace Research, Education and Development; Scholar-in-Residence at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center in Atlanta, Ga; director of the PUSH Excel Institute, among others. He has also served as dean of the Graduate School at Alabama State University in Montgomery; faculty member at Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta; principal of Tuskegee High School; and a Pastor of the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Tuskegee, Alabama and of the Progressive Baptist Church in Nashville.

The remaining commission members include: Rev. Theodore Wilson, III, pastor, Congdon Street Church; Joyce Williams, president, NAACP, Newport Chapter; The Right Reverend Geralyn Wolf, Bishop Episcopal Diocese of Providence; Dennis Langley, executive director, Urban League of Rhode Island; Shakira Abdullah, chairperson, Direct Action for Rights and Equality; Patricia Martinez, executive director, Progresso Latino; Dr. Marion Orr, associate professor of political science, Brown University; David Duffy, national chair, National Conference Community & Justice; Representative Gordon Fox, House appointee; Senator J. Clement Cicilline, Senate appointee; Sgt. Michael Harris, vice president, Rhode Island Minority Association; Patrick Sullivan, Esq., Cranston Police Department, International Brotherhood of Police; Hugh Clement, Rhode Island Fraternal Order of Police; and Chief Gary Dias, East Providence police chief, Rhode Island Police Chief's Association.


For More Information: Linda Acciardo, 401-874-2116,
Jhodi Redlich, 401-874-2116


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