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
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
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