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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

Civil Rights activist to lead 5th graders on Freedom Ride

KINGSTON, R.I. -- June 8, 2001 -- Civil Rights activist Dr. Bernard LaFayette will retrace the steps that altered American history, accompanied by 27 students in Robin Nelson’s fifth-grade class at the Wakefield Elementary School, a school near the University of Rhode Island where LaFayette is a scholar-in-residence and director of URI’s Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies.

LaFayette will take the students on a trip from June 28 to July 2 to visit such legendary places as Birmingham, Atlanta, Selma, and Montgomery whose very names invoke the Civil Rights struggle where Dr. Martin Luther King, LaFayette and other colleagues employed prayer, song, and courage to break down the barriers of racial injustice.

The group will visit some of the most important sites of the civil rights era such as the Baptist church where four girls were killed by a bomb, the park where demonstrators were assaulted by police using fire hoses and dogs, and the bus stop where Rosa Parks was arrested. The pupils will reenact part of "Bloody Sunday" by marching along U.S. Route 80 across the Edmond Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama singing protest songs. In Atlanta, they will hold a press conference to explain why they are working toward peace.

LaFayette has been working with the fifth grade class to share his experiences of the Civil Rights Movement. The URI scholar-in-residence and the class are in the process of writing a book on peace and nonviolence designed for children. The book will include essays, poems, artwork, and songs by the students.

This month, the fifth-graders and some of their parents attended the first of four workshops on Kingian nonviolence training at URI. LaFayette hopes to certify the students in Kingian nonviolence – the first time fifth-graders have undergone the training. The students are expected to train other children attending the Fourth Annual International Nonviolence Conference, which will be held at URI from Aug. 11 to 15.

"Fifth graders are at the ideal age to understand the concept of peace and nonviolence," says LaFayette who plans to establish 10 nonviolence centers around the world during this decade. (One center has been established in Johannesburg, South Africa. Others are under discussion in Colombia and Mexico.)

"A common phrase among fifth-graders -- that’s not fair -- begins to emerge. They become interested in issues of justice. By showing the students the history of America’s Civil Rights Movement, there’s an easy transference to issues of today which remains inclusion whether it be in the playground, the bus stop or the family room.

"Nonviolence must start with the young," addsLaFayette, a resident of North Kingstown. "We can’t do it from the top. The adults arrive after the crisis. The minister comes late. The police officer gets there in time to put up the tape. We must build a community that reaches out to those who are left out because people who are left out, strike out."

For Information: Jan Sawyer, 874-2116

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