URI scholarship winner gets to thank family benefactor

KINGSTON, R. I. — November 21, 2000 — URI student John Cruz of Providence is the first recipient of the George Wiley Endowed Scholarship. The scholarship bears the name of a man who helped redefine social and civil rights in economic terms.

“It’s a privilege,” Cruz told Bev Wiley of Foster, sister of the late civil rights leader. The two spoke and exchanged e-mail addresses at a URI College of Arts and Sciences donor-recipient luncheon held recently at the home of URI President Robert L. Carothers.

The Wiley family established the scholarship last year to help support bright African American students who show an interest in civic affairs.

While at URI, George Wiley distinguished himself as both chemistry major and a student leader. He was the first African-American to join a fraternity and the first to graduate with a chemistry degree.

He earned a Ph.D. from Cornell, did postgraduate work at UCLA and Berkeley, and became a faculty member at Syracuse University.

He gave it all up to fight social injustice and racial discrimination. He became associate director of CORE (Congress for Racial Equality) to overcome racial segregation in schools and other forms of discrimination against African Americans and other minority citizens. Wiley also founded the National Welfare Rights Organization as a response to practices in many states that prevented poor people from receiving benefits to which they were entitled under the law. Before his untimely death in a boating accident in 1973, he was involved in organizing the Movement for Economic Justice, an educational and legislative reform effort based on the concept of an American multicultural majority. A biography, A Passion for Equality, was published by Norton.

Cruz who will graduate in 2002 is majoring in communications studies at URI. He says he’s honored to receive the scholarship and learn of its history.

As a member of the Brothers United for Action, Cruz says he is pleased that the organization has created many positive changes for minorities on the Kingston campus.

His future plans include a career in broadcast media. Meanwhile during his spare time, Cruz enjoys working with children of various ages in the community. He encourages them to stay in school and aim for college. He also tells them about BUA successes and tells them they, too, can create change.

“John is a great selection for the scholarship,” says Bev Wiley on behalf of the family. “My brother would have admired his activism. We’re delighted.”