Activist for civil rights to speak at WMC today on nonviolence, peace

LaFayette, who marched with King, has founded centers for his cause

March 29, 2001|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Bernard LaFayette has waged war against injustice most of his 61 years, but his battles always have been of a nonviolent nature.

The Freedom Fighter who marched beside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and counted him among his closest friends will lecture today at Western Maryland College in Westminster on principles of nonviolence, weaving in stories from his more than 50 years in the civil rights movement.

"I will share the campaigns and focus on significant strides as we move toward a nonviolent society," said LaFayette, an ordained Baptist minister and director of the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies at University of Rhode Island. "People are making efforts globally and in their neighborhoods."

As a basis for discussions, LaFayette uses his experiences from the 1960s, including voter registration drives, sit-ins, the Selma freedom march, the Poor People's Campaign and his founding of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. LaFayette turns the focus to what he is doing today and what must be done to advance his cause. He is hoping to organize an international conference on nonviolence soon.

"We cannot become complacent about violence," he said.

Near his Rhode Island home, he is working with middle school pupils who are writing a book about nonviolence. He asked an audience of several hundred preteens recently how many of them knew someone angry enough to kill. About 150 raised their hands.

"Young people know who is capable and ready to kill, and they are not talking to us," he said. "They feel insecure and unsafe."

LaFayette has established several nonviolence centers, including sites in South Africa, Cuba, Haiti and Colombia that offer training, resources and staff "to reduce and eradicate violence and to give people the ability to teach others," he said. A center in Detroit focuses solely on youth.

"We get people to think about how they can reduce violence, starting in their homes and then looking at conflict in their communities," LaFayette said. "Lives today are bankrupted, impoverished with mountains of material things that give false pleasure but cannot fulfill anyone."

Despite violence that tops the daily news, LaFayette remains hopeful and finds people willing to join him in the struggle.

"I am as optimistic as I was about ending segregation in the '60s and as optimistic as folk were about getting to the moon," he said. "We will establish nonviolence as a way of life. Why not?"

The lecture, sponsored by the college's Honors Program, is free and open to the public. It will begin at 7:30 p.m. in McDaniel Lounge. Information: 410-857-2290.

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