Civil rights message may be cornerstone of USF center

A civil rights activist and former assistant to Martin Luther King Jr. hopes to implement King’s last message of nonviolence on the USF campus.

Bernard Lafayette Jr said King shared with him the need for nonviolence in our communities just hours before King was assassinated.

That message may become a program incorporated into USF’s School of Social Work. Lafayette spoke at USF’s Westside Conference Center on Thursday to discuss what he called Kingian Nonviolence Training.

Lafayette is the director of the University of Rhode Island’s Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies, which is partnered with the Jim Walter Partnership Center (JWPC) and USF’s School of Social Work.

Rozelia Kennedy, business specialist of the JWPC, said the center hopes to start a Kingian Nonviolence Training Program in the fall, which would be available to both students and the community.

Classes would not offer school credit, but individuals could graduate from the program and be accredited as a nonviolence trainer.

USF is one three universities partnering with the JWPC and Lafayette for a nonviolence training program. Lafayette is also working with Emory University and the University of Rhode Island.

“We are working to internationalize and institutionalize nonviolence and fulfill the wish of King,” Lafayette said. “By creating centers for nonviolence training we are taking the first steps towards fulfilling this wish and Tampa is the starting point.”

Oracle: Do you feel the nonviolence training will lower incidents of violence on campus?
Bernard Lafayette Jr.: Yes. If we can teach nonviolence at USF it would teach students the skills, philosophy and strategies to deal with all kinds of conflicts and learn how to respond to those conflicts. Students can use this knowledge to deal with conflicts in classes and clubs. It will help them become better leaders.

We expect students of USF not just to get education for themselves. How they can take what they’ve learned and apply it to the community — that is what JWPC is all about.

O: Why do you feel it is important for students to become involved in the training?
BL: The fact that we’re going to have this center, institution and program for nonviolence at USF means that all students will have the opportunity to be exposed to ideas and concepts which will be enormously helpful to them in whatever field they pursue, whether it is a civil engineer, a business person or a nurse. 

O: What is the main goal you are hoping to achieve?
BL: Our goal is to establish a permanent institution or center to train people to be trainers in Kingian Nonviolence. Tampa is the first step in achieving this. We must do it one step at a time.

I would like to see the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies move toward the education system. There is so much violence in the education system with people being bullied, ostracized and disrespected. That doesn’t have to happen.

O: What are some of the methods used in the nonviolence training?
BL: If you’re going to find a solution, investigate the problem on a symptomatic level. We begin our training with people getting to know each other and stepping into the other person’s shoes. You learn right away the importance of others and not just self-importance.

O: What do you hope people will take away from the training?
BL: No. 1 is that problems we face in our lives described as violence are not problems that we have to continue to live with. We have to change the perception of our communities.

No. 2 is that the nonviolence training teaches people they can do something about their problems. They themselves have the power to change and solve their problems.

O: What are you most proud of among your accomplishments?
BL: I would say, finding a way to establish these centers around the world has been the most important achievement because it is fulfilling the last wish of King. He wanted this to be his next movement. He wanted people to learn nonviolence to solve the racial problems here in the United States and have the means and resources to solve their problems all over the world.