Authority on nonviolent social change speaks on campus

Bernard LaFayette addresses Contemporary Civil Rights to Xavier, Cincinnati | December 8, 2003

A nationally recognized civil rights leader in the area of nonviolent, social change spoke on the University campus Wednesday, Dec. 10. Bernard LaFayette, director of the Center for Non-Violence and Peace Studies at the University of Rhode Island, delivered a lecture titled "Contemporary Civil Rights: The Spiritual and Social Journey of Bernard LaFayette." The event, which was free and open to the public, was at 7:00 p.m. in the Schiff Family Conference Center.

LaFayette's appearance was co-sponsored by Xavier's Edward B. Brueggeman Center for Dialogue and the Thomas Merton Foundation. His visit to Cincinnati commemorated the 35th anniversary of the death of Thomas Merton, a writer and Trappist monk at Our Lady of Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky. During his lifetime, Merton authored more than 70 books that include writings on peace and social justice, the same ideals LaFayette still advocates today.

With roots stemming from the early days of the civil rights movement, when he was a colleague of Martin Luther King Jr., LaFeyette's work for nonviolent change focuses on society's collective responsibility for diminishing violence. He has worked to reform voter registration, to promote nonviolence training in this country and abroad, and to help represent the people of Colombia as a member of the International Nonviolence Executive Planning Board.

His resume also includes co-founding the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1960; serving as a leader of the Nashville Movement, Freedom Rides and the Selma Movement; and directing the Alabama Voter Registration Project. He also has played active roles in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Poor People's campaign, Consortium on Peace Research, Education and Development and PUSH Excel Institute. LaFayette has been president of the American Baptist College of ABT Seminary in Nashville, Tenn., scholar in residence at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, founder and national president of God-Parents Clubs Inc., and pastor of the Progressive Baptist Church in Nashville.

"As is the case with so many social issues, there is insufficient time and effort spent on probing the depths of violence to understand all its subtleties and to design ways of taking positive action to address it," says Robert Toth, executive director of the Thomas Merton Foundation.

"Contemporary Civil Rights" also was in line with the mission of Xavier's Brueggeman Center for Dialogue, which is dedicated to providing space and opportunity for dialogue about critical issues facing society. The center is founded upon the belief that solutions to society's most serious social and ecological problems can emerge from dialogue.