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Ana Mercedes Gomez, a reporter from El Colombiano, a newspaper in Colombia, with Dr. Bernad LaFayette at a press conference during training in Providence.

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A former gang member now part of a group called "Thou Shalt Not Kill."

URI to teach nonviolence methods worldwide

The University of Rhode Island announced earlier this month that its Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies plans to train people in nonviolence methods in countries around the world, but it isn't overlooking violence right in its own backyard.

"We want to make Rhode Island the first nonviolent state in this country," said Dr. Bernard LaFayette, distinguished scholar-in-residence at URI, who directs the nonviolence center.

The announcement was made during an intensive training session for 30 participants representing a cross-section of people from Medellin, Colombia, at URI's Providence Campus. Among the delegation were former gang leaders who have now formed the "Thou Shalt Not Kill" organization, police officers, a lawyer, business executives, a priest and two nuns, a doctor, a university dean, and three journalists.

Later this summer, LaFayette and seven URI students will participate in an international nonviolence conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he helped establish the first international nonviolence center. The goal, according to LaFayette, is to establish nine such centers around the world.

"Peace is not a lack of will, but a lack of skill," said LaFayette, an international authority on nonviolent social change and nonviolence education.

URI faculty and staff connected to URI's Center train people who, in turn, will train others.

Nonviolence training is not issue-oriented or culturally bound, said LaFayette. Rather it is based on time-honored ideas that were embraced by and expanded upon by Dr. Martin Luther King and Mohandas Gandhi.

According to LaFayette, the same methods can be used in Rhode Island, Colombia, Africa and other places around the globe because they are universal.

Medellin, Colombia, has been called the murder capital of the world, a place where kidnappings are common and retaliatory actions expected. To help stop the cycle of violence, a group of Colombians contacted LaFayette, which resulted in URI scheduling its intensive 160-hour certificate training program first in Colombia and then in Providence.

"Whether the training is effective depends on the quality of people, the diversity of the group, and their commitment to breaking the cycle of violence," said the former civil rights leader who was national coordinator for the 1968 Poor People's campaigns led by Dr. Martin Luther King.

Closer to home, URI's Center has held training sessions for police departments, prison officials, school departments, and community action groups. South Kingstown High School teachers and Kent County Mental Health social workers are among those who have become certified to teach nonviolence. URI's Center has trained teachers, students, and administrators in Middletown. Impressed, the superintendent of schools there has announced that the town plans to be the first of the state's 39 cities and towns to declare itself nonviolent.

URI has certified 40 Providence police officers in nonviolence training. The officers teach two hours of nonviolence training to expelled or suspended middle and high school students who attend an alternate school at the Providence Police Academy.

In addition, URI will offer its second, six-credit, certificate program at its Summer Institute on Nonviolence from July 31-August 17. For more information, call 277-5164.

"We want to make the University of Rhode Island the West Point of the nonviolent world," said LaFayette. "We want to train an army of peacemakers.

"In order to de-institutionalize violence, we have to institutionalize nonviolence. It was Martin who told me that campaigns come and go. Institutions remain. It's a time for every institution to look at itself. Every institution is either involved in violence, perpetuates it, or is working toward peace," said LaFayette.

By Jan Sawyer

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