From serving an original Freedom Rider with Rep. John Lewis, to working as a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to serving as a close confidant and organizer with Martin Luther King, Jr., Bernard LaFayette has spent his lifetime fighting for justice and equality through non-violence,
On Tuesday, in honor of Black History Month, LaFayette met with students at St. Francis College to share some of his story:
“The reason I’m doing the work I’m doing now in terms of Kingian non-violence training is because of the last words I had with Martin Luther King in Memphis, Tennessee in room 306,” said LaFayette. At the time, LaFayette was working with King on a press statement he was going to deliver in Washington, D.C.
“Martin Luther King said, ‘Now Bernard the next movement were going to have is to institutionalize and internationalize non-violence.’ OK. Comma… To be discussed later… Five hours later as I landed there in National Airport nobody was there to pick me up.”
LaFayette said after he landed, he found out people were rioting because King, Jr. had been shot. A short time later while on pay phones with news organizations at the airport, he got the news that King was dead.
Still, in the midst of the turmoil and rioting surrounding King’s death, LaFayette kept with King’s tenets of non-violence– a training that eventually led him around the world. One of the places he visited was Nigeria, where more than 60,000 former militants laid down their arms. He also spoke in South Africa and in Colombia, where LaFayette was even kidnapped for a short time by the FARC terrorist group.
Since that time, until today, Lafayette has started a number of non-violence training programs in the United States; including in Florida, Texas, and Green Haven Correctional facility in New York.
“The irony of the thing is I’ve met people who have followed in that path from Green Haven prison,” said LaFayette. “They say you cast your bread on the water and it will return. I’m looking at returns and the returns look good to me.”
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