The Center for Nonviolence & Peace Studies at the University of Rhode Island was awarded the 2014 annual National Peacemaker of the Year by Interfaith Paths to Peace, a nonprofit organization based in Louisville, Kentucky.
Paul Bueno de Mesquita, director of the URI Center for Nonviolence & Peace Studies, travelled to Louisville on Sept. 26 to receive the award at the St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Community Center.
At the evening program, Bueno de Mesquita delivered a speech, talking about the philosophies of peace of Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose work inspired the center’s legacy. The following day, Bueno de Mesquita led a nonviolence training workshop with community activists and youth.
“There are a number of people there in Louisville who are really stepping up to different social causes,” said Bueno de Mesquita. “It was a very nice mix of people who were representing various movements. There were people who had been to New York City for the climate change march, people who had been to Ferguson,” in addition to people who work in domestic violence prevention programs.
Bueno de Mesquita refers to nonviolence as a “way of life.” Currently, the Center offers 3-credit courses in nonviolence training and approaches.
“Our ideal training program is a 2-day or 16-hour,” he said. “That’s been our greatest challenge, is to get student organizations and different groups on campus to commit to at least a 1-day training. Â Everybody wants peace, but they’re too busy for it. That’s why we don’t have peace, in many ways, because people say, ‘I’d like to but I’m too busy,’ and if enough people say that and enough people do that we don’t really have peace, we really have violence.”
According to Bueno de Mesquita, the purpose of Interfaith Paths to Peace “is to recognize organizations that are working toward… global beloved community… They are in tune with the work of nonviolence and the work of peace particularly as it crosses over with racial, cultural, religious [and] all boundaries.”
Bueno de Mesquita spoke about Bernard LaFayette, Jr., one of the young student leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) who led a desegregation movement in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1960. Dr. King was impressed by his success and the students of the SNCC began to work with him.
“When Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, one of the last conversations that he had was with Bernard about the need to educate more people in nonviolence because no one really understood nonviolence and peaceful ways of approaching [conflict],” said Bueno de Mesquita. “Bernard felt that he was given a mission by Dr. King to train and educate people in nonviolence and peace.”
Years later, LaFayette came to Providence to work with the police departments and ended up being hired by URI. Here, he founded and directed the center for about 10 years.
“The mission [Bernard] brought us was a mission that he was given by Dr. King [which] was primarily an education and training mission… More broadly… the concept of the beloved community,” said Bueno de Mesquita. “So part of our mission is, in a nutshell, to prevent or reduce violence in all its forms,… in a way that reduces human suffering and the harm that that violence causes and, as a result, to create a beloved community.”
Bueno de Mesquita says that this Peacemaker award is important for the URI community because it is “national acknowledgement of the center and the work that we’ve done, not just here but I think it recognizes the far-reaching impact that the center has had around the country and across the map.”