Dr. Bernard Lafayette, Jr., an aide to Dr. King: “We need to teach our children about Black History”

Urge start of citizenship classes for youth

By Chinta Strausberg

If you want to help finish Dr.Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream, then African Americans should start teaching their children about black history, establish citizenship classes and teach them the art of non-violence they will need to be victorious over racism in America, Rev. Dr. Bernard Lafayette, an aide to King, said late Friday night.

With WVON’s Cliff Kelley as MC, Father Michael L. Pfleger introduced Lafayette who was born in Tampa, Florida. He received a doctor’s degree in education at Harvard University and is the former director of the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies at the University of Rhode Island. Rev. Lafayette currently teaches at Emory University and is a master teacher of nonviolence throughout the nation.

Rev. Lafayette also autographed his new book, “In Peace and Freedom: My journey to Selma.”

Rickey Harris, who heads the Saint Sabina “Spirit of David” dancers, read a poem he wrote entitled, “AreYou Listening”?

“Dear America,




Do not fear me because of my skin color

Because of my age

Because I’m a young, black man in America

Truth is-

While you’re standing your ground, I’m just trying to stand on my own 2 feet

Amidst the poverty, amidst the injustice, the miseducation, amidst the prejudice

So please sir – please ma’am

Stop listening to how loud my music is and listen to my loud cry for help

Stop listening to how low my pants are hanging off my butt and hear the low self-esteem screaming from my heart

Stop listening to and reminding me of my past and help me hear the cheers of Martin, Malcolm, Medgar and a host of others cheering me to my best self and my best future

America, if you don’t hear anything else – listen to this

I Want To Live!!!

So don’t judge me, Help me”!  Harris signed it a “Young Black Man In America.”

Known for his national and international peace workshops, Dr. Lafayette, whom Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. named the co-founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), spent nearly two-hours sharing some of the dark but historic moments of his life dedicated to civil rights including how he was once a violent young man.

Referring to Ybor City, Florida which was a cigar manufacturing district once led by Vincente Martinez-Ybor, Lafayette said he grew up around cigar factories in Tampa where he began smoking cigars when he was 5-years-old. He said there are more men over the ageof 100 who smoke cigars in Cuba and that everybody drank wine. Lafayette’s grandfather was born in Cuba and his father was born in France. He is also part West Indian. His great-grandmother was a Seminole Indian who weighed 500 pounds. “She used to go to the meat market to weigh herself,” he said.

Lafayette’s family moved to Philadelphia where he finished elementary school. It was the first integrated school he had ever attended and on his first day he was shocked to see whites punching blacks and black fighting back. “That was my baptism in integration,”he chuckled.

But, he revealed there was another side of him he tries to keep “way behind” him—his life as a gang member of a notorious gang who developed an art of “psychological warfare.”

“I know violence. I know how to make a gun. We had the weapons. I have a background, and I try to keep it behind me…,” Lafayette confessed, but education changed his life forever.

While in college, Lafayette worked three jobs but was invited to a non-violence workshop by James Austin, Jr., a fellow student. Another friend, John Lewis, who is now a congressman, also invited him.

There he learned if you love someone you should forgive them and turn the other cheek. Referring to his grandmother, Lafayette said, ‘I used to turn all of my cheeks” and got his behind whipped but he still loved her.

In those non-violence workshops, he also learned how to manage anger. Lafayette said you should not allow someone to “rent space in your mind” and that your mind “ought to be high real estate.” When people know they can make you angry, in essence they are putting chains around your mind.

Another way to destroy yourself is to do “absolutely nothing” but he said explaining that too comes with aprice “apathy which is a form of self-violence.”

Lafayette talked about his fight to help desegregate the bus stations and how they were met with violence. He said whites knew if they integrated the bus stations all of their downtown lunch counters were next.

They held a sit-in at one of the bus stations and in the morning he went to make a phone call and was attacked by several cab drivers who were angry that the station was locked down and they couldn’t get coffee. They beat him, but he did not react even though he was a former gangbanger he took the blows while emitting love for his attackers. His civil rights training kicked in successfully.

Other protests including the dangerous freedom rides led to his getting three cracked ribs, but he kept going, kept fighting for equal rights even though he was in great pain.

He talked about the first through the third generation syndromes with the first coming to America binging their religion, values and culture like clothing. The second generation brought about the mindset of assimilation. “They wanted to be like everybody else…getting their hair straightened.”

The third generation “goes back  o their roots. They wanted to learn more about their forefathers including people like Tarzan and Jane and how Tarzan said ran around in the jungles with a short skirt on and a monkey by his side. As a child, Lafayette often played the part of Tarzan.

The third generation syndrome, he said sported Afro’s and wore dashikis. It was a time when blacks named their children African names.

Today, Lafayette said we do not teach black history in schools only European history. He said it is no wonder why our children walk around with pants hanging down. “It’s called the blues.” He described this as the blue devil…singing the blues, the yellow devil who came to scare you…those who say “don’t bring no mess here. They stay in their place and we in ours” so there is no trouble. Then there is the “green devil” jealousy where one organization “doing this the other doing that” followed by the white and black devils.

Lafayette said we do not uplift our young boys, enough which is why they feel so “low down.”

He also told of how he formed an organization to test children living in Chicago’s inner city where they were getting sick, their stomachs swelling and some dying. After launching an investigation, Lafayette learned the children had been eating paint chips he said were coated with glucose. “It tasted sweet to them so they ate it,” he said. That exposure to the cause of their illness prompted the city of Chicago to hire people to test the children.

Another incident in Chicago jarred his memory and that was the time when little black children were trying to cool off by opening up the fire hydrants. It was hot outside, but the police told them to turn it off. There were some black men sitting on a nearby stoop drinking beer. “They told the police ‘oh, let them alone. They just want to get cooled off.’”  Lafayette said one of the men threw a beer can at the cop prompting the police to make a “10/4” call.

The next thing they knew there were cops every where,” Lafayette said. “There wasn’t a race riot. It was a cop riot. I know because I was there.”

Lafayette also took a few questions from the audience. Senator Jacqueline Collins said she was a child of the 1960’s and that music “was an intrical part of the movement….music that gave us an objective, a goal and a reason to fight.” She said that blacks have lost the power of music that once “gave us hope.”

Rev. Lafayette said blacks need to come up with a message, a motto for their tombstones. As an example, he told of how during the civil rights era they had a song for every occasion including when they were jailed in the south for protesting segregation and how even in jail they would sing to their jailers. “The busses are coming, oh yeah,” they sang loudly to the dismay of their white jailers.

And, when the police told them they would take away their mattresses, they sang, “You can take away our mattresses, oh yeah” and then began to pile them up at the door, but when the police threatened to take away their toothbrushes, Lafayette mused, well they had better negotiate.

When this reporter asked how can blacks finished Dr. King’s dream, Dr. Lafayette said people must vote…not a third of those who are registered and that they cannot take voting for granted especially given the history of the violent and at times deadly right to vote in this country.

Some states, he said, have misused this right by coming up with various laws like independent political parties being forced to come up with 25,000 signatures including the state of Illinois.

One way to change this mindset is to begin legislative/citizenship organizations for youth 12-17 and teach them about civics and the right to vote. “We have driver’s education classes.They don’t have citizen education and we need that,” he said. “Get them involved.” He said youth need to be taught values including the concepts of non-violence.

Reflecting on April 4, 1968, the day Dr. King was assassinated, Rev. Lafayette said King had told him he was to go to Washington, D.C. to work on the Poor Peoples campaign. Five-hours later, King was dead. “They put a hit on him,” he said. “They were trying to stop the movement…but they missed.”

Hearing the news of King’sdeath, Lafayette called the United Press International (UPI) wire service for confirmation, then the Associated Press (AP) because he didn’t want to believe it.

Today, Rev. Lafayette continues Dr. King’s dream by developing a non-violence program that is now in 50countries and 30 states including some prisons where there are no longer any riots. He even trains some police departments. He said Dr. King today is larger than life and that the bullets that pierced his did not kill his dream for justice and equality for everyone. It made his mandate worldwide.

In thanking Rev. Lafayette for his personal sacrifices on behalf of the civil rights movement an his loyalty to Dr. King, Father Pfleger said, “I just want to challenge us. We cannot say that we honor Dr. King if we do not practice his principles of non-violence.Hanging his picture in your house does not honor him. Going to a birthday celebration does not honor him.

“While we’ve been having birthday celebrations, hanging his picture in churches and church offices,drones have become the weapon of choice in our country. While we were having celebrations on the steps for the 50th anniversary…, we continue to see ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws giving license to kill black boys. We continue to see war…and the NRA with their guns” that have become a part of America’s wardrobe. “and racism and violence are part of the blood street and we refuse to get a transfusion.”

Pfleger said Rev. Lafayette is correct in saying, “We have to stop looking to government to do…. We have to elect, yes, righteous people like Senator Jacqueline Collins, but we have to do that ourselves…. We have to teach our children, teach them at home, teach in the churches, teach them in the neighborhoods…because they are not going to get taught in public or charter schools.

“We have to make sure that we teach them ourselves. “Sometimes we don’t need any more strategy sessions. Just do it. Do what you think it is right” when it comes to the children.“Let’s love our children,” said Pfleger.

Chinta Strausberg is a Journalist of more than 33-years, a former political reporter and a current PCC Network talk show host. You can e-mail Strausberg at: Chintabernie@aol.com.