Founded in 1992, the University of Rhode Island (URI) Multicultural Center seeks to increase awareness, knowledge, and skills about the ways in which diverse cultures interact with each other through co-curricular programming, organizational development, and consultation. The flagship program of the Multicultural Center, URI Diversity Week, Sunday, September 28-Friday, October 3, 2014, attracted 3947 members of the campus community and friends who attended 62 events.
Inspired by the FreedomSummer50 Conference held in June, 2014 at Tougaloo College in Jackson, MS, the URI Multicultural Center and the URI Diversity Week Planning Committee (Vanes Beaubrun, Multicultural Center; Dr. Susan Brand, Education; Michelle Gonzalez, Multicultural Center; Dr. Mailee Kue, Multicultural Center; Dr. Adam Moore, Education; Dr. Steve Simo, Fraternities and Sororities; and Melvin Wade, Multicultural Center) chose to open URI Diversity Week with a commemoration of the 50th year anniversary of Freedom Summer.
Fifty years ago, a delegation of predominantly white students from primarily Northern colleges were invited by Bob Moses of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and others to come to Mississippi and other Southern states to collaborate with the predominantly African-American civil rights organizations in exposing racial segregation to the national consciousness. Over the course of ten months during the summers of 1964 and 1965, the students were assigned by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and SNCC to engage in voter registration, conduct “freedom schools”, and to develop a political party for civil rights advocacy. It was this collaboration that drew attention to the value that white lives were given over black ones, demonstrated the transformative impact of social symmetry between blacks and whites, and provided necessary momentum for the passage of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965. Some regard Freedom Summer as the apex of the Civil Rights movement in the U. S.
On Monday, September 29, 2014, 15 veterans of the Freedom Summer Project residing in New England arrived at URI to commemorate the 50th year anniversary of the Freedom Summer Project and record interviews about their historic social activism for posterity. The Freedom Summer veterans included Gloria J. Clark, occupational therapist and community activist, New Bedford, MA; Malcolm Farmer III, Partner, Hinckley, Allen, and Snyder Law, Providence, RI; Dr. Thomas N. Gardner, Professor, Communications, Westfield State University, Westfield, MA; David A. Gass, community developer, Lynn, MA; James G. Kates, poet, literary translator, and co-publisher, Zephyr Press, Fitzwilliam, NH; John M. (Jack) Pratt, former State Representative and Town Selectman, Walpole, NH; David P. Riley, professional mediator, Providence, RI; Gary S. Rothberger, civil rights lawyer, Cambridge, MA; Nancy J. Schieffelin, professional artist and clinical social worker, Belmont, MA; John A. (Jay) Shetterly, lawyer, Cambridge, MA; Dr. David Trimble, Clinical Assistant Professor, Center for Multicultural Training in Psychology, Boston University, Brookline, MA; Michael Van Leesten, Sr., President, The Van Leesten (Community Development) Group, and CEO, Opportunities Industrialization Centers, Providence, RI; Dan Lynn Watt and Molly Lynn Watt, poets, folk singers, and professional performing artists, Cambridge, MA; and Norman S. Zalkind, Partner, Zalkind, Duncan, and Bernstein, Boston, MA. Their interviews were conducted by Dr. Robert W. Widell, Jr., Assistant Professor, History, and Author, Birmingham and the Long Black Freedom Struggle (2013); Bruce Watson, journalist and Author of Freedom Summer: The Savage Season That Made Mississippi Burn and Made America a Democracy (2010); and Dr. Julia S. Jordan-Zachery, Associate Professor, Political Science, and Director, Black Studies Program, Providence College, and Author, Black Women, Cultural Images, and Social Policy (2009).