March on Washington brought changes to URI

The University of Rhode Island is a much different place, in part because of what happened 50 years ago during the March on Washington.

"This place was lily-white in 1965, but those numbers have really changed," said Frank Forleo, assistant director of the URI Talent Development Program.

URI now welcomes about 13,000 students a year. Twenty-two percent of students in this year's freshman class identify as a person of color.

"There really is a commitment to recruit, retain and create an environment where the University of Rhode Island is more inclusive," said Naomi Thompson, associate vice president of Community, Equity and Diversity.

Much of that progress is the legacy of the civil rights movement of the '60s. The Talent Development program was started in 1968, following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.

"I see this program having been born in Dr. King's blood," Forleo said. "Without his death, I'm not sure if the words that were being spoken would have led to the action."

The program started with 13 students. Now the program welcomes about 600 students a year.

"We see enormous change with the students who have graduated with the program," Forleo said.

More opportunities for minority students brought more change, including the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies which is housed in the university's Multicultural Center.

"Really the legacy that King really left us, that is so valuable and is a national treasure, is a philosophy for building what he called a beloved community," said Paul Bueno de Mesquita with the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies.

A community URI is trying to build on campus and beyond.