MLK Jr. Day with MLK III
Son of civil rights leader addresses annual scholarship breakfast.
Martin Luther King III thrilled more than 400 attendees of Rowan’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Breakfast Jan. 20 with a message of concern and possibility.
Speaking during the national observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, King said there is much that remains both right and wrong about America. In a wide ranging address in the Eynon Ballroom of Chamberlain Student Center he noted a government whose spending priorities strongly favor the military – possibly at the expense of other areas – and a popular culture, from movies to TV shows to video games, that is steeped in violence.
“It is no wonder we are a violent nation,” he said. “We have to lift the standard up, and I’m not talking about censorship, but maybe self-censorship.”
King noted an alarming and disproportionate rate of African American incarcerations in America, and a legal system that is bereft of enough well-qualified public defenders to represent the legion of low-income defendants.
Just 10 years old when his father was felled by an assassin’s bullet, King also recalled how his uncle drowned mysteriously when King was 11 and, when he was 13, that his grandmother was murdered.
Despite the violence and struggles of that turbulent era, King said, the theme he recalls stressed most by both his parents, MLK Jr., and Coretta Scott King, was unqualified love for people.
“That kind of love is what Martin Luther King promoted,” he said.
MLK III, the first member of the King family to address a Rowan audience in the 28-year history of the breakfast, said the holiday that memorializes his father causes mixed emotions for himself. It’s remorseful because it recalls his father’s murder but energizing because it’s become a day of reflection, rejuvenation, and service to society.
He noted that America can be contradictory and confusing, at times too focused on the present and less on the future, but also generous and selfless, especially in times of natural or man-made disaster.
“When tragedy strikes we see the best of America,” he said. “People come together and help one another” regardless of skin color, economic status, political party or any other qualifier.
A graduate of Morehouse College, King was elected to political office in 1986 as an at-large representative of Fulton County, Georgia, where he worked to strengthen ethics legislation, for the purification of water resources, to regulate minority business participation in public contracting and to enforce hazardous waste disposal requirements.
In 1998 he was elected President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference where he fought injustice on many fronts. The S.C.L.C. convened police brutality and racial profiling hearings in several states that led to the passage of anti-racial profiling resolutions.
As Founder and CEO of Realizing the Dream and CEO of The King Center, he took his parents’ message to a receptive global audience, spearheading nonviolence education workshops and programs in Bosnia Herzegovina, India, Israel & Palestine, Kenya, Sri Lanka and at home in the United States.
Sponsored by the Rowan University Foundation and numerous corporate sponsors, the MLK Day breakfast raises more than $20,000 annually for scholarships through the William H. Myers Scholarship fund. This year the fund provided 25 recipients scholarships of $1,000 each.
Introducing King, Rowan President Ali Houshmand and New Jersey Sen. President Stephen Sweeney said MLK Jr. forever changed America.
“He created a path for ordinary people to do extraordinary things,” Houshmand said. (Because of him) we can all be inspired today to meet the challenges that lay ahead.”
Added Sweeney, “one man changed the world and that tells you we can all change the world if we work together.”