It has been 40 years this April since Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. The nation has progressed toward his father’s dream since then, said Martin Luther King III, but not nearly enough.
“I am happy to observe my father’s birth,” King told a crowd of 600 Jan. 14 at DU’s Newman Center. “I’m not sure we can totally celebrate yet.”
King’s speech kicked off two weeks of multicultural events at DU to honor his father’s birth. In a speaking style reminiscent of his father’s, he wove a message of nonviolence and exhorted students to commit to work toward his father’s life goals of peace, equality and justice.
“It is up to us to take the message of peace to all corners of the globe,” he said. “Someday, we shall overcome.”
But, according to King, that day has not yet come. With the world at war and a billion children living in poverty, King questioned whether we have learned the lessons of nonviolent change taught by his father.
Real progress toward peace has been set back by the war in Iraq, conflicts across the globe, a growing gap between rich and poor and continuing economic and ethnic discrimination, King said.
“Violence is a disease that pretends to be a cure,” he said, quoting his father.
King acknowledged, however, that the U.S. has made progress toward ending discrimination, as evidenced by this year’s prospect of electing, for the first time, a black or female president. The world also can celebrate peacemakers around the world — such as Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sanchez and other Nobel Peace laureates — who have worked for peace and social justice in their countries.
But such progress has created a “comfort and convenience” for ignoring the challenges that still face the world, he said. King asked those in attendance to go beyond speaking for change and begin living the change.
He advocated following his father’s steps to nonviolent change: gathering information on issues; educating those on both sides of an issue; making a personal commitment to resolve differences; negotiating a resolution; taking direct action to raise awareness; and reconciling with those on the other side of an issue.
Young people can and should take a leadership role in working toward his father’s dream, King said. By adhering to his father’s principles of nonviolence and direct action, he said, college students can commit to resolve issues through peace and justice, rather than through war and conflict.
“Our world cries out for new leadership,” King said. “Those who lead with love leave a lasting legacy.”