Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter tells local youth to find their purpose
By Lisa DeNeal Post-Tribune correspondent February 23, 2013 2:50PM
Dr. Bernice King addresses the audience with a passionate speech during the Black History Worship Service at Van Buren Missionary Baptist Church in Gary on Saturday. | Jeff Addison ~ Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 25, 2013 6:44AM
GARY — The Rev. Bernice A. King, the youngest child and surviving daughter of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, delivered a message to what she called “the next generation of visionaries and purpose-driven youth” at a Black History Month program/student rally Saturday at Van Buren Missionary Baptist Church.
The church was the first of a full day of activities that included brunch at Calumet College of St. Joseph and a brief stop at Indiana University Northwest for a “Dream Symposium.” King would also receive a plaque from attorney John Hall with a photo of his wife, the late U.S. Rep. and Van Buren member Katie Hall standing with Coretta Scott King as then-President Ronald Reagan signed a law Hall created to make King Jr.’s birthday a national holiday.
Prior to King’s arrival at the church, a powerful reading of her father’s “I Have A Dream” speech was delivered by Van Buren member and Pierce Middle School seventh-grader William Smith, 12. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the march on Washington where the civil rights leader delivered the speech.
“It was great to say one of her father’s speeches,” Smith said, adding that he’s recited it for years.
Bernice King said the overwhelming despair caused by violence between and against youths is going to bring a change.
“But nothing ... nothing will change unless you are willing to change,” she said. “You have a purpose; you are here on purpose! I don’t care if you were an ‘oops!’ or if people say you were an accident; you are not an accident!”
“My father graduated from high school at 15, he graduated from college at 19 and he was a ‘C’ student ... he got a ‘C’ in public speaking,” King said to gasps from the audience.
“By the time he was 26, he had a Ph.D. and, in 1955, created the Montgomery bus boycott. My father had a vision. You all have a vision and a purpose.”
She said like her father and the youth members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference who organized the Birmingham, Ala., campaign 50 years ago that led to the iconic “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” written by her father, today’s youth must commit to making changes in their community and in the world.
“Fifty years ago, only a handful of students were committed to create a freedom force that you today benefit from. Very few have a sincere passion for what needs to be done to make a difference. What happened in Birmingham was part of the quintessential change in the world. The malls you walk through and shop, the restaurants you enjoy, going to the movies where you can sit anywhere in the theater ... you are able to do this because of the generations before you,” King said.
“You have to be willing to sacrifice yourself to create a movement against violence. You may have some who will lose their lives during the movement; we don’t want any of you to lose your life, but it may happen. You all have to come together and say, ‘I am tired of this!’ It has to be you; no matter how many cops, anti-gang organizations, teachers ... it has to be you to do what is right for the next generation,” she said.
This year will also mark 45 years since her father was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn., April 4, 1968.
“I was 5 years old when my father was assassinated. I turned 5 seven days before he was killed,” King said, adding that she was oblivious as to what her father was doing as an activist.
“We ate family dinners at the table and my father and I played games like the kissing game,” she said to a group of students after the program. She attended private and public schools and hung out with friends.
“My mother would say, ‘Just be your best self.’ We were not pressured to be like them, but we were taught about service for humanity and what they did would inspire us to change society. My dad could not have been who he was without the nameless people who were behind him and supported him and believed in change,” she said.