Dr. Bernice King, daughter of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, is a woman on a mission to spread her father's message. “It all starts with me” is the common phrase King uses this time of year. As the nation settles in to celebrate the Federal Holiday signed into law in 1983 to remember and reflect on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, his daughter emphasizes although much has been accomplished since the passing of her father, there is still work to be done. In a sit-down interview with Crosswalk Headlines, King reflected on and remembered her father while simultaneously challenging her audience to follow suit, take a look inward, and set their own course to live out her father's message.
Crosswalk: How do you handle when people take your father’s words out of context?
King: I used to get upset about it, honestly. I'm almost sixty-one years old. I've lived and seen a lot of stuff. Very few people really have studied my father’s words. I realize that sometimes, because of that, people use what they can as somewhat of a life support for themselves. I’ve decided not to give their words a greater platform. I always tell people you don’t have to defend the truth.
Truth is powerful enough to withstand the test of time.
Crosswalk: Do you have a personal challenge for people who use your father’s words out of context?
King: This year’s theme, ‘It starts with me,’ infers it starts with each one of us. In other words, we all really need to study Dr. King and his teachings and the movement he led, ask critical questions, and dig deep.
Crosswalk: Being Dr. Martin Luther King’s daughter, are there times you discover things about him that you didn’t know?
King: All the time. People who work with me bring me information I never knew about him. My father was a prolific writer. He wrote down everything and anything he could get his hands on. There was a time when I stayed away from it. In my late thirties, I decided to dig deep into his words, and I’m better for it. I get excited every time I get a chance to listen and read about him. Sometimes, I’ll go back over and read his material and realize that I missed something the first time.
Crosswalk: How do you prepare yourself for this time of the year?
King: You know, it's an ongoing process. I mean, it lives with me. Even now, as we’re talking, I’m thinking about 2024 and 2025. It's an ongoing process for me because I see it as a benchmark for us, as a means for measuring our progress. As a leader and visionary, you must think that way, not tunnel vision. I try to sense and feel the atmosphere because I have somewhat of a prophetic gift, like my father. I do a lot of praying and meditating. I hate to say it this way, but until I have peace in my spirit, the theme sometimes has gotten held up.
Crosswalk: Carrying out his legacy means a lot to you.
King: I know my father was sent to this world for a reason, and that's why he's still resonating in our world. I don't want to be careless with this legacy, but I want to ensure the King Center carries out its work and challenges people year-round.
Crosswalk: For many, our culture seems to go through a lot. Where do you find and get your hope from?
King: I’m always hopeful because of my relationship with Jesus, who gives me the hope and strength I need. I would also add that my relationship with Him allows me to keep pressing on no matter what is going on around me. As the Bible states, the dawn always comes after dark times. It’s one of the most powerful verses in the Bible.
Second, I look at all those who have come before me. When I say all, I speak of every race, ethnicity, religious or political affiliation, and gender. We all descend from ancestors who've gone through very difficult and dark times. We are part of that humanity. We are part of them. They are part of us. Our DNA is connected. And if they did it, I'm no less than them. I can get through this as well.
I draw the strength from knowing our ancestors have been in these places. It may look and sound different amidst different challenges, but nonetheless, it challenges us. It challenges our humanity. It challenges our sanity. We are part of them. That's where I draw my strength and hope from. I say to myself, wait a minute, Harriet Tubman, my mom, Sojourner Truth, and others went through and got through it. I draw from their strength. That's why I can join Daddy and say, we shall overcome.
I do believe that we shall overcome.
Photo Courtesy: @Getty Images/Derek White / Stringer