As we commemorate the 30th Martin Luther King, Jr. federal holiday honoring America’s preeminent champion of nonviolence, we also confront a daunting litany of violent conflicts which challenge us to embrace and adapt my father’s nonviolent teachings for our times.
Thus, the national theme for the 2015 MLK holiday, “Remember! Celebrate! Act!: King’s Legacy of Courage for Our World” calls on people everywhere to do something courageous — make a commitment to nonviolence as a way of life which we, at The King Center, refer to as Nonviolence 365.
This means making a conscious choice to use Martin Luther King, Jr.’s principles and methods of nonviolence to defuse violence, peacefully resolve disputes and reconcile adversities in our homes, communities, the nation, and even the world.
Such a consuming commitment, embraced by millions, could have a profoundly beneficial impact. It could help reduce domestic violence and promote family stability. It could promote better relationships in our places of education and work, and promote more peaceful communities. It might even help reduce political polarization and lead to a less-violent culture, which better nourishes the morals, spirits and hopes of America’s youth.
The urgency of my father’s challenge to embrace Nonviolence 365 has never been more compelling as we have witnessed increased violence in America and throughout the world. Police-community conflicts in Ferguson, Missouri, Staten Island, New York, and Cleveland, Ohio, among other cities, have produced terrible tragedies resulting in the senseless deaths of young people and other innocent citizens.
Let us not forget the eruptions of violence in Paris, Hong Kong, the Middle East and the Ukraine. The mass slaughtering, as well as the kidnapping of girls and young women in Nigeria have remained unsolved. Also, the death toll caused by wars, poverty and the ecological footprint throughout the world are grim, global reminders that the World House that my father so often spoke about cannot stand if its inhabitants fail to embrace nonviolence as lifestyle.
This is not to deny the progress that has been made toward alleviating some of the worst social pathologies my father confronted during his leadership of the American Civil Rights Movement. To be sure, African Americans and people of color have more avenues to equal opportunity, and millions have achieved middle-class living standards, though millions more still languish in poverty and deprivation as a result of racial discrimination and injustice.
With these challenges in mind, The King Center will commemorate the 30th Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday with our “Nonviolence 365” initiative, a series of educational programs designed to encourage the adoption of a nonviolent lifestyle. Many of the millennials, in large measure, are learning to embrace my father’s teachings and methods in their own valiant attempts to influence social change.
The King Center has assisted many of the nonviolent protesters, and stands ready to continue our support in their efforts to make the nation and world more habitable for people of all hues. We will also maintain our commitment to challenge the youth who are persuaded by more radical philosophies to emulate the peaceful methods that were used by activists of the same ilk as Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer and Amelia Boynton.
As part of our King Holiday, The King Center was honored to spotlight the courage of “The Friendship 9” students of Friendship Community College in Rock Hill, South Carolina, who celebrated President Lincoln’s birthday in 1961 by going to jail in a nonviolent desegregation demonstration. They refused to pay bail and chose instead to serve out their 30-day sentences, thereby adding to the economic costs of maintaining the system of segregation. Their example sparked the “Jail, No Bail” phase of the modern Civil Rights Movement.
In 2014, Kimberly Johnson, author of “No Fear for Freedom: The Story of the Friendship 9,” became involved with The King Center. As part of her work with The King Center’s Nonviolence Opportunity Watch (N.O.W) Encounter, she was exposed to, and digested, Dr. King’s philosophy on unjust laws after reading his Letter from the Birmingham Jail. Johnson brought evidence of the unjust laws used against the “Friendship 9” to the attention of 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett. Brackett has since agreed to vacate the “Friendship 9’s” arrest records relative to the 1961 trespassing charges.
One of the great lessons of the Civil Rights Movement and my father’s leadership is that unearned suffering can be redemptive. By making a courageous choice that the sacrifices we must make will serve the cause of a better world, we also choose redemption for ourselves, as well as for humanity.
May this be the message of hope that resonates throughout the commemoration of the 30th Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. And may Nonviolence 365 become a way of life in our homes, communities, nations and world.
(Message from Bernice A King, Daughter of MLK and Chief Executive Officer of The King Center, Atlanta)