In a third grade classroom in Atlanta, Georgia, a white boy taunts an African American classmate for the color of his skin. Noticing that the bully likes to draw, the child on the receiving end of the hate-fueled words compliments his aggressor’s artistic abilities. The harassment, which had become a daily occurrence, suddenly stops.
This memory belongs to Martin Luther King III.
The power kindness has in the face of hate is something that King has been starkly aware of his whole life. As the oldest son of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, he has dedicated his life to carrying on his parent’s legacy of compassion and tolerance. “We’re all human beings and our objective should be to work together to make the world better for generations yet unborn,” he says while preparing to take the stage at WE Day UN 2018. “It’s unfortunate that some people still have a very tragic way of looking at life, and at ethnic groups, gender and sexual orientation.”
He grows sober, as he reflects on the state of his country and the undercurrent of negativity that change-makers—like the youth comprising the WE Day audience—must swim against. “Unfortunately, I think the President seems to focus on negativity, as opposed to positivity,” he comments. “Darkness can’t put out darkness, only light can. Violence only begets more violence.”
Quoting the elder King—a man of nonviolence—he has a lifetime of advocacy work to support the values inherited from his parents. Following in the footsteps of his father, who co-founded an African-American civil rights organization—Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)—with the goal of desegregating the bus systems of the South through nonviolent action, as president of the SCLC decades after his father, King III played an integral role in having the state of Georgia remove a large Confederate flag from its official flag.
“You’re never too young. Change begins with the first steps.”
Determined to actualize his father’s hope for a better world, where equality is the right of all, King holds dear his namesakes’ famed “I Have a Dream” speech. Fifty-six years have passed since his father led the March on Washington, but picking up a newspaper today, it’s apparent that the need to advocate for freedom, equal rights and a united America remains.
When the world appears to be regressing on the issues his family has fought for generations, King looks to youth. Gazing into a crowd of passionate young social advocates at WE Day, King is optimistic that his work—like the efforts he’s made to build community and eliminate poverty through his charity, Realizing the Dream—is shared by like-minded activists, including the young change-makers behind the WE movement. He declares, “I have great hope in the future because of what young people are doing.”
The philosophy behind WE Day—an event meant to support positive action and motivate youth to create social change—gives this human rights activist solace. A guest speaker at multiple WE Day events, he trusts that the audience at these gatherings will be the change the world needs. As he once told the thousands of students in the crowd at WE Day Toronto, “My father’s dream remains unfulfilled, but it is still very much alive.” And it’s alive in the next generation. He explains, “You’re never too young. Change begins with the first steps.”
“Kindness is an important ingredient to overcome evils.”
Since before he truly even understood the weight of his actions, King has always treated others—even those who oppose his views—with dignity and respect. He regards everyone he meets as a part of the larger human family; “kindness is an important ingredient to overcome evils.”
Delivering his final bit of advice, King rises, leaving the dressing room toward the stage to deliver a message three score in the making: “The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.… Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.”
King remains the third grade hero back in Georgia, winning over bullies with compassion—his father’s son and a better world’s hope realized.
Zoe Demarco is a writer and production manager for WE Stories. A third generation journalist, she has a natural curiosity for other people’s lives.