The University’s Month of Kindness is an opportunity to meditate on Martin Luther King Jr.’s “noble dream” of justice for all people, according to his son, Martin Luther King III.
King, chief executive officer and president of the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, Ga., was the keynote speaker for this year’s Month of Kindness. He addressed an audience of mostly students in the Jorgensen Center
for the Performing Arts on Nov. 1, the start of this year’s Month of Kindness.
“It is rare we focus on the concept of kindness,” he said. “It’s very uplifting.”
If we can master one month of kindness, perhaps we can master two months, or
a year, and even achieve a lifetime of kindness, he said.
Quoting extensively from his father’s speeches – especially the “I have
a dream” speech – King explored the implications of his father’s dream in the 21st century.
“The challenge before us,” he said, “is to make an unselfish personal commitment to help achieve his dream of inclusiveness, equality, sisterhood and brotherhood.”
He said Americans are very compassionate when they are aware of human needs, noting that after the devastation caused by the tsunami in Asia and the recent hurricanes in the South, many people left their jobs to help.
He urged members of the audience to become teachers or mentors to those who need help.
“Don’t just climb the ladder of success with both hands,” he said, “but strive to reach back with one hand and help another person behind you who’s struggling. Your sense of personal fulfillment will be greater than any material gain.”
King stressed the importance of having a vision to work toward.
“Every true adventure begins with a dream,” he said, adding that the driving notion of the American civil rights movement was his father’s vision of making America “a beloved community.”
This community “is not a place on a map, it is a state of mind,” King said.
Like his father, he called for nonviolent action as the means to create a more equitable society.
“You can’t change hearts and minds with anger, bitterness, or personal attacks,” he said.
Referring to civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks, who died Oct. 25, King said her act of civil disobedience, which inspired the civil rights movement, was motivated by love. “When she sat down, a lot of people were able to stand up,” he said. “She did that in love, not in anger.”
King said his father’s “I have a dream” speech “was not just an eloquent, utopian vision, it was also a cry for justice.”
He said those who want to change the world for the better must speak out not only against the injustice that affects their own community, but against injustice everywhere.
“It is just not good enough to support human rights for our own race and culture and be silent about injustices to other groups,” he said.
He added that the various groups that suffer discrimination should build strong coalitions with each other.
King urged the audience to look beyond the United States.
“Remember that you are citizens of the world community as well as citizens of America,” he said, noting that millions of children around the world live in poverty, millions are malnourished, and millions die of preventable illnesses each year.
He advocated complete cancellation of Africa’s debt to the West. “Consider the debt America owes to the west coast of Africa for all the riches obtained,” he said. “It is only right to support the campaign to cancel the immoral debt … so African countries can use their resources to address their critical education and health care needs.”
King called on the audience to engage in community service as a way of life; to register to vote; and to hold elected officials accountable.
“You all have a tremendous amount of economic power as consumers of popular culture,” he said. “Support artists whose work affirms the values of human rights, justice, and peace.”
Added King, “The torch is being passed to your generation.”