The past few days have kept the eldest son of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. busy. He’s been to at least three states to carry on his father’s message: ending violence and learning from historical wrongs.
In a Fort Lauderdale Baptist church early Friday, he delivered another directive:
“A nation is judged on how we treat our most prized possession,” Martin Luther King III said. “And our most precious resource, I think, is our children.”
King served as the keynote speaker at the ninth annual Martin Luther King Jr. inspirational breakfast hosted by the YMCA of Broward County.
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More than 500 gathered inside the First Baptist Church on Broward Boulevard, selling out the $2,500 per table event, to honor King’s legacy.
“My concern was that it would not be reduced to a day of relaxation,” said King III. “We have to look at this as a day on — not a day off.”
The Rev. King, a prominent civil rights leader, was born this week 84 years ago. He lead peaceful protests and bus strikes working for racial equality until his 1968 assassination.
The younger King told the South Florida audience about spending his youth at the local YMCA in Birmingham, learning to swim and working out with his dad.
“Those were wonderful experiences, experiences that I will never forget,” he said.
Like his father, King III has been a fighter for human rights, justice and non-violence in the United States and abroad. He also served as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s president, a position his father once held.
During his 2009 inauguration, President Barack Obama declared the holiday honoring King should be spent as a national day of service.
At Friday’s event, 15 youngsters from the Lauderhill YMCA were honored for their service to the community. The young friends managed to clean up a popular overpass and get rid of gangs who were harassing children.
They called their project “Own the Overpath.” The idea started when 14-year-old Kervens Jean-Louis was attacked by a gang on a fenced in walkway that spans the Florida Turnpike while coming from the YMCA, based at Boyd Anderson High School. But Jean-Louis didn’t back down.
He and other students mobilized and launched a campaign to clean-up the area surrounding the “overpath.” The youngsters made a formal presentation to the Lauderhill City Commission and Florida Department of Transportation officials.
Now, there is a $400,000 project in the works to install more lights on the bridge to increase visibility. The city broke ground in November.
“I learned that when you speak out loud it makes a difference,” said Jean-Louis.
For Jean-Louis, speaking loud meant going back to the bridge to warn others of the dangers of traveling across it at night.
He will spend this upcoming Saturday as a volunteer, painting and cleaning up a garden.
“Now I tell others what’s going on and how they can help out,” he said, much like the man they had all come to honor.
After the youngsters were honored, King III left the crowd to ponder a final thought: “We can either be a thermometer or a thermostat.”
A thermometer, he explained, takes the temperature while a thermostat regulates the temperature.
Despite the progress his father saw in his lifetime, and the decades since his death, there is still much work to be done, King III said.
“I always come with a heavy heart in January,” he said. “Because we have not fully realized the dream.”