Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter on what it will take to end racial inequality

“Freedom is never really won. You earn it and win it in every generation.” …

Speaking at the TED conference this week, Bernice King, the youngest child of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King and CEO of The King Center, expressed sorrow over the fact that America hasn’t seemed to have made much progress on the centuries-long struggle for racial equality.

“We didn’t hear what [my father] was saying to us as a prophet to this nation and his words are now reverberating back to us,” she said.

To change society, King suggested that an inner reckoning first needs to happen among all Americans. “We’ve got to deconstruct the way in which we see people and deconstruct the way in which we operate, practice and engage and set policy,” she argued. “I believe that there’s a lot of ‘heart work’ to do in the midst of all the hard work.”


Dr. Bernice King speaks at the TED 2020 virtual conference.

Here’s a full transcript of her address:

My heart is a little heavy right now because I was five years old when my father was assassinated and he did change the world. But the tragedy is that we didn’t hear what he was saying to us as a prophet to this nation and his words are now reverberating back to us.

Change, we all know, is necessary right now and yet it’s not easy. We know that there has to be changes in policing in this nation of ours. But I want to talk about America’s choice at a greater level. The prophet said to us, we still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. What we have witnessed over the last eight days has placed that choice before us. We have seen literally in the streets of our nation, people who have been following the path of nonviolent protest and people who have been hellbent on destruction. Those choices are now looking at us and we have to make a choice.

The history of this nation was founded in violence. In fact, my father said America is the greatest purveyor of violence. And the only way forward is if we repent for being a nation built on violence. And I’m not just talking about physical violence. I’m talking about systemic violence. I’m talking about policy violence. I’m talking about what he spoke of the triple evils of poverty, racism, and militarism—all violence.

Albert Einstein said something to us. He said, “We cannot solve problems on the same level of thinking in which they were created.” And so if we are going to move forward, we are going to have to deconstruct these systems of violence that we have sent America. We’re going to have to reconstruct on another foundation. That foundation happens to be love and nonviolence.

And so as we move forward, we can correct course if we make the choice that daddy said—nonviolent co-existence—and not continue on the pathway of violent co-annihilation.

So what does that look like? That looks like some deconstruction work in order to get to the construction. We have to deconstruct our thinking. We’ve got to deconstruct the way in which we see people and deconstruct the way in which we operate, practice and engage and set policy. And so I believe that there’s a lot of heart—H-E-A-R-T—work to do in the midst of all the H-A-R-D, hard work to do. “Heart work” is hard work. One of the things we have to do is we have to ensure that everyone, especially my white brothers and sisters engage in the heart work—the anti-racism work—in our hearts. No one is exempt from this, especially in my white community. We must do that work in our hearts, the anti-racism work.

The second thing is that I encourage people to look at the nonviolence training that we, The King Center, [do] so that we learn the foundation of understanding our interrelatedness and interconnectedness; that we understand our loyalties and commitments and our policymaking can no longer be devoted to one group of people, but it has to be devoted to the greater good of all people.

And so I’m inviting people to join us on our online protest. That’s happening every night at 7:00pm (EST) on The King Center Facebook page, because so many people have things that they want to express and contribute to this. We all have to change and have to make a choice. It is a choice to change the direction that we have been going. We need a revolution of values in this country. That’s what my daddy said. He changed the world. He changed hearts.

And now what has happened over the last seven, eight years and through history, we have to change course. We all have to participate in changing America with a true revolution of values—where people are at the center and not profit, where morality is at the center and not our military might.

America does have a choice. We can either choose to go down continually on that path of destruction, or we can choose nonviolent co-existence. And as my mother said, struggle is a never ending process. Freedom is never really won. You earn it and win it in every generation. Every generation is called to this freedom, struggle. You, as a person, may want to exempt yourself, but every generation is called.

And so I encourage corporations in America to start doing anti-racism work within corporate America. I encourage every industry to start doing anti-racism work and pick up the banner of understanding non-violent change personally and from a social change perspective. We can do this. We can might make the right choice to ultimately build the beloved community.

Thank you.

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