LOS ANGELES — Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles had its 17th celebration of Martin Luther King Day on Tuesday, which was actually the 90th birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. Cedars-Sinai is a Jewish hospital, but — as was evidenced by the standing-room-only crowd — is quite diverse. It is a hospital that reaches out to everyone in the Los Angeles area and beyond.
This year the hospital had Martin Luther King III speak, Martin Luther King Jr.’s oldest son. Although not a minister like his father, King III has had leadership positions in the civil rights movement, including the presidency of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and founding Realizing the Dream Foundation.
I was particularly moved by what he had to say. After my father died and my mother remarried a physician from Memphis, Tenn., we moved there. In fact, I began school there six weeks and one day after the march on the Pettus Bridge (Bloody Sunday). In my yearbook, a few people wrote that they supported using the “N-word” — quite unbelievable, when you think of that now.
Mr. King spoke about making America great, but not making it great again, since it was never great. This is his view, given the segregation he went through. He also complimented the generation of his daughter, Yolanda, who wants to create a gun-free world. Martin Luther King III spoke about mistreating our most precious resource, our children, and putting them in cages (he was referring to the family-separation policy at the border). At that point, he said the challenge for us is to love.
Many of us do not realize Martin Luther King Jr. did not live to see his 40th birthday. That was an era when children were told to be seen and not heard. It was also an era where drinking fountains and restrooms had signs that said “Whites only.”
King III said his father taught him to always be respectful of every human being. Martin Luther King Jr. also wanted to be respected by all, and that was the way victories for social change would happen.
In speaking about his mother, King III said she had learned her work ethic from her parents. When Coretta Scott King worked on a goal, the time was right. At the time, it was Mrs. King who worked to get MLK day a national holiday, meeting with all of the sitting U.S. senators — even those who were segregationists. She emphasized to her kids that people should always “be your best self” and that she would always support her children.
Another thing that most of us did not know is there was a photo of Gandhi in the home of Martin Luther King Jr. His son talked about it, and how his father said good people come in all colors.
Although he was only 10 years old when his father made his famous “I have a dream” speech on Aug. 28, 1963, he said he realized how important it was at the time and he understood the importance of racial brotherhood and sisterhood. King III also talked about the importance of travel, and how it was a way to eradicate fear and let travelers know about the diversity of the human family.
He then went on to his personal view of the border wall, saying we can still build a wall and pay people. He then quoted his father: “Racial understanding is something we must create” and that laws can regulate behavior but not attitudes. He then said we should have annual teach-ins on non-violence, and that non-violence is the most powerful tool for change. King III also said that we must become advocates of non-violence and champions of brotherhood and sisterhood, and that inclusiveness is not just a goal.
He ended his speech on MLK’s 90th birthday by saying, “It’s not about building walls, but about building bridges of hope.” He said it only takes a few good women and men to bring about change, and it is important to not just be a tail light but a headlight.
In addition to a phrase we often hear about leaving this world a better place than you found it, on Monday’s Martin Luther King Day the words of both the father and the son are still relevant and important.
Kudos to Cedars-Sinai for having him speak!