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Bernice King, daughter of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., recently delivered the 2017 address for Maryville University’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration. She inspired a full auditorium of students, faculty and staff, but one student had the opportunity of a lifetime to meet her hero up close.
Jordan Coker, senior communications major, was assigned to cover the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration for Pawprint, Maryville’s student newspaper. As a reporter, she was invited to interview King following her presentation. The two met briefly in the Green Room, a small guest room located behind the stage.
“While I have many heroes, there aren’t many African-American women,” Coker said. “I will remember the day I met a woman I aspire to be. I will remember the day I met a true American treasure with a truly pure heart.”
King serves as CEO of the King Center in Atlanta, Ga., a resource and programming institution dedicated to advancing her father’s work and legacy. Coker asked King questions about growing up as the daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., how people can best respond to social injustices and inequality in America, and about King’s own work in these areas. She was most impressed by King’s answer to a question about whether she felt much was expected of her as the daughter of such a beloved public figure.
“King talked about how her mother told her to not worry about what her father did or what her mother did, but to only worry about being her best self,” Coker said. “That speaks to me, but more profoundly towards her. She did say, ‘Who could do better than Dr. King?’ so it is inspiring to hear that she felt comfortable making her own path in life.”
Coker doesn’t intend to make journalism her career, but she does have long range goals that were crystallized while interviewing King.
“I am currently looking to start out in corporate communications, but moving forward it is important to me that I make an impact on the world for the better, much like King,” she said. “Down the road I see myself working on a communications team for an organization like the ACLU or the NAACP.”
Bernice King’s Message
King encouraged the standing room-only audience to engage in meaningful conversations with diverse people—especially those with whom we disagree.
“The key going forward is for us to find a way, in all of our great and grand diversity, to create a pathway for us to coexist in this world we have been given,” King said.
King reminded listeners of her father’s challenge to learn to live together as brothers and sisters – or perish together as fools. “He encouraged us to look at the fact that we live in an interconnected world,” King says.
Our tendency today, she said, is to break those connections.
“We have to grapple with our ideologies and belief systems, and many people are deciding when it’s not what I want to hear I unfriend you, I cancel you, I cut off the link. I turn away from you. I shut you down,” King said. “The very thing that we point out as being a problem, we are becoming. And that’s why my father’s philosophy and methodology are so important. Because the ground rules are community at all costs. That means I can’t have a no-talk policy. That means I have to try to find a way to commit myself to keeping the dialogue going.”
We have a responsibility as citizens, King said, to “rise up and be willing to go into spaces and places where we traditionally have been afraid to go”—a message Jordan Coker took to heart.
“The most recent election was a turning point in my life,” Coker said. “Bernice King inspired me and so many others, saying that we still have a responsibility as ‘we the people,’ and while so many others try to build walls, we must build bridges.”