LOS ANGELES — On what would have been his father’s 90th birthday Jan. 15, Martin Luther King III, the eldest son of the celebrated civil rights leader, addressed a capacity crowd in Cedar Sinai Medical Center’s Harvey Morse Auditorium, taking people on a stirring journey through his childhood, his father’s legacy and his vision for a united America.
“I was just 5 years old when he delivered his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech at the great March on Washington,” King said during Cedars-Sinai’s 17th annual Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration. “Even at the age of 5, I felt great pride that my dad had given so many Americans a sense of hope and unity. The feeling that his vision could bring people of all races together has been a part of my values ever since.”
King, who himself is a longstanding advocate for human rights, said that he came to understand the burden of his father’s leadership as he grew older and that understanding led him to carry forward his father’s message.
King, like his father, has “inspired communities and audiences across the country and around the world with his words and his actions and his unwavering vision for a nonviolent and just society,” said Cedars-Sinai President and CEO Thomas M Priselac. “What makes his life’s work so inspiring is the strength of character and heart behind those accomplishments.”
King currently serves as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization co-founded by his father. He also is the founder and president of Realizing the Dream Inc., which fights to eliminate poverty, racism and hostile conflict around the world.
But King shared that being raised by a pioneer who fought for a “beloved community” in a largely fractured and intolerant world came at a heavy price.
“My father was assassinated when I was 10 years old,” he said. “He wasn’t just a famous leader to me, he was a warm, caring, compassionate father whose company was so, so enjoyable, and I sorely missed him after he was killed and miss him even today.”
King stressed that everyone has a role in supporting equal rights though courtesy, respect and nonviolence, adding that his father’s teachings provide more than “an interesting history lesson.”
“They offer us the closest thing we have to a road map to fulfillment of the American dream,” King said. “This is the legacy we must pass on to all future generations.”
King was accompanied at the commemoration by his wife Arndrea and daughter Yolanda, who, in keeping with the King family tradition, is developing her own ardent voice for social change.