As the United States celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the late civil rights activist’s daughter, Dr. Bernice Albertine King, invites Americans to come together as a beloved community to transform systems that perpetuate injustice, saying religious leaders like Pope Francis can offer a positive message to promote nonviolence.
essaging is so important. The messages about nonviolence, peace, and compassion that Pope Francis has delivered and shared with the world are important for us.”
Dr. Bernice Albertine King, founder of The King Center, offered that consideration in an interview with Vatican News, as Americans mark mlk Day on Monday, 16 January.
The federal holiday has commemorated the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. since 1986, and invites everyone to improve their communities and follow in the footsteps of the civil rights leader who was assassinated in 1968.
The King Center’s theme for Martin Luther King Day 2023 is: “Cultivating a Beloved Community Mindset to Transform Unjust Systems.” Why did your foundation choose this theme?
We develop that theme because the vision of the King Center is the beloved community where injustice ceases and love prevails. And as we were thinking about where our world is today in terms of all of the issues under the banner of what my father would call the triple evils of poverty, racism and militarism, it seems as if we’re going through these cycles and repeating some things over and over again. And so as we were thinking about the theme for this year, we wanted to say, what is it that we really need to be focusing our attention on if we’re going to create the beloved community, which for us is a just, humane, equitable and peaceful world. And we said we’ve got to do something with the mind, because Albert Einstein said problems cannot be solved on the same level of thinking as we created the problems. And so that means we need to do something different with our mindset. And so we said, Well, what is that? We have to cultivate. Cultivate means prepare, understanding that there’s a purpose which you’re trying to fulfill. For instance, when we cultivate land, there’s a season when we turn the soil over; we remove the weeds because we want to prepare that land to receive a good seed. A good seed cannot grow if the land is not properly prepared because those weeds can choke it out. And in many respects our minds have a lot of weeds in them from the way in which they have been developed through systems of colonialism, apartheid, racism, genocide, greed, militarism, selfishness. And so we’ve got to work to cultivate our minds and get them ready so that we can create the beloved community, because what’s happening is many people are doing good works, but they’re doing it in an old frame of mind.
And so we can’t really transform this old system that continues to perpetuate itself in our current circumstances all over the globe if we don’t cultivate a beloved community mindset. And so it’s going to take higher thinking and deeper in love to get us out of the human-made conundrum of inhumanity and injustice and inequity that we’ve created. That’s why we came up with this theme, because we want people to work on cultivating the right mind to create their beloved community. And some of those things are having an other-centered approach. It means understanding and appreciating that we’re interconnected and interrelated as a humanity, although we live in different parts of the world, although we live in different communities, in various cities, even in the United States of America, we’re interconnected, we’re interrelated, we’re part of a human family. It’s understanding that we can disagree without diminishing each other. We can collaborate without compromising on things like justice. We can make sure that the means by which we’re trying to achieve something aligns with the end. In other words, you can’t get to a peaceful end through violent means. Developing policies, in other words, as a means to an end, being people-centered and people-oriented. Unfortunately, the world we live in today, and especially in our nation, we’re more driven towards things and materialism. And so we must begin to become more people-oriented. And that’s part of that beloved community mindset. And then love has to be the fuel for creating that beloved community. And for us, nonviolence as a discipline and as a practice is essential to get to that beloved community. So really, it’s about cultivating a beloved community mindset that nonviolence helps us with in terms of transforming these unjust systems.
Your father, the late Dr. King, was a Christian pastor. Religion was very much a central part of his legacy. What would you say is the importance of religion in building this beloved community that you’re speaking of and uniting communities behind social justice issues?
The beauty about religion, although there are various religions across the world, is that religion transcends our own religious doctrines because there are certain universal themes that are important to every religion, love and peace and justice being a part of that. So with the proper leadership in every religion across this world, we can collectively inspire change that is grounded in love, that seeks to create a just, humane and equitable world. I don’t see any other way to do it. We are spirit beings having human experiences; we’re not human beings having spiritual experiences. So religious communities can be very helpful and influential in that regard. For us in the Christian community, we’ve been charged with being the light of the world and being the salt of the earth. Being that light requires that we guide, because light is a guide. Without light, it’s very hard to see where you’re going when it’s dark. Light also exposes; it exposes those things that can be harmful, damaging, dangerous, barriers, hindrances. When the light comes on, you can see everything so that you can go around this if you need to, to climb over this, etc. And so light is so important.
And as we know, as it relates to the salt, salt preserves and it seasons, it preserves the nutrients that you need. There are certain things that this world needs, and those of us in the religious community have to be at the forefront of ensuring that we preserve humanity, that we preserve things like love and respect and dignity. That doesn’t go out of style, although some people want to act like it does. But we have to be the ones to preserve that. We also have to be the ones to add that necessary flavor to the world so that things are not bland, that things like joy are part of our world. And so I think it’s very important that we take that leadership. We have to take the leadership because our world is in a moral crisis. It’s in a spiritual crisis. And those of us who are spiritual people have to take our proper place to really lead us to ensure that we are reflecting those kind of principles and values that are essential to the survival of our humanity.
What kind of inspiration can Americans of whatever religion, or even of none, draw from Pope Francis, whom you’ve met a couple of times?
The most important thing is that messages are so important. Most of the influence that many of us come under has a lot to do with messaging, the messaging that we get in our music, the messaging that we get out of our movies, the messaging we get in our news. Those things shape culture. And so I think some of the important messages about nonviolence, about peace, about compassion that Pope Francis has delivered and shared with the world are important for us to grab hold to. Thank God there are voices like that in our world, because I’m afraid we would have been in a much worse place than we are today. I think we can extract those lessons and incorporate them into our life if we would just dare to embrace them. And I think it’s important that those of us who speak in similar tones and fashion that we sound like a broken record. When I watch TV, for instance, there are commercials that repeat themselves. It’s like, ‘Didn’t I just see that commercial?’ Well, those advertisers know that if they buy enough airtime so that they can replay that commercial over and over again, they can cause people to be drawn to their brand. So those of us who speak in these same tones about nonviolence and peace and justice and compassion for other human beings have to keep repeating this message until enough of us have grasped it and are beginning to live out of it, because change happens to critical masses of people. And so hopefully there are people who are hearing and heeding the message of Pope Francis.
By Devin Watkins