Dr. Bernice King Builds on Her Father’s Nonviolent Message
(Kent, OH) –What her father the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did for nonviolent social change, the Rev. Dr. Bernice King is doing for nonviolent self-care.“Baby, never make a decision when you’re angry,” Bernice King quoted her mother, Mrs. Coretta Scott King as saying to her years before her passing. “This is probably the most valuable thing my mother (ever) shared with me.”King spoke at the kickoff event for Black History Month at Kent State University before a sold-out crowd of nearly 900 people at the Student Center.
Although she was only five years old when her father was assassinated, King still remembers the nonviolent upbringing of her mother, a civil rights activist in her own right, and founder of the King Center in Atlanta, of which Bernice King is the CEO.“I grew up in a nonviolent household, but I got into fights,” the youngest King said. “I’m human, but I believe in nonviolence as a way of life. Somebody has got to break the chain of violence. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth just leaves everybody blind and toothless.”
In an hour-long open discussion peppered with an equal mix of laughter and wisdom, King spoke comfortably with Kent State English Professor Uma Krishnan, who being of India descent, shared with King how she revered her father’s devotion to the nonviolent teachings of Mahatma Ghandi. King spoke on a myriad of social issues, including the recent murder of Tyre Nichols, an unarmed Black man who was beaten to death last month by five Black Memphis police officers following what should have been a routine traffic stop.“Law enforcement has to be reimagined in this country,” she said, “It’s intended purpose from the beginning was to keep Black people in their place.” King was alluding to the Nichols murder and so many other deaths of Black people at the hands of the police.
“With all this stuff that has been happening in the Black community with law enforcement – not all law enforcement … I do have those emotions,” she revealed. “With what happened to George Floyd, now Ty Nichols and Breanna Taylor, I mean that stuff will get deep down underneath everything and make you want to do more than (just) holler.”But even in the depths of these police horrors, King offered a personal application of her father’s nonviolent message.
“The emotions that we all have are real, and sometimes they can be very raw,” she said. “But in most situations, I just know it’s not productive to allow myself to be controlled by them.”
King revealed, without giving details, “I hurt somebody once and it scared me to the point that I thought that person wasn’t going to make it. And it was a wake-up call, because I had all these emotions inside of me that I was carrying, and it wasn’t until I started addressing them and understanding that they exist that I’m now able to channel them.”
King endured a similar emotional upheaval when she finally came to terms with her father’s murder. She had been re-watching a video, Montgomery to Memphis, a documentary on her father’s life. Though she had seen the film many times, this time the funeral scene thrust her into tears. It was that viewing which led her to pursue a call to ministry. Sounding more like the psychology major that she is moreso than the lawyer which she also is, or the Doctor of Divinity or civil rights heiress, King offered the audience her new-found coping mechanisms. “I’ve learned to take breaths more,” she said, “you know, those deep breaths. Instead of getting angry, “I’ve learned to think more about the outcome I want from a situation. I’ve also learned that if I let whatever that emotion is take charge, it brings me into this character that I don’t like. I don’t want to be that person.”
These days as CEO of the King Center she promotes their program, Nonviolence 365, an immersive online course in nonviolence that she says fulfills her father’s dream of nonviolence as a subject to study in all areas of human endeavor.“In his Nobel Peace Prize lecture that he made to a group of students in Oslo, Norway, my father said, ‘I suggest that the philosophy and strategy of nonviolence immediately … become the subject of study and serious experimentation in every field of human conflict. By no means excluding relations between nations’ “He said it in ‘64, and it fell on deaf ears,” she said. “But his little baby girl, working with a collection of people at the institution that my mother founded… finally was able to do something that has not been done at this point. We launched the first ever in the world, Nonviolence 365 (course). “We say 365 because non-violence isn’t just for social demonstrations,” she explained, “it’s for your marriage; it’s for your engagement in the workplace; it’s for the conflicts that you have with friends, and it’s for the social issues of our time.”
The 16–18-hour course launched in January of 2022 and is available through the King Center website. King says already the course has changed lives.“My father didn’t practice nonviolence as a talent,” she said, “it was a way of life… and it works…. It’s not about whether the cop changes, or the person who is causing the oppression or the injustice changes.“Nonviolence is about you first,” she said. “You have a power within you when you are pastored (that is) like Martin Luther King, Jr. They (authorities) didn’t know what to do with him. They couldn’t handle him.“Oh, they can handle you with your weapons and your smart mouth, and whatever else you’ve got. They’ve got everything for that. They don’t have nothing for nonviolence.”
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By M Anthony Tibbs