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Martin Luther King III Teaches How to Build a ‘Beloved Community’

In his first visit to BYU, the eldest son of the famed American civil rights leader says we must ‘work harder and more creatively’ for world peace

The theme of all six forum addresses at Brigham Young University (BYU) this academic year is “Creating a Beloved Community.” Appropriately, the first of those addresses was given Tuesday morning by Martin Luther King III — the son of the man who made famous (though he did not coin) the phrase “beloved community” in his writings and speeches.

King, a lawyer, human rights advocate and the eldest son of Martin Luther King Jr., told BYU students gathered in the Marriott Center that a beloved community is a state of heart and mind that leads “people of every race, religion and nation” to “live together in peace and harmony and work together for the common progress of humankind.”

He called for “a critical mass of active visionaries — people of all races, religions and cultural groups who not only believe that the dream of Martin Luther King Jr. is achievable, but who are also ready to work and sacrifice and suffer, if necessary, to make it a reality.”

King listed several keys to becoming those visionaries and creating such a community. Fundamental, he said, is to overcome fear of the other and believe that all are brothers and sisters.

“We must affirm the sisterhood and brotherhood of all people — every race, every ethnic group, every religion, young and old, women and men, gay and lesbian, people with disabilities — every person,” King said. “Let us not be distracted by fear, including Islamophobia, xenophobia, homophobia and all of the other phobias. Let us come forward instead with a vibrant spirit of inclusiveness and say no to racism, sexism, and all forms of bigotry and discrimination and say yes to sisterhood and brotherhood of all humankind.”

Another key, he said, is service. “I was encouraged to learn that Brigham Young University places a strong emphasis upon the importance of community service as part of the student experience,” King said. “Service is a powerful healing force that builds bridges of hope, trust and kindness over gulfs of alienation and distrust. It is a potent force for transformation because it establishes a connection between the server and those who are served.”

King’s first contact with leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he said, is connected with service. In 2007 or 2008, he was president of the nonprofit Realizing the Dream (which has since merged with the King Center). He and Church leaders, including Elder Robert C. Gay (then an Area Seventy), collaborated to help a small community outside New Orleans recover from a recent storm.

King said some 1,500 Latter-day Saints stayed in the community for several weeks to help its citizens recover.

“That commitment is amazing,” King said. “And for that I will always have tremendous admiration for the Church. But that’s just one of millions of things that you do all the time.”

King preached a gospel of creative solutions to the world’s ills. In the words of his father, we must answer the call to “walk in the light of creative altruism.”

“Those who learn how to express love in creative ways are the healers and leaders who blaze the trail forward to the beloved community,” King said.

One of those ways is nonviolence — an approach, he said, that can achieve justice and peace. It also gives one “a greater sense of wholeness and meaning” and provides an edge in dealing with conflicts throughout life.

We should work together in nonviolent causes with “healing and hopeful hearts” to bring about needed reforms, King said. These include “health security that covers every person and every illness, better educational opportunities, employment, job training and childcare for working parents.” We also need to come together with unconditional love to “stop the polluters from fouling the air we breathe and the water we drink and save the precious rainforests of our planet.”

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Martin Luther King III, the eldest son of Martin Luther King Jr., answers questions from BYU students in the Marriott Center on September 28, 2021. Photo Courtesy of BYU
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Nonviolence is also more likely to bring about peace, he said. He pointed to the United States’ experience in Afghanistan as one example that “we can no longer replace diplomacy and peaceful conflict resolution with war. As my father once said, ‘wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.’”

King said everyday citizens can create a culture of nonviolence by supporting artists whose works promote peace.

“In the passage to adulthood, every young person comes to a crossroads of moral decision,” he said. “You can succumb to the temptations of our materialistic society and look out for your narrow personal interests and not much else. But today, I want to challenge the students of the Brigham Young University to choose the higher, more courageous calling of creative activism.”

Granted, King said, these can seem like utopian ideals. But “we are called by both faith and reason to work harder and more creatively for peaceful alternatives. … Instead of perpetual war and military conflict, let us dare to envision a new era when the armaments of annihilation are replaced with the plowshares of renewal.”

King urged students to think critically, to observe, to listen, to notice the struggles of others, to cultivate compassion, and to embrace a definition of manhood and womanhood that emphasizes civic responsibility.

“[This is] a definition that says, ‘I don’t care how cool you are or how well you talk — what I want to know is, are you registered to vote?’” he said. “Being taken seriously as an adult means that you take your love for your fellow citizens and your love for America to the ballot box, where it counts.”

King said that more important than the career students choose is that they “embrace a bold and daring spirit of compassion and caring that reaches out to help the poor and oppressed, the disadvantaged, downtrodden and brokenhearted people of our communities.”

“Rise up,” King concluded, “and take a stand against poverty, racism, war and violence. Rise up with an unwavering determination to reclaim our environment from the ravages of industrial pollution. Rise up and lead nonviolent movements to feed the hungry. Rise up and use your economic power to support a culture of nonviolence. Rise up and work for peace, dignity and human rights for all people in every nation. Rise up in a vibrant spirit of justice, compassion and love, united and determined to create a better America and world, where people of all races, religions and nations can live together as sisters and brothers in peace and harmony.”

After the speech, King took questions from students. The speech can be viewed at byutv.org.

King has visited Church headquarters in Salt Lake City several times, including for a stop at RootsTech, the Church’s genealogy conference, in 2019. King was an honored guest during a presentation by Elder David A. Bednar of a $2 million donation from the Church to the to the International African American Museum (IAAM). King said that partnership is another example of creating a beloved community.

The academic year’s other five BYU forum speakers will be the Rev. Dr. Andrew Teal (October 26), William Barber II (November 30), Marilynne Robinson (January 25, 2022), James Fallows (February 15, 2022) and Amy Chua (March 29, 2022).

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