Hannah Michelle Bussa
This year, UNL’s MLK Commemorative Celebration Event had a special guest: Dr. Bernice A. King, the daughter of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King.
The theme of the event was, “Continue to speak out against all forms of injustice, to yourselves and others, and you will set a mighty example for your children and for future generations,” a quote attributed to Dr. Bernice King.
The Chancellor’s Fulfilling the Dream Awards were presented to three individuals in the Lincoln community: Batool Ibrahim, a leader with UNL’s Black Student Union, Dr. Helen Fagan, a UNL professor and Mr. Leonard Yankton, an Indigenous activist in Lincoln.
The event included performances of music and monologues by Black artists to set the tone for Dr. King’s discussion. The conversation was moderated by Dr. Nkenge Friday, UNL’s Assistant Vice Chancellor of Strategic Initiatives.
When asked about this year and the rise in Black Lives Matter protests, Dr. King said, “Thank God that these young people wouldn’t let up. It would have been so tragic if young people around this nation were not galvanized to say, ‘No more. We will no longer wait; we are making certain demands.’ And that persistence has paid off.”
She clarified, “Have we solved anything yet? No. But what we’ve done, which is critical, is we’ve awakened some sleeping giants in different sectors across this nation.”
She pointed out the importance of some people finally acknowledging the need to ask how to create a more equitable society.
Dr. King said: “What happened with George Floyd – had people not gotten out there – it just would’ve been dismissed. People had to get out there under that banner. And it started with Trayvon [Martin], and then we see the birth of the Black Lives Matter [Movement]. People were clear that this wasn’t about all lives matter. It became clear, we are bringing from 2012, really from the Movement, but into this new age – Black Lives Matter, you all. So when you see this happened with George Floyd? This is what we’ve been talking about.”
Dr. King spoke about how connection is vital in moving forward since people are interconnected. Her father’s dream has yet to be fulfilled, but there has been progress made. However, it is not about the advancement of one person, but all people. And all people need to participate in change.
“It’s really not about individuals, it’s about what we’re going to do collectively,” she said.
In discussing moving forward, Dr. King also pointed out that it does not have to be incredibly complicated. While fears and distrust make what is simple more complex, “We just gotta do it,” she said.
She discussed how if issues are put side-by-side from the Civil Rights Movement until now, many issues still exist. There is still work to do.
“We want police reform, but that ain’t it,” she said. “We want to deal with systemic racism that has created the environment for all of this.”
When asked how students can get involved, Dr. King had specific advice and suggested only creating something new if it fills a gap.
“The best thing is to connect with people who are doing the work,” she said. “Don’t try to create something new, find something that fits your passion and connect with it.”
Dr. King said this to student organizers: “My challenge and charge to the generations behind me is to really spend that time organizing and strategizing around your strengths, the strengths that are needed to bring about certain policy changes with public safety, voting, education, health, the economy, jobs, etc. Create the plan and the strategy. And then work it. But do it where everything is coordinated.”
She also stressed the importance of including others in the work.
“The danger is to do something for someone without involving the people in the initial stages of the planning that you’re doing it for,” she said. “It’s about doing it with [them].”
Dr. King also discussed the discipline of nonviolence. She highlighted the importance of having a vision of what the world should look like and working from there, mentioning her idea of a “Beloved Community.”
“Always be driven by the ultimate goal,” she said. “Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice and evil, and not people. Your aggression should be toward the injustice.”
Dr. Bernice A. King can be found on social media @BerniceKing and @berniceaking.