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Peace advocate Bernice King talks family legacy, activism and political strategy

Kennedy Political Union holds virtual event featuring the minister and daughter of Martin Luther King Jr.

Bernice A. King, activist and daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., shared her perspective on recent political events and continuing her family’s legacy during a virtual event hosted by the Kennedy Political Union on Sept. 30. 

School of Education Dean and professor Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy moderated the conversation, and began by asking King her thoughts on the rise of police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Inspired by her father, King is a minister, peace advocate and chief executive officer of the King Center, a not-for-profit her mother Coretta Scott King founded in 1968. 

King said that while progress has been made for the Black community with the defeat of “de jure segregation,” work still remains to be done with dismantling systemic racism. 

“What we are wrestling with is what my father called ‘the next phase,’ which is genuine equality,” King said. 

This equality, according to King, involves tackling the racist institutions that continue to disadvantage and segregate Black and brown individuals in everyday life. 

“There’s still the practice of segregation. It’s not law anymore, but the way we have redlined our communities has created this,” King said. “We have to deal with this residential segregation pattern that continues to persist in our society.” 

When asked about law enforcement’s treatment of Black people, King described it as “despicable.” 

“The majority of times when you are a police officer addressing a white person, there’s a lot of restraint that you don’t see with a Black person,” King said. 

In the face of these issues, King said that she draws inspiration and hope from the values established by her father in his book “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?” King describes the book as “a blueprint.” 

“When you read it, it’s as if he’s here with us right now,” King said. “And one of the things that he challenged us to do in this nation is to have a revolution in values, which had a lot to do with our regard for personhood and humanity.” 

King works at the King Center as a leader of their Nonviolence 365 Education and Training program, an organization that teaches participants how to use critical thinking and methods of nonviolent social change to generate progress. King has also initiated Beloved Community Talks to spark important dialogues about difficult racial issues, intending to bring people outside their comfort zone to promote understanding and influence equitable change. 

King encouraged students to try and see past their differences with others to find common ground, a principle that she strives to uphold. 

“We’re in a time right now where we need some people who can talk above the noise,” King said. “I see myself as a bridge-builder. I’m trying to find a way to do what my father said, which is to live together as brothers and sisters so we don’t perish together as fools.” 

For colleges and universities, King said that the process of creating more diverse and equitable spaces begins by building an inclusive community from the beginning. 

“We’re gonna start with a blank sheet of paper, and we’re gonna create the inclusive table at the outset so that the input from different communities can be put into a process,” King said. 

King emphasized the importance of implementing strategy into resistance, referring to the six steps of non-violence as a system that is as useful today as it was for her father and other activists during the Civil Rights Movement. 

“Those [steps] are not necessarily sequential, but they are all essential,” King said. “Because if there’s no connectivity, and there’s no coordination, and there’s no communication, then it’s very difficult to really overcome some of these entrenched challenges.” 

As the semester comes to an end and one of the founding members leaves American University, Section 202 has decided to take a trip down memory lane. For our fans, old and new, who are wondering how Section 202 came to be, this episode is a must. Listen along as hosts Connor Sturniolo and Liah Argiropoulos reminisce about the beginning of Section 202 and how it got to where it is now.

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