Honoring MLK, Yolanda and Bernice during the King holiday
By Maria Saporta
“The Dream Continues”
That was one of the placards carried by one of the marchers at the 2020 King Week Holiday March on Monday afternoon.
The King Holiday provides us all an opportunity to check in with the values and messages that Martin Luther King Jr. shared with us during his too short life.
Every year, the holiday celebration anchors me with my past and centers me in the present and prepares me for the future.
This year, it’s especially true. I have the honor of being in the 2020 Leadership Atlanta class with 80 other amazing individuals, especially Bernice King, the youngest daughter of the civil rights leader.
In many ways, our class embodies the message that the dream continues. Attorney Eric Barnum, who is chairing the 2020 program for our Leadership Atlanta class, gave us our slogan: “Vision of Leadership. Vision of Love.”
Our class members were ever present during the King holiday activities. We had a great contingent at the Salute to Greatness dinner on Saturday night. The night before, a group of classmates went to see the movie “Just Mercy” as part of a suggestion from class members. On Monday morning, another gathering of our classmates attended the Martin Luther King Jr. Annual Commemorative Service at Ebenezer Baptist Church.
During the program, Bernice King spoke of “the fierce urgency of now” – repeating a phrase her father had spoken during the March on Washington in 1963.
“With the fierce urgency of now, we must elevate MLK Day beyond a day on,” Bernice King said. “MLK Day should be a day that reminds us that we cannot wait. If we miscarry this moment, we may be indeed too late.
“So, I say, let’s walk together and work together children and not get weary,” she continued. “Let’s strategize and harmonize and synergize together children and not get weary. Let’s vocalize and organize and galvanize together children and not get weary. Let’s revitalize and mobilize and revolutionize together children and not get weary. Because the time is now to optimize and realize King’s 2020 vision of the beloved community.”
The service as always been a bipartisan affair. In past year, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia) would participate in the celebration.
It was oddly comforting that his successor – U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Georgia) – was on stage to participate in the annual service.
“I’m so humbled to be here with you today in this sacred place surrounded by men and women who advanced the cause of freedom,” Loeffler said. “I want to thank the King family from the bottom of my heart for being a catalyst in our state and in our country. The generational impact of your service can’t be overstated. We are forever grateful.”
Loeffler also said King’s message for serving others had always resonated with her.
“In service we honor God. In service, we foster change,” Loeffler said. “I know I am blessed to live in a place where a giant, a trailblazer, a world changer lived – a city where a man of great faith and resolve called home. I seek to live in a way that honors MLK Jr. Coretta Scott King and the entire King family, not just on this special day, but every day.”
It was a luxury to be able to watch the service on television and see Natosha Reid Rice, Ebenezer’s associate pastor of Women’s Ministries, was one of the emcees of the morning festivities. Rice, an active Leadership Atlanta alumna, co-chaired our Leadership Day this past Thursday. The night before, she moderated a panel discussion for the International Women’s Forum following a showing of “Just Mercy.”
Somehow, the multiple links between all these events make me feel so interconnected to MLK’s Atlanta.
Participating in the march (with my son David), also was one way for me to witness the continuing journey.
While I was growing up, my family and I participated in many marches and picket lines. So it was totally normal for me in 1967 to join my best friend, Yolanda King, in a march that was being led by her father.
We purposefully were in the middle of the crowd rather than up front with the leaders, and we were walking and talking among people we did not know but who believed in the cause of the day – a protest against the Vietnam War.
At one point, I proudly told a couple of our fellow walkers we were marching with Yolanda King, the oldest of Martin Luther King Jr.’s children.
A few minutes later, Yoki (as she was called at the time) pulled me aside and told me it made her feel uncomfortable for me to tell others who she was. She just wanted to be one of the marchers – not stand out as one of King’s four children.
To this day, I cringe at that memory. Then I remind myself that I was only 11 years old and didn’t know better. And I’m comforted that Yolanda and I continued to be best friends, sharing precious moments during the last year of her father’s life.
One of my Leadership Atlanta classmates asked me this week if I had realized the greatness of Martin Luther King Jr. at the time I knew him.
I remember being totally captivated by King’s aura and being drawn to follow his lead in the fight against racism, war and poverty. Knowing MLK and my late friend Yolanda, who died in 2008 at the young age of 51, has defined who I am and how I live my life.
And every King Holiday week, I am able to recalibrate my present with my past and my future in their memory.
The journey continues.