FORT VALLEY -- Even when faced with violence and discrimination, it is still the community’s responsibility to maintain a life of nonviolence, Martin Luther King III said Monday.
King, as keynote speaker at the annual Fort Valley State University Black History Month Scholarship Luncheon, spoke about issues affecting today’s society. He told the more than 800 attendees that no matter the difficulties, it is necessary to maintain the nonviolent attitude that his father, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., preached.
“If we as a community have a feeling of love, than there’s nothing we can’t overcome,” King said.
“As long as we preach peace and practice war, our economy will struggle,” he said.
King’s appearance at the university was part of the 24th annual luncheon that raises money for scholarships to be given to incoming students the following fall.
“There’s still so much that we need to do,” he said, referring to statistics that show dropout rates soaring among minorities and the poor. “Education is at the cornerstone of our democracy.”
Rivers said last year’s luncheon netted about $150,000, providing scholarship money to more than 200 students. He said he hopes the event will raise more than $250,000 this year.
“We still have to turn away three to four hundred students a year who are qualified to be here, because of lack of money,” the president said.
Monday was not the first time King has spoken at the university, Rivers said, but it was the first time in at least a decade.
“He was the unanimous choice,” Rivers said. “One of the things I like about Mr. King is he talks about African Americans, but he puts it in a context of how it affects all Americans.”
After thanks and recognitions from U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., and state Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, King spoke for about 45 minutes. Though he touched on several topics, the central message was that nonviolence is the only way to improve society.
Sprinkling in his personal history and current affairs -- such as the demonstrations in Egypt and the assassination attempt on Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords -- King appealed to the audience to love everyone.
“We’ve got to find a better way to resolve our conflicts,” he said, referring to ongoing wars.
Today’s children are inundated with violence, he said, “and we wonder why there’s violence in our community?”
In reference to Black History Month, King said the nation needs to spend the entire year learning about each other because every race has a detailed history and shared problems.
“We have a long ways to go,” he said of society’s progress towards acceptance. “But, it only takes a few men and women to make a change. My dad showed us that.”
After King’s speech, 11-year-old Markayla Owens recited the renowned “I Have a Dream” speech that Martin Luther King Jr. spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963.
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,’” she belted out to applause.