Bernice King: “Anyone who has a heart driven by grace and love is great”

The daughter of Martin Luther King Jr meets Youth For Peace

I have a dream”, said her father. “Keep dreaming” – she adds. “Her father” was Martin Luther King Jr and she, Bernice King, is now speaking in front of an audience of students coming from all over Italy gathered in a cinema of Bologna for Bridges of Peace. Fifty years have passed since the death of one of the most famous Afro-American preacher and five decades have passed from the foundation of the Community of Saint Egidio too.





It was 1968 – a “turning point year” – and protest and demonstrations for a better world were spreading all over the world. Youths started to gather in “communities”, pursuing a new way of life, hoping to create the basis of a new world, willing to break with the one they were living in. However, protests didn’t end with significant changes, due to the differences that occurred between the several groups that were part of the ‘68’s Movement. Nevertheless, in this social climate the Community of Sant’Egidio was born, a group of students that aimed to change their city, Rome, starting from the dispossessed, poor children and lone older people, having as their source the Gospel and Vatican II. It was the beginning of “something big”, something that continues to inspire thousands of young people all over the world. Some of them are here in the audience, eager to meet the daughter of the man who practiced the methodology and the philosophy of non-violence. However, as Rome wasn’t built in a day, non-violence too is a path that need exercise and perseverance, as her mother, the famous activist Coretta Scott King, used to remember. Bernice –  she accepts to be called by name by her “new friends”– identifies six principles that can be seen as the fundaments of non-violence: first of all, non-violence is something for courageous people, it’s not passive; secondly, it seeks to win friendship and understanding. Target of non-violence – continues Bernice – is injustice, not people and (fourth principle) it believes that suffering can transform people. But most of all, non-violence chooses love, not hate (fifth principle).

Something simple to do, being the daughter of one of the most famous preachers in the world – one could say. Nevertheless, Bernice’s story demonstrates that everyone can end to hate people, even the daughter of Martin Luther King. “In my twenties I really hated white people, especially white men” – she states. Her father was killed (by a white man) and so happened to lots of other black people. She was somehow disillusioned. That suddenly changed one day, while she was attending a Christian talk-show. The (white) gentleman that was interviewing her, understanding the sufferance for the loss of her father, asked her if he could give her a hug. “It was the most true hug I ever received; from that point I started to change mine feelings and my emotions. I undertook a journey, a change literally from the inside out” – she states. Starting from that day, Bernice understood that “hate is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die”, and that she had to let out all the anger she was experiencing.

Answering to the questions raised by the youths, Bernice adds that even though sometimes violence seems the only way to change things, that’s never the solution, because it always lead to a non-pacific end. On the other hand, a weapon charged with non-violence is “a weapon charged with unconditioned love, commitment to justice and to dignity of everyone”. “Whenever I see young people committing themselves to good action, seeking a better world, I have hope” – she says. Because everybody can serve: “you don’t have to know neither Einstein’s theory of relativity nor the second theory of thermodynamics; you only need a soul driven by love. That could be our new definition of greatness. Anyone who has an heart driven by grace and love is great”.

Therefore, let’s raise up for a better world. Let’s keep dreaming with you, Bernice.

Gabriele Rizzi


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