UNION, NJ — Speaking at the Kean University campus where his father delivered an address almost 60 years earlier, human rights activist Martin Luther King III said young people and others must use their votes to “make America what it ought to be.”
King energized the crowd of students, faculty and community members who filled the North Avenue Academic Building auditorium on Thursday, Feb. 13 for Kean’s Distinguished Lecture Series.
“The biggest message for this year, because it is an election year, is the importance of voting and encouraging others to vote at the highest levels,” said King. “We can and must do a better job of motivating people to use the power of the ballot.
“This is the most important election of my lifetime. Consider that college students played an important role in civil rights. The great struggle for justice and human rights we face today will require the same courage and commitment.”
Dawood Farahi, president of Kean University, welcomed King to the lecture series.
“The King family is a part of the history of American civil rights, some of it shining and hopeful, some of it dark and painful,” Farahi said. “Mr. King continues the work of his father. For generations, his family has sacrificed and worked for this great nation.”
King’s father, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., spoke at Kean University, known then as Newark State College, on Feb. 9, 1961.
The younger King, who was 10 years old when his father was assassinated in 1968, evoked his father’s legacy often in the lecture.
King signed a Kean University guestbook, as his father had done, and strolled with Farahi through the University’s Human Rights Gallery and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Reflection Garden, where a permanent sketch and sculpture of his father, along with several of his quotes, are displayed.
“It is a special honor to speak where my father spoke,” King said. “I believe I have my own message to carry.”
In his lecture, titled “Continuing the Legacy,” King called on the audience to continue his father’s advocacy for human rights.
“As we go forward into an uncertain future, let’s resolve to transform the clanging discord of our society into a beautiful brotherhood,” King said. “With that
commitment, we will see the dawning of a glorious new era.”
King added that every American should have access to a good job, a college education, a decent home, health care and justice.
The activist met with several dozen Kean students prior to his lecture. He discussed modern-day social movements driven by young people, such as the March for Our Lives after the Parkland, Fla., school massacre; the work of teenage environmentalist Greta Thunberg; and even the contribution of his own young daughter, who called for a “gun-free world” during the March for Our Lives rally.
“Young people, it feels, are doing more leading than they have in a long time,” King said.
Kean senior Hasan Tariq, a communication major from Port Reading, attended both the classroom session and the lecture and said he was “truly in shock” to be in the room with King.
“I learned about the importance of voting, that we truly need to vote to make a difference,” Tariq said.
Both the lecture and classroom session were moderated by Dean Christine Thorpe of Kean’s Nathan Weiss Graduate College. Prior to King taking the stage, musical artist Shaun Boothe used hip-hop and rap to share an “unofficial” biography of Martin Luther King Jr.
Thorpe introduced King to the audience.
“Martin Luther King III has seized the torch lit by his parents and is continuing the quest for equality and justice for all people,” she said. “He has been motivating audiences around the world with his insightful message of hope and responsibility.”