Published April 28, 2022
It was the fall of 1967, when UB’s graduate and undergraduate student associations invited Martin Luther King Jr. to Buffalo, where he would remind the audience of young people that they are key to “extending the frontiers of civil rights.”
More than a half century later, UB’s Student Association extended the same invitation to King’s eldest son, Martin Luther King III, who carries on his father’s legacy and took to the stage at the Center for the Arts on Tuesday evening.
“It’s certainly a great honor to be back at the university where I have spoken at least once a number of years back,” King said. “When I was here last time, I think it was snowing.”
King addressed a young generation living in an increasingly polarized nation and world, but touched upon many of the same themes — peace, non-violence, equality — that his father preached more than 50 years ago. He began Tuesday’s event by appealing to everyone that they demand a ceasefire in Ukraine.
“I hope that more students in Russia will protest the bombings in Ukraine,” he said. “Perhaps the students at the University at Buffalo can find a way to encourage them to do so.”
King also commented on issues closer to home. He addressed the recent campus visit by former congressman and retired Army Lt. Col. Allen West, as well as the student protest and aftermath that followed.
“Students certainly have the right to protest views that they don’t agree with, but my hope is that the protests are always nonviolent,” King said. “For everyone gets to be heard in a great democracy — that includes conservatives as well as liberals,” he said.
King reminded the audience about the “power of personal respect” and how his father used courtesy as leverage against his adversaries “even as he strongly disagreed with them.” Shouting down people because of their views only helps them win support and sympathy, he said.
“The moment an individual commits violence, even for a good cause, that person’s credibility is shredded,” King said. “The quickest way to surrender your personal dignity and credibility is to engage in violence. Don’t go there.”
King was just 10 when his father was assassinated on April 4, 1968. Now 64, King carries on his father’s legacy as a human rights activist and philanthropist. The event sponsored by SA included his speech, which lasted more than a half hour; a question-and-answer period moderated by Josie Nimarko, president UB’s Black Student Union; and a meet and greet.
Among King’s topics:
Nonviolence: “Sure you want to have a great career, of course. You want to have a nice home and a happy family, but please accept the challenge of becoming a peacemaker,” King said. “Do whatever you can to prevent violence and help create a nonviolent society. Everyone can contribute to this cause in some way. There’s no country on Earth that does not need more healers and peacemakers.”
Voting: “In politics, if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu,” he said.
Erasing the culture wars: “Sure, education can enrich your experiences and that’s a good thing,” King told the audience of students. “But it can also enhance your understanding and appreciation of other cultures — and that’s a great thing. Use this time to get to know people of different cultures.”
Fulfilling his father’s dream: “To do it well, we’ll have to cultivate a loving spirit,” King said. “It’s about the way we treat other people. It’s about kindness, fairness, charity, forgiveness, generosity — issues we deal with every day in our homes and families, our life in the community and on the job.”