The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change (The King Center) educates local and global communities about the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — the American minister, activist and prominent leader of the Civil Rights Movement. Coretta Scott King — also a civil rights leader, activist and Dr. King’s wife — established The King Center in 1968.
Each year, a million people visit The King Center, whose programming is grounded in Dr. King’s nonviolence philosophy and methodology, with a vision to create, “The Beloved Community,” or a world “where all people can share in the wealth of the earth and injustices cease and love prevails.” Their mission is to empower people to create a just, humane, equitable, and peaceful world by applying Dr. King’s nonviolence philosophy and methodology (Nonviolence365®). The King Center fulfills this mission through education, training, advocacy, activism, and research via their King Library and Archives. They offer programming for individuals, organizations, and corporations across all sectors of the global society.
Recently, CZI announced The King Center as one of our 2022 Racial Equity grantee partners. Each grant recipient activates key levers to advance racial equity — from cultivating more leaders of color, to reshaping policies, to accelerating systemic change.
In this interview, Dr. Bernice A. King, CEO of the King Center, shares more on the organization’s focus on achieving social justice for everyone everywhere.
This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.
What is the big problem your work is trying to solve? And why does it matter to you?
We are trying to solve the problem of injustice in the world. It matters because when injustice ceases, we create a society in which we co-exist as a humanity where the dignity, value, and worth of the personhood of individuals is regarded and respected.
My mother, Coretta Scott King, founded The King Center within months of the passing of my father, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with the express purpose of carrying forward his nonviolence philosophy and methodology. She did so with the express purpose of institutionalizing his legacy of nonviolence as the most formidable way to create a just, humane, equitable and peaceful world (Beloved Community.) Our nonviolence training and education (which we refer to as Nonviolence365®) equips individuals and organizations around the world with an evidence-based and love-centered approach to address injustice and conflict while rejecting violence, revenge, aggression, and retaliation. In that sense, we are offering the world the best means to defeat injustice without dishonoring the humanity of people.
When you think about your work and the impact you have, what makes you most proud?
I really don’t think of this work from the perspective of pride. That said, I am very grateful for the opportunity to carry forward my parent’s legacy every day. I’m also grateful for the talent, dedication, and commitment of our team at The King Center to position us to continue to grow as an organization in terms of our reach and impact.
What gives me great joy is that we have created an online experience as a response to my father’s call to action in his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize Lecture. He specifically stated that “I suggest that the philosophy and strategy of nonviolence immediately become a subject of study and serious experimentation in every field of human conflict, by no means excluding relations between nations.” Thus we’ve expanded our Nonviolence365 programming to provide education and training online for individuals, organizations, and corporations worldwide in multiple languages. We’ve also formed many new strategic relationships with purpose-driven corporate, philanthropic, and social justice organizations that will further enhance our mission in the years ahead.
We know racial equity anchors your work. Tell us how your organization approaches its work to advance racial equity – particularly as it relates to helping change systems, policies and institutions that have historically negative impacts on Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other communities of color?
Our philosophy and methodology of nonviolence focuses on the mindset that leads to systemic change. Nonviolence is the love-centered pathway to the fundamental transformation of unjust systems, policies and laws leading to what my father referred to as the Beloved Community, a global society free of racism, hate, violence, poverty, and hunger.
What is something you, personally, or your organization, have learned in the last couple of years that has shaped what you are doing today and moving forward?
We began the work of offering web-based Nonviolence365 training before the pandemic. Expanding on that effort with more extensive offerings in this new era of digital and hybrid learning is an important strategic priority for The King Center. Additionally, our organization has always served the next generation through equipping them with tools and strategy to engage, act and speak in love-centered ways, however we have found that more recently at the intersection of polarization, the pandemic, racial injustice, and increased gun violence; youth have been deeply affected and thus we are strategizing on new innovative ways to meet youth where they are and begin the nuanced work of preparing them to be courageous, conscientious, and compassionate leaders. We are doing this through our initiatives such as our Students with King programming as well as our 15-month Beloved Community Leadership Academy.
If you had all the resources in the world, what is the one thing you’d want to impact and shift? And how?
My want for the world would be to embrace nonviolence as a way of life for all people, knowing we possess the resources to create the Beloved Community. It all begins with a fundamental shift in our collective mindset.
What is something most people don’t know about your organization that is important to understand?
The King Center is not only a traditional programmatic non-profit, but we also have a significant historical archive, which undergirds and contextualizes our programmatic work. Since the early 70‘s we have housed the largest collection of primary source materials related to the Civil Rights Movement under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It enables us to serve as the official source for research concerning the leadership, influence, and impact of Dr. King and Mrs. Coretta Scott King as well as the Civil Rights Movement.
CZI’s Commitment to Racial Equity
Learn more about CZI’s investments in organizations, like The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, who are supporting communities of color and tackling racial disparities.