Martin Luther King III applauds after the National Anthem was sung. Photo by Scott Ball.
Martin Luther King III applauds after the National Anthem was sung. Photo by Scott Ball.

Martin Luther King III, the son of the late civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr., gave a rousing speech that captivated attendees into moral refections with sobering scenarios and bouts of humor on Friday morning during the DreamWeek San Antonio opening breakfast. The 12-day DreamWeek summit takes place throughout the city’s urban core seeks to inspire multicultural community dialogue while honoring the teachings of MLK.

King touched on controversial topics such as gun violence, police brutality, diversity in state government, equality, voting rights, and even marijuana.

Shouts of affirmation rippled through the audience as King asked the attendees how society could ever achieve greatness as long as the people operating within that society are obsessed with guns.

“For those of us who purport to be Christians, I am not sure how you can allow Christ and fear to exist at the same time,” King said. “Either God works or God doesn’t work. Which one are you going to depend on, the gun or God? I speak from a perspective different from most – my daddy was gunned down in Memphis, Tennessee when I was 10 years old by a white man.

In 1974, my grandmother was gunned down in a church while playing the lord’s prayer by black man,” he added. “So legitimately, I could hate all of y’all.”

The audience erupted with nervous laughter.

“But I chose to embrace love,” he said.

Martin Luther King III gives a speech during the opening day of DreamWeek 2016. Photo by Scott Ball.
Martin Luther King III gives a speech during the opening day of DreamWeek 2016. Photo by Scott Ball.

King also called for more diversity in state and local legislatures in terms of both race and sexuality.

“Let us not rest until our political institutions reflect the demographic realities of our country,” he said.

He went on to advocate for the end of voter suppression through the implementation of automatic voter registration in all 50 states, the availability of online voting to all citizens, and the allowance of incarcerated citizens to be granted the right to vote after they have served their sentence. Not allowing incarcerated citizens the right to vote following their sentence is “taxation without representation,” King said.

As for police brutality, he believes incidents of police brutality are just as prevalent today as they were when his father was alive 60 years ago – the only difference being that today, people have smartphones to document it.

King continued touching on political hot topics, commenting that he is “one of the few people” who has never experimented with marijuana. That being said, he also has not made up his mind on how he stands on the issue of legalizing marijuana for recreational use. The audience chuckled as King struggled to find the right words.

“My higher point is … ” he said, to even more laughter before he brought his speech back on topic.

He questions whether sending people to jail on marijuana charges is a good use of tax dollars.

“It’s illegal now, so you shouldn’t do it…at least in Texas,” King joked. “You can go to Colorado…”

King spoke after guests enjoyed breakfast at The Briscoe Western Art Museum, which was very well attended by community leadership including City Manager Sheryl Sculley, several City Council members, and a who’s-who of the African-American community.

The DreamWeek calendar has grown from a 30 events during its inaugural year in 2013 to a more than 130-event celebration across over 80 locations. The goal of DreamWeek is to create spaces that inspire dialogues that promote tolerance, equality and diversity. The summit culminates with the Martin Luther King Jr. March on Monday, Jan. 18.

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Shokare Nakpodia, the president of DreamVoice LLC, which produces DreamWeek, gave a brief overview of the summit and its many events and thanked several of the people who were instrumental in its creation and growth.

Mayor Ivy Taylor also spoke about the social milestones San Antonio has achieved in recent years.

Less than 10% of the city’s population is African-American, but San Antonio is home to one of the largest Martin Luther King Jr. marches in the country, with an estimated 150,000 attendees in recent years. Taylor cited her election as an African-American woman as a clear sign the city is becoming more progressive.

Taj Matthews, the grandson of local civil rights activist Claude Black and a longtime friend to Martin Luther King III, introduced the speaker to the crowd.

“What do you think your father would think, in a city where we are less than 10% of the population, that we would elect a dynamic figure to head our city, a woman of color?” Matthews said. “That was his dream.”

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King concluded his speech with a story about his father. He said he remembers traveling with his father and hearing him tell people that the measure of a human being is not in terms of where they stand in times of comfort and convenience, but where they stand in times of challenge and controversy.

He challenged the crowd to take positions that are “neither safe, nor popular nor political” in an effort to “make the world a little better than it was when you arrived.”

*Top Image: Martin Luther King III applauds after the National Anthem was sung. Photo by Scott Ball. 

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Katie Walsh studies journalism and English at the University of Texas at Austin and will graduate in May 2017.