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Martin Luther King III: Achievements of Turkey to rest on what youth do

Turkey's achievements will be directly related to the strides of its young population, and it can be effective if those strides are accomplished in a non-violent way, according to this week's guest for Monday Talk.

ha“This is an important country for sustaining and maintaining peace, especially at this time when conflict exists in some surrounding countries, mainly in Syria. Whatever Turkey achieves is based on what the young people choose to do,” said Martin Luther King III, oldest son of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., an American human rights advocate and community activist.

King and his organization, Communities Without Boundaries International (CWBI), were in İstanbul last week engaging in a number of peace-building activities with local partners.

Among CWBI's activities was a talk titled “The Legacy of MLK and the Role of Non-violence in the 21st Century” at Şehir University on May 2.

“The techniques that my father used brought the United States almost to a standstill without using a bomb or a gun. It can be done, but it takes strategy and patience. It also takes exposure to different techniques and ideas that they have not been exposed to before. That's part of what we do, non-violent resolution training,” he said in our interview.

King has been speaking with Turkish officials about whether CWBI can be helpful in resolving some disputes in Turkey in a non-violent way. On this and more, he elaborated on the issues.

You have a message for youth in İstanbul. Would you tell us about it?

İstanbul has a bid for the 2020 Olympic Games. This community is a community for building bridges, and a bridge gets you from one point to the other; a bridge connects people. One of the things about Turkey is quite phenomenal; it's about where it is regionally located in the world. This is an important country for sustaining and maintaining peace, especially at this time when conflict exists in some surrounding countries, mainly in Syria. Whatever Turkey achieves is based on what the young people choose to do. Most movements around the world have been started or sustained by young people. What I always hope that whatever progress occurs, it should be done in a non-violent way. I come from a non-violent tradition; my father was one of the most pre-eminent leaders of non-violence and at the age of 35 was the youngest man to have received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 as one of the youngest leaders of the civil rights movement. His work and teachings helped transform America in a wonderful way. And non-violence techniques can be used anywhere in the world, be it in South America or Africa where conflict may occur. I believe that change can occur in a non-violent way.

You have programs around the world for building bridges, and you work with young people a lot. Have you had success using teachings of non-violence?

Yes, we do, but it's not enough. What ends up happening is that the negative things that are occurring in the societies take the lead in the news. There are probably far more positive things that are happening, but they don't get reported because they are not controversial. What we try to show young people is that there is an alternative way, that you don't have to use violence to bring about change. You can in fact bring about change by dialogue. The techniques that my father used brought the United States almost to a standstill without using a bomb or a gun. It can be done, but it takes strategy and patience. It also takes exposure to different techniques and ideas that they have not been exposed to before. That's part of what we do, non-violent resolution training, indeed that is what we are currently doing in Turkey.

‘There must be people who feel oppressed, left out in regards to the Kurdish conflict'

You did not have any programs in Turkey before, right?

No, this is the first time. We have been meeting with high-level governing folks, so we might have prospects of coming back. We are saying that we would like to be a part of an effort to foster peace-building in this part of the world.

How much awareness do you have about Turkey's peace process involving the Kurds in regards to its long-lasting Kurdish problem? There has also been a connection to Martin Luther King, Jr., regarding Kurds, who did not have a Martin Luther King of their own to advocate non-violence.

I certainly am aware of the issues. I do need to study a little more to foster a point of view. I'm also aware that one of the biggest problems of the country is the fact that there have been refugees coming over from Syria. Any time a large number of people come in a refugee status, they have to be educated and taken care of. There are probably a number of issues that have to be managed. I don't think I can come into the country and say that this is Martin Luther King and this is what you should do. This is not appropriate. But I do think that I can talk about how to bring people together from every genre, from every ethnic group. I am sure there are people who feel oppressed and left out in regards to the Kurdish conflict. There should be a climate where everyone can live together without feeling mistreated.

You spoke on behalf of the 2008 Democratic Party presidential nominee, Senator Barack Obama, at the Democratic National Convention on Aug. 28. That day also marked the 45th anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech. Now President Obama is in his second term; do you think expectations of African-Americans have been fulfilled?

The jury is still out in terms of whether or not he is fulfilling the expectations of the African-American community. In the first four years, people did not necessarily push, they wanted to see more and they did not really push. In his second term, there will be a push back from the African-American community if certain milestones do not appear to be met. There is talk in the community about the lack of an agenda that impacts the African-American community. Other communities have been able to get their issues addressed, but President Obama has not focused on African-American issues. He is certainly working to do that. He has sessions with African-American leaders, too. There is an attempt to address some of the issues that really impact the African-American community. Whether in relationship to health or employment, African-Americans have higher than average rates of negative effects. That's why there is a desire for the African-American issues to be addressed. President Obama is trying, but I can't say whether or not structured policies are put in place.

‘African-Americans await expectations to be met by Obama'

What are the top issues concerning African-Americans?

Poverty, health and education are very important. If you are educated at the appropriate level, then you'll probably be able to find a decent job, and then probably not relegated to poverty. When young African-Americans drop out of school, then there are no jobs for them. In the past, they could go to manufacturing jobs, but now manufacturing is changing because of technology. There are big challenges. This year is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. The March on Washington was where my father delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1953, and there will be a major demonstration that will focus on some of these issues; for example, immigration, poverty and education. The health issue is probably going to be addressed. Because the Congress and the president passed the health-care initiative that will go into effect next year, everyone will have health insurance; that's a huge step.

A real big step if it can be implemented.

There are still some members of Congress trying to dismantle it, but I don't think they are going to have success.

Speaking about African-American issues and the education problems of youth, President Obama's elections must have had a huge impact.

Yes, no question. If he was of another ethnic persuasion, then there would have been a lot of protest. But because he is an African-American, African-Americans feel a sense of pride that an African-American is the president of the United States. But they also want the president to ensure that some things are done to help lift up the African-American community. So far, that has not become a reality.

As an African-American who has experienced all sides of being an African-American, were you expecting the American people would elect an African-American?

The answer is that when he first began his journey to run for office, I did not expect it. After he went a few primaries, I started feeling that it was very possible that he could become the nominee and also he could become the president. I always thought that we would have an African-American president at some point. In fact, my father and Robert Kennedy had predicted that we would have an African-American president probably about 10 years before President Obama was elected. It did not happen then, but it has happened now. It says something about America on one hand that America has come together and elected a person not because he is African-American, but he was the best candidate who happened to be an African-American. It also has brought up the vestiges of race. Some of the things that happened to President Obama happened because of the color of his skin.

‘Israelis and Palestinians were tired of fighting'

Would you give us examples of your work in the world?

When we were in Israel a few years ago, we were making great strides. We found that most people, Israelis and Palestinians, were tired of fighting. They really just wanted to be able to get along and be able to raise their families, make a decent living. But there is an element of leadership, on the Israeli side as well as the Palestinian side, that sees it advantageous to keep the fighting going on. And those are the folks that are in charge by and large, but it goes against the people. What we were not able to do was to bring Israelis and Palestinians into one group. That's what we wanted to do. We still continue that work. It's a continuous process. I see light at the end of the tunnel. There are several other places where we work. One is Sri Lanka. When you have a war mentality, you have to change that orientation. When you are in the same war mentality, you cannot trust anyone.

Realizing the Dream

You have non-profit organizations working not only in the United States but outside as well. Would you tell us about your involvement in international projects?

I've been working outside of the United States since 2006. I had an organization called Realizing the Dream, and we went into Israel and Ramallah; we went to Bosnia, Serbia; we went to South Africa and Kenya and Sri Lanka and India. In each one of these areas we have been able to carry the message of my dad because I believe his message is a global message and resonates all over the world. He was teaching us how to coexist without doing harm to our fellow human beings. We can do this. This is what I share as I travel around the world. No matter what the conflict is, many people can relate to this message. We talk about few people using non-violence; we talk about Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and there are few others. But every time you think about great civilizations, you think about their military power. We say that there should be a new paradigm. We can advance using non-violence. We know that from the civil rights movement. Gandhi knew it because of what he did in India. All people have to do is to look at examples, incorporate them and change will come.

‘Police violence disappointing on May 1'

You came to İstanbul at an interesting time, May 1, when demonstrations were not peaceful and police brutality was obvious. Have you had a chance to observe what's going on?

I have not had an opportunity to analyze what happened. We were at the hotel most of the time and could not go anywhere; the streets were blocked off. I saw on television police throwing gas bombs. That was very unfortunate. It is, of course, very disappointing to see violence by police. I don't want to cast judgment without understanding issues more. It would be counterproductive. But I can if I come back.

Are you planning on coming back?

Certainly, if we work out plans with the Turkish officials.

PROFILE

Martin Luther King III

The oldest son of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King III is carrying the torch lit by both of his parents into the 21st century. He is an American human rights advocate and community activist.

A graduate of his father's alma mater, Morehouse College, with a B.A. in political science in 1979, King was elected to political office in 1986 as an at-large representative of more than 700,000 residents of Fulton County, Georgia. As a member of the Board of Commissioners, he was instrumental in securing strong ethics legislation, purification of the county's natural water resources, legislation regulating minority business participation in public contracting and stringent hazardous waste disposal requirements.

In 2006, King founded an organization called Realizing the Dream, which has been absorbed into The King Center, with King as president. On Sept. 19, 2010, King received the Ramakrishna Bajaj Memorial Global Award for outstanding contributions to the promotion of human rights at the 26th Anniversary Global Awards of the Priyadarshni Academy in Mumbai, India.

On April 4, 2011, the 43rd anniversary of the assassination of his father, King helped to lead nationwide demonstrations against initiatives to eliminate and undermine collective bargaining rights of public workers in Wisconsin and other states.