How hurricane relief in 2008 led Martin Luther King III to speak at BYU on Tuesday

Martin Luther King III to speak to BYU students about his father’s ‘beloved community’

Martin Luther King III needed help when he responded to a Louisiana city’s distress call after a 2008 hurricane. That led to his first encounter with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

On a Tuesday, he asked the church to send 1,500 volunteers to Houma, where the hardest hit groups were Blacks and Native Americans. That Saturday, 1,500 Latter-day Saints showed up.

They stayed for a month.

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“That’s what caused me to first notice them,” King said. “I’m a Baptist, and Baptists do a good job, in an isolated way. What I mean by that is, the Baptist is not just one church, it’s a whole lot of separate churches. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints certainly is one church but works collectively around the world bringing change.”

That experience reminded the son of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King of his father’s call for “a beloved community” based on a redeeming goodwill for all.

King will speak about that concept on Tuesday at Brigham Young University, which is sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ.

“The climate the church wants to create in the world really is a reflection of the ‘beloved community’ that my dad talked about, a community where families can thrive, where there are opportunities,” King said Monday in an interview with the Deseret News on the BYU campus.

In fact, BYU’s theme for its forum assemblies this year is “Creating a Beloved Community,” a concept the Rev. King Jr. helped popularize beginning in 1956.

“Because my father talked about creating ‘the beloved community,’ they thought it would be appropriate for me to come and articulate what that really means, because I think that’s a reflection of what the university’s values represent, certainly what the church represents.”

King will deliver the forum address in the Marriott Center at 11:05 a.m. The talk is open to the public and will be broadcast live on BYUtv, BYUtv.org, KBYU-TV 11, Classical 89 FM, BYUradio 107.9 FM, and SiriusXM 143.

King invited the campus community to his talk in a video posted on Twitter, saying the beloved community is one “where freedom and justice and equality would exist for all humankind.”

“I’ll be talking about things my father said that apply to us today, how he talked about creating this amazing society” based on nonviolent means, he said. “In other words, we can live in a society where we don’t have to destroy personal property, where we treat people with dignity and respect. Those are some of the things that I’ll be elaborating upon.”

King has continued the nonviolent, civil rights work of his father and mother. He is a life member of the board of directors of the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change, a nonprofit founded by Coretta King after her husband’s 1968 assassination.

Martin Luther King III poses for a portrait at BYU’s Gordon B. Hinckley Alumni and Visitors Center on Monday, Sept. 27, 2021, before speaking at a BYU forum on Sept. 28. | Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News

This is his fourth visit to Utah since the hurricane relief effort.

“That manifestation of work was amazing,” King said, “and it was very sincere and serious, and that’s when my relationship began. Our relationship has grown, and I’ve admired and garnered more and more respect for the church since that first experience.”

In 2019, he participated in the RootsTech family history and technology conference for the announcement of a $2 million donation by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the International African American Museum Center for Family History, which is scheduled to open in 2022.

At the time, King called the church-museum relationship a reflection of the “beloved community” envisioned by his father.

In August, BYU announced the launch of an Office of Belonging in response to a campus report by the Committee on Race, Equity & Belonging that found “evidence that racism has diminished the experience and sense of safety and belonging” of Black students — 1% of the student body — and others at the school. BYU is 81% white.

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“We’re a nation that’s very diverse,” King said. “Now the school may not be, but the hope is that the school has a real serious commitment to work on diversity, because I think that, No. 1, anyone who comes out here is going to love it. Yes, it’s very structured, but many in our society need more structure, in my judgment, because we’ve gotten away from some of the traditional values that made our society what it is.”

The term “beloved community” was coined in 1913 by Josiah Royce, founder of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. The Rev. King Jr. became a member of the fellowship and popularized the term, beginning in 1956 after he led the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycotts.

“But the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community,” he said. “It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”

King said he is a lifelong member of the NAACP and is aware of that civil rights organization’s growing relationship with the Church of Jesus Christ, which this summer pledged $9.25 million to the NAACP and UNCF (United Negro College Fund).

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“That doesn’t mean that we’re a society without problems, because we still have a lot of issues to work through, whether it’s health challenges, whether it’s education challenges, whether it’s challenges around crime. There are so many challenges that we’ve got to focus upon and work to eradicate.”

King joined demonstrations in Washington, D.C., last month and earlier this month and pressured President Joe Biden and Congress to pass federal voting rights legislation, both to restore a portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013 and stop an effort that has led 18 states to enact 30 new laws restricting voter access.

“We had a good election, and more people voted than ever before,” he said. “We and many others had gone out telling people, ‘It’s important to vote,’ and so people did. When more people voted, for some reason, some states decided we need to make it harder for people to vote as opposed to making it easier.”

King plans to return to Washington, D.C., on Oct. 5 for more demonstrations for a federal voting rights bill and against the Senate filibuster, which he said historically has been used to support segregation, lynching and voting restrictions.

Another Black leader will speak at a BYU forum later this fall. The Nov. 30 address will be delivered by the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, a pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina, who was a member of the NAACP national board of directors from 2008-2020. Barber is the president of Repairers of the Breach.