‘Emotion Can Be Fuel’: Keynote Speaker Bernice King shares insights during Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Event

Bernice King Encourages Us to Be Good Examples

“Emotion can be fuel. It was fuel for my father in the movement,” said Bernice King, daughter of the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. “Nonviolence really was a way to channel the anger, the hurt and the pain into something that could bring about a constructive outcome. That's one of the most important things my parents taught me.”

Bernice King shared insights into racism in America today and her father’s legacy as keynote speaker of Kent State's annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration. King’s visit to campus also kicked off the university's programming for its celebration of Black History Month.

King, a prominent public speaker and global activist, addressed a packed Kent Student Center Ballroom on Thursday, Feb. 2, to share her favorite memories of her parents and stress the continuing importance of their commitment to nonviolent racial equality.

Bernice King and Dr. Krishnan at Kent State

While answering questions from Uma Krishnan, Ph.D., professor in the Department of English, King stressed the societal value of controlling our emotions, her perspective on the modern-day racial climate in America and how her parents’ teachings can be applied to it.

“I do sincerely believe in nonviolence as a way of life, and I know the emotions that we all have and the experiences we have are real, but in most situations, it’s not productive to be controlled by them,” King said. 

Bernice King​King professed she did not have many personal memories of her father, as he was assassinated in 1968 when she was just 5 years old. However, she addressed how her parents’ social virtues permeated their household during her childhood.

“My mother used to always tell us ‘somebody has to stop the chain of violence,’” King said. “So I tell people now that part of the reason why I could make it at this point in my life is because I didn’t grow up in a household where I was taught ‘tit-for-tat’ or ‘if they hit you, hit them back.’”

As a contribution to her family’s lifelong commitment to racial equality, King is the CEO of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, a nonprofit founded by her mother in 1968. The Atlanta-based organization offers training and programs to help individuals drive transformational change and reshape culture through the power of nonviolence.

After reflecting on her parents’ lives and commemorating their values, King expressed the value of continuing their work by showing the coming generations what it means to practice nonviolence in a modern, emotional world. And she encouraged the audience to embody these values.

“We don't have a lot of examples today,” she lamented. “We have a lot of talking heads, but no real examples.”

Prior to the keynote presentation, King met with student leaders to connect her experience as a college student to that of present day.

Watch the full video:


For more information on Black History Month at Kent State, please visit www.kent.edu/smc/black-history-month.

For more information on Bernice King and her mission, please visit berniceking.com.

For more information on the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, please visit thekingcenter.org.

POSTED: Friday, February 3, 2023 12:12 PM
Updated: Friday, March 17, 2023 11:02 AM
Mateo Martin, Flash Communications