Rev. Bernice A. King, daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., addressed an audience of hundreds Tuesday at Gaston Hall to celebrate her father’s legacy and warned of the greed, selfishness and racism permeating contemporary American culture.

She suggested that America is a privileged and favored nation, perhaps the greatest nation in the world, but that Americans have misplaced their values. Americans often measure greatness, King said, in terms of the material.

“What we should value is people and truth, justice and family,” she said. “My father was about teaching us to place value in the proper places.”

King identified three “spirits” that she feels are poisoning American society, namely, a spirit of elitism and arrogance, a spirit of greed and materialism and a spirit of selfishness. These evils, according to King, are the underlying force behind the racism, classism and sexism in the United States.

With regard to racism, King said that many Americans still judge people by the color of their skin. She further suggested that the tension between races is not necessarily intentional but is born of a system that perpetuates it.

“I struggle with an inferiority complex,” King said. “When I pick up the phone to make certain calls, I wonder if they hear my black voice, how will they treat me . When I go into a store, I feel a sense of suspicion. If I can’t be comfortable shopping in [a store], something is wrong with the collective conscience of America.”

King said that any solution to the problem must start with proper education. Young children, she said, are being bombarded in their schools by Euro-centric notions of superiority. These messages lead to an inevitable tension between different races and ethnic groups that is not necessarily intentional but is an inevitable byproduct of the system.

“We have to revamp, or revitalize, our curriculum from kindergarten up,” she explained. “If the majority of what you see as a child is of another race, and what you see of them is always positive and what you see of you is always negative and demeaning, there is a problem. [Ultimately] you end up having tension between the races. We as Americans have to find a way to have a curriculum that is not a peripheral curriculum.”

King also addressed the problem of selfishness and materialism in American culture. A holder of a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a master’s degree in Divinity and a doctorate in Law, she warned Georgetown students not to become consumed with academic success and financial prosperity. King charged the American populace with being too self-centered and shutting out the people around them. She bemoaned a culture where advertisers target the vulnerabilities of children just to increase their bottom line.

“We have a me, myself and I mentality in America now,” King said. “We’re not paying attention to each other and we’re not paying attention to kids . we’re not loving each other and we need to be.”

It is this spirit of greed, according to King, that was responsible for the death of her father, Martin Luther King Jr. Only when he began criticizing the government for its military expenditures on the Vietnam War, she suggested, was he assassinated.

She, too, criticized military spending and went on to say that Americans destroy, rather than create, and have come to value death more than life.

King, who was ordained a Baptist minister in 1990, said that unconditional love in the spirit of God is the only way for human beings to overcome these poisonous spirits. This love, she explained, keeps human beings humble and grounded and helps to properly orient their values.

“Love is the most powerful force on the face of the earth. It can neutralize hate; it can transform enemies into friends and friends into kindred spirits. Love can settle differences; it can stop wars and heal wounded relationships,” King said.

“God is love . Unconditional love, really, is the nature and character of God operating in and through the human heart.”

She also said that America needs to return to the principle of “one nation under God.” Its citizens must have a spiritual awakening that unites them under God with unconditional love as the catalyzing force, according to King.

“What made my father great was his capacity to love unconditionally . The reason we celebrate the life and contributions of my father is because more than any other Christian in the history of this nation he pierced our consciences with an active reminder of the principles of Christian love,”she said.

King’s address was the climax of a two-hour program honoring the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. The program also featured performances by the Georgetown Concert Choir and Orchestra as well as the Greater Deliverance Mass Choir. King’s speech was followed by closing prayers from four different religious denominations and the hymn “We Shall Overcome,” which ended the program. Afterward, King conducted a book signing and reception in Healy Hall’s Philodemic Room.

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