The 15-year-old granddaughter of MLK Jr. wants to start a revolution around service
JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:
Today many people are honoring the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., including his first and only grandchild. Yolanda Renee King is 15 years old. She never met her grandfather. But like countless others, she's been inspired by his words and actions. To honor the legacy of both her grandparents, King wrote the picture book "We Dream A World: Carrying The Light From My Grandparents Martin Luther King Jr. And Coretta Scott King." NPR's Andrew Limbong spoke with Yolanda Renee King, and he asked her what prompted her to write a book.
YOLANDA RENEE KING: Well, I wrote this book to inspire hope and to encourage young people to use their talents to create a better world. And this book really, I guess, challenges everyone to imagine a world without racism and violence and discrimination and a clean climate.
ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: Yeah, yeah, you take a lot of big swings in the book. And I just want to dial back a bit. Do you remember the first time you understood your your grandparents' legacy? And I wonder what that felt like.
YOLANDA: My whole life, I had always been told and educated about what my grandparents did. And I would say that around the age of 9 is when I - 8 is when I first really started to understand their legacy. Like, it wasn't just someone directly telling me it. It was me being able to come to a conclusion myself. I remember thinking to myself, wow, my grandparents are pretty awesome.
LIMBONG: Was it something that happened, or did you witness something where that light bulb sort of clicked?
YOLANDA: I can't remember. I don't have an actual distinct memory of me doing anything, and it coming up, I can probably tell you that I may have been reading something or watching something about them, and it suddenly hit me in a different light. I actually was able to, I guess, understand the actual significance and the actual dedication. I feel like as I mature, like, I understand more and more.
LIMBONG: Yeah, it was like you coming at it in your own terms, in your own way.
LIMBONG: Which is funny because in the book you write, quote, "and now it's my turn to start a new revolution that values kindness, truth, equality and service." Could you talk a little bit more about that point and what you mean?
YOLANDA: Well, I really believe that service is one of the best ways to solve our issues. And I believe that it needs to be incorporated into our curriculum and and taught to kids at a young age because I really think that through service and through using our talents and strengths, that's where the impact comes in. And, in fact, service is so important to my family and I - today we are announcing our five-year project that celebrates my grandfather's 100th birthday with the goal of obtaining 100 million hours of service within five years - so by the 100th birthday. This initiative is called Realizing the Dream. And we are kicking it off at the NFL Wild Card Game in Tampa.
LIMBONG: It's a pretty big way to try and, like, change the world, kind of. And that can be kind of daunting, especially for young people. Do you have any advice for someone who might not know where to start?
YOLANDA: I think a lot of people, the thing that scares them or discourages them from getting involved is that they think that, oh, I have to do a speech and speak in front of a very fancy rally with a large, large audience. While that is great and impactful, it's not the only way. And there are so many other ways, and it can be something you do outside of work. It can be something like using your talents. So if you're, for instance, an artist, painting art pieces that really reflect what's going on. And I think a lot of people forget how big of a role art's played, whether that be visually or musically, in the civil rights movement. And you could write songs or joining a local group or starting a club at school. There are just so many ways.
LIMBONG: You've talked a little bit about finding your own thing. You have to use your own voice and find what works for you, right? You have a name that's important and historic, which is great, but I think, sometimes, that can, like, weigh on a person. And I'm wondering, how have you gone about finding your own thing, your own voice?
YOLANDA: Well, it's a growing process. It's not - I don't think one day, I've woken up, and I've found my voice. I think it's something that evolves, just like - it's almost growing with me. So as I grow, my voice grows. And it's not fully developed yet since I'm still growing. And honestly, like, when you're an adult, I feel like you're still growing as you're learning stuff. So I think that it will be something that will constantly be growing as I mature and as I get more wise.
SUMMERS: Yes, I'll let you know, we are still (laughter) growing. We don't really know what we're doing, dude. You know, I'm wondering what is something you think your grandparents would be proud of seeing today?
YOLANDA: Well, I think that my grandparents would be proud of seeing the young generations and how involved they are concerned they are about the issues. My grandfather - I think a lot of people forget this, but he was only 39 when he was assassinated. And so when the movement began, he was still in his 20s. And so he started pretty young.
LIMBONG: Yeah. I think that that's an understated point. But I do wonder, speaking of being young, you know, we're catching you, you know, in between flights, in between all these, like, big events. Do you have time to just, like, be 15?
YOLANDA: Yes. Yes, I do. I still like to hang out with friends and and watch movies and listen to music and everything else. And this is probably the most busiest weekend of the year. And usually, during this time, there's not a lot of time for downtime or time with friends. But even as I've been on the road, I've still - I mean, yesterday, I was just talking to my best friend. We talk to each other every day. And I'm still talking to people, and we still will hang out, probably, when I get home and after all of this is - after this week is done. But yeah, I enjoy that.
LIMBONG: Yolanda Renee King is the granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King. Her new book is called "We Dream A World: Carrying The Light From My Grandparents." Yolanda, thank you so much for joining us.
YOLANDA: Thank you for having me.
(SOUNDBITE OF KHRUANGBIN'S "AUGUST TWELVE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.