On the day celebrating her grandfather’s life and legacy, Yolanda Renee King spoke at the Deliver for Voting Rights press conference on Jan. 17. (Screenshot)

By Micha Green
AFRO D.C. and Digital Editor

Over the weekend, the family of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebrated his life and legacy by continuing their fallen patriarch’s life’s work.

“My mother always said, ‘the (Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) holiday should be a day on, not a day off.’ Today we’re not here to celebrate, we’re here for a day on. We’re here to call on the president and Senate to pass the Freedom to Vote, John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and to warn that our Democracy stands on the brink of serious trouble without these bills. Last week the president said he’s tired of being quiet about voting rights.  Well, we’re tired of being patient,” King III said emphatically.

Martin Luther King III spoke at the Deliver for Voting Rights press conference on Jan. 17. (Screenshot)

The son of the civil rights leader and director of the Drum Major Institute explained there is urgency to pass voting rights legislation as state laws are amended daily reversing rights and access to options for exercising one’s civic duty.

“Since Jan. 6, when the Insurrectionists attacked our Capitol, 19 legislators have passed 34 laws clawing back Voting Rights for their citizens. And states like my home state (of Georgia) where new laws are designed to confuse voters so they don’t know where to go. They kick folks off the voter rolls, so they show up to vote and find out they’re not registered, they close polling stations and limit voting hours, so working parents and folks without access to transportation can’t get there in time,” King III told the crowd. “These laws are being passed with knife-like precision to cut Black and Brown voters out of the process, and they’re exactly what the Voting Rights Act wants protected against. That’s just one state, Texas, Florida, Iowa, Arizona, the list goes on, more legislatures are gearing up to pass like these when they convene this year. And our Senate is letting them get away with it because of a little technicality called the filibuster.”

Director of Youth Engagement at the Drum Major Institute Yolanda Renee King, the granddaughter of the celebrated civil rights leader, also weighed in on the need for voting rights legislation.   

“Today in 2022, the right to vote is under attack as our elected leaders try to silence our voices. At just 13, I have fewer voting rights than I did the day I was born,” the young King said.  “That’s why my family has spent this Martin Luther King Jr. weekend mobilizing, first in Phoenix, and now in Washington to demand, the president and Senate get voting rights legislation done.  Our rights are on the line, and while I, like many of you, are not old enough to vote, this fight is personal for me. It’s our future these elected leaders are deciding, it’s our voices they’re trying to silence, because they know our voices are powerful. They may tell us hundreds of times that we’re too young to understand, but those who try to undermine our power do so because they know young people will not stand down in the face of injustice.”

A civil rights leader in her own right, Yolanda shared ways people can join the fight for voting rights, even if they’re not old enough to place a ballot. 

“If you, like me, can’t vote, just let me tell you about some other ways you can fight for the future right to vote. You can write a letter to Senator Sinema (D-AZ) and Senator Manchin (D-WV). You can call their offices and tell them that you want to see them choose your future over the filibuster, a broken rule that’s been used to uphold slavery and segregation and block progress on civil rights. You can talk to your friends and parents about why this matters,  you can keep showing up like you showed up today. Fighting for voting rights is about fighting for the right to participate in Democracy, a movement my grandfather led many decades ago, but it’s also about all the other issues that affect all of us: climate justice, reproductive justice, LGBTQIA+ justice and so much more,” she explained.

“We will not stop organizing to get this done, but for all the elected leaders, who are tweeting, posting and celebrating my grandfather today, my message to you is simple: ‘Do not celebrate, legislate,’” the teen activist emphasized.

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Micha Green

AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor