As a lawyer, a minister, and an activist, Dr. Bernice King aims to raise awareness of social causes. Maintaining the nonviolent modus operandi of her father, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., King is the CEO of The King Center, where she ensures that her dad’s philosophy and nonviolent methodology are integrated into media, government and education.
In 2021, King and The King Center launched a campaign called Be Love, which King says was “designed to really inject in our polarizing culture, the notion that love has the power to transform lives, to address injustices and handle conflict.” With the Be Love campaign, King wanted to reach out to the children, to inspire them to fight for change at a young age. She teamed up Dr. Kimberly Johnson, a motivational speaker and educator, to create a children’s book called It Starts With Me.
In It Starts With Me, a young girl named Amora encourages her friends to “be love,” and allow love to drive their words, actions, and thoughts. We caught up with King and Johnson at a reading of the book at Galleria Dallas and discussed how the book came together and how parents and teachers can empower children to evoke positive change in their communities.
“Dr. Johnson and I had been talking about doing children's books for years,” King told Local Profile. “Through all of our conversations, we captured the notion of what my mother used to say to us as kids. She used to say somebody has cut off the chains of violence. As a kid, I didn't know who that somebody was until I got older, I realized it was me.”
With It Starts With Me, King and Johnson want parents and teachers to foster good character and academic wellness in their children and students, and to encourage them to fight nonviolently for change and to behave with kindness. As a mother herself, Johnson believes that it's important for parents and teachers to understand that children make mistakes and not to get them to operate with perfection.
“We are imperfect people in an imperfect world,” said Johnson. “But the key is, you don't stop. You keep looking for opportunities to be a better human being, you look for opportunities to create an environment where everyone can thrive, where we can have the quality of life that we all deserve. But we've got to make sure that parents are on board, and they understand ‘What do I need to do to support my child?’ Not make them perfect, Not make them flawless, but to really just encourage them to be better human beings every single day.”
As activists and creatives, timing is crucial for everything King and Johnson do. Amid crises like an ongoing pandemic, as well as political unrest, King felt now was the perfect time to release the book.
King noticed that divisiveness and negativity had been “amplified” recently, and felt the world “needed an alternative” to this. She decided to capture the heart of her father’s nonviolent philosophy in book form and plant the seeds of nonviolent activism in the readers and their parents and teachers.
“It's going to start with each one of us understanding the power of love, to respect people to treat people with dignity,” said King. “That's really the reason why now more than ever, it's needed across the world.”
Since the book’s official release in December of 2021, it has been translated into Spanish, and its two authors plan to have it translated into several other languages. While touring and promoting the book, King and Johnson loved seeing people from all walks of life sharing the book with their kids and students.
“It's very rare for an African American face to be on the book and someone who's of another culture really gravitate towards that book,” said King. “We've been really excited about its universal appeal.”
Both King and Johnson have made an impact through their activism and their relentless fight for racial and socioeconomic equality for decades, but, they admit they still learn a lot, especially through the younger generations. Through platforms like TikTok, children raise awareness for issues and vocalize their stances on a plethora of social justice topics — “when used correctly,” added King.
But overall, the It Starts With Me authors think even outside of the internet, the most valuable asset to our communities is our voices. And by encouraging young children to use their voices, we lay the foundation for a brighter future for generations to come.
“Your voice is a tool to create change,” said Johnson. “You can create change in the environment, you can create change in academics, you can create change in communities. Using that voice as your tool and knowing that you have the power to be loved, even when others are not, is important.”