I was deeply disturbed by reports that a group of about fifty children, young people and their chaperones in your community were subjected to physical and verbal abuse during a minor league hockey game in Rapid City, South Dakota. I understand that the children, as young as 8 years old, were participating in a field trip as a reward for academic excellence and exemplary behavior and were excited to attend the game.
According to reports, some white men in a skybox above the youth poured beer on the children and subjected them to vicious racial insults and invective. Lacking protection for the children, the chaperones took the children and left the game early in the interest of the children's safety.
To the children who experienced this abuse, my heart goes out to you and I commend you for the courageous dignity and restraint you demonstrated during this incident by refusing to retaliate in kind. There are many powerful, nonviolent ways to respond to this injustice, including dignified, disciplined nonviolent protests and demonstrations and voter registration drives in your communities. I encourage you to use your creativity and the great wisdom and traditions of your culture in responding nonviolently.
Most importantly of all, continue to pursue your education and service to your community. Refuse to be disheartened, discouraged, distracted from your goals in life. You will encounter misguided people from time to time. That's part of life. The challenge is to educate them when you can, but always to keep your dignity and self-respect and persevere in your personal growth and development. As my grandfather, Martin Luther King, Sr. used to say, "Let no man bring you so low as to hate him."
Continue to rise and lift up your sisters and brothers who are also experiencing discrimination and abuse. Continue to strive for excellence in all of your endeavors, undaunted by the bad behavior of others. Continue to speak out against all forms of injustice to yourselves and others, and you will set a mighty example for your children and for future generations.
Millions of Americans of all races have long been inspired by the tremendous dignity, wisdom and beauty of your vibrant culture and heritage and the wonderful leaders who have graced your history. Our country urgently needs the wisdom and guidance of the native nations of the plains, as we struggle to create a society which can live in harmony with nature and with each other. Continue to walk with pride and reverence on your ancestral lands, knowing that your unbreakable determination to rise above the bullying behavior toward your community will serve as a source of inspiration for generations yet unborn.
Seek out your brothers and sisters of other cultures and join together in building alliances to put an end to all forms of racial discrimination, bigotry and prejudice. There are people of good will of all races, religions and nations who will join you in common quest for the betterment of society.
It is encouraging that leaders of the Rapid City community have begun to engage in dialogue with tribal leaders about the incident, as a first step toward healing and reconciliation. There are good people of all races in Rapid City and across the state of South Dakota, and their voices are needed to help rectify this regrettable injustice.
My hope is that those who were responsible for the bullying in this incident will come forward, offer a heartfelt apology and take steps to make amends to the children. There are paths to redemption for everyone, when we take responsibility for our behavior and do the right thing for those who have experienced injustice. This would be a meaningful step toward healing and reconciliation.
As my father, Martin Luther King, Jr., said in a 1956 speech, hailing a favorable Supreme Court decision during the Montgomery Bus Boycott:
The end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.
Dr. Bernice A. King is Chief Executive Officer of The King Center.