Bernice King: We’ve been “distracted.” Live from MLK service

Dr. Bernice King launched the annual Martin Luther King Jr. commemorative service with a call to action Monday, saying that people have been “distracted” by reality TV and prime-time shows including “Real Housewives of Atlanta,” “Empire” and “Scandal.”

“While we’ve been distracted, new voting rights restrictions have been created” and the educational system is the “worst in the world,” she said, also listing global warming and environmental justice as growing problems.

The hundreds gathered at Ebenezer Baptist Church erupted as King then took a swipe at Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, noting that the “reality show host” is trying to “bully” his way into becoming president.

The event, still underway, marks the 30th anniversary of King’s death as a national holiday and is the culmination of multi-day celebration of his legacy. King, who was assassinated in 1968, would have been 87 this year.

The service typically draws a swath of local, state and national politicos. U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro, eyed as a potential running mate for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, spoke of King’s work in fighting poor housing conditions and discrimination in Chicago 50 years ago.

Castro has made several visits to Atlanta in recent months after awarding a $30 million federal housing grant to the city in September.

“Dr. King knew that housing was about more than bricks and mortar. He knew that if you tell me where a family lives, I’ll tell you what jobs are available to them; where their children go to school; the quality of the air they breathe,” he said. “The walls of segregation left many Americans stuck without a chance to get ahead in life, not just in the South, but everywhere, including in our cities.”

Castro continued that King’s spirit lives on, earning a round of applause as he declared: “There is hope in that and there is also a resolve that we will keep fighting, keep marching, keep strategizing, keep energizing, keep galvanizing, humanizing, sermonizing, never apologizing, always organizing and ensure that America’s progress becomes real for every child and our country.”

Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, charge d’affaires to the U.S. embassy in Havana, Cuba, drew parallels between King’s work in promoting human rights and the normalizing of relations between the United States and the communist country.

“Dr. King may have never traveled to Cuba in his life, but his legacy …penetrates the hearts of minds of many there and here,” he said.

Republican U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, Ebenezer Pastor Raphael Warnock — who briefly considered a run against Isakson for his senate seat — Congressman Sanford Bishop, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell also spoke during the service.

Isakson, who announced his struggle with Parkinson’s disease last year, has attended the service for decades.

“Today is not just a commemoration of a life to bring justice … It’s a commitment for all of us to be part of that life in the future,” he said.

The Rev. William Barber II — the president of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP — served as the keynote speaker.

To hear what he had to say about political candidates and King’s legacy, visit myAJC.com.

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