Civil-rights leader's daughter to speak

Yolanda King insists she isn't walking in her father's footsteps.

"They're too big," she said by phone from Atlanta. "I'd fall and break my neck.

"But I am following his principles, his values. The ones, if embraced, that will bring us to being the kind of people we need to be."

At 47, Yolanda King is the eldest of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s children. And like the civil-rights leader's other three children, she is carrying on his work by pressing for racial tolerance as an activist in the cause of human rights.

Yolanda King will be the keynote speaker during Snohomish County's annual King community observation Jan. 16 at the Everett Theatre. The free event is the centerpiece of a weeklong countywide celebration of her father's life.

More than 50 agencies, businesses and schools will be involved with the march and program.

Karyn Zigler, a diversity analyst for Snohomish County and the event's chairwoman, says she's proud that county government has taken the lead in the event.

"From the time when Dr. King was marching, it was so adversarial, with law enforcement actually attacking people on the march. This march, we're walking arm in arm with law enforcement," Zigler said.

"And that's the difference. It's the difference of inclusion, of people being together and proactive."

King's legacy has become a major part of his daughter's life. But Yolanda King also remembers the man.

"He was a big kid, my best buddy," she said. "He'd play ball in the house, and Mom would say, 'Stop, you're gonna break something,' and he'd say, 'All right, Cory.' He'd wait till she was out of the room and start again.

"He'd swim, ride bicycles, play basketball and softball. He related to us as children, and he was the biggest kid in the group. My memories are filled with laughter and good times."

Yolanda King finds that for young people, events of the civil-rights movement seem like ancient history.

She's made it her mission to keep them alive, with a blend of theater and history she calls "edutainment."

With a bachelor's degree in theater and African-American studies from Smith College in Massachusetts and a master's of fine arts in theater from New York University, she's been in such films as "Ghosts of Mississippi" and played Rosa Parks in a TV movie.

Yolanda is the third King to be invited to speak in the Northwest: Coretta Scott King, her mother, drew a capacity crowd at Western Washington University in Bellingham a few years ago when she spoke, and last year, Everett's King Day celebration featured Martin Luther King III as the keynote speaker.

More and more, Yolanda King is finding that people are catching up with her father's vision of tolerance and nonviolent social change. She's often asked what her father would think about subsequent world events, such as the collapse of apartheid in South Africa.

"Daddy was ahead of his time when he was with us," she said. "He'd be moving us to an entirely different place. There are some clear patterns."

Clues lie in his voluminous writings. The man who had a doctorate in philosophy was a lifelong student of the world's philosophies and religions, and the family is now working with scholars on a 14-volume collection of his words and writings.

Yolanda King recently listened to 100 of her father's speeches and was amazed at their relevance today, nearly 35 years after his assassination. Her father's message was always a message of tolerance. But today, it has thrown a big net over other issues we didn't envision in the 1960s, issues such as gender-pay equity, the gay-rights movement and even corporate crime.

Among her own projects, King is working on a CBS miniseries about the life of her mother, who has continued to speak around the country.

"I'm so happy this is taking shape," she said of that project.

"The truth is that Martin Luther King Jr. would not have achieved anything without the strength, the stamina, the courage of Coretta Scott King. They walked hand in hand. Just as he was a scholar before Montgomery (a bus boycott), mother was an activist."

And though the commemorative march in Everett is no march on Washington, D.C., the feel of concrete and pebbles under the soles of the marchers' shoes will be the same.

"There's nothing quite like that in bringing people together," King said. "There's something about a mass of people coming together, the energy and spirit, in that kind of way toward a unified purpose."

"It doesn't change legislation, but it affects hearts and minds and spirits of the people who participate, connects them to the whole, no matter what the issue."

Diane Wright: 425-745-7815 or

King march and community observation

The march: 9:30 a.m. Jan. 16, with a kickoff rally at the west side of the Parks Student Union Building, Everett Community College, 2000 Tower St. The march will leave the campus from Eighth Street and Wetmore Avenue and proceed west on Eighth to Colby Avenue, turn south on Colby to the Everett Theatre, 2911 Colby Ave. Transit buses will be available to shuttle people back to their cars after the program.

The program: 11:30 a.m. with Yolanda King, daughter of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., as keynote speaker. The two-hour program also will feature former Seattle SuperSonic James Donaldson, jazz singer Nadine Shanti, the Tulalip Tribes' Canoe Family, Pat Wright and the T.T. Minor Elementary School Choir, Reginald Gillins and the Intersections Diversity Dance Group. Snohomish County Executive Bob Drewel and KOMO-TV's Steve Pool will be co-hosts. There will be a preshow outside at 10 a.m. in a covered area with bleachers, and outdoor video screens will broadcast the show. Doors will open for the program at 10:45 a.m.; ticket holders must be seated by 11:15 a.m.

Tickets: free (two per person, 30 per school) and on a first-come, first-served basis through Sunday at these locations: Everett Theatre, 2911 Colby Ave.; Snohomish County Administration Building Human Resources Department, 3000 Rockefeller Ave.; and Everett, Marysville, Mukilteo and Monroe YMCA facilities. For school tickets, to accommodate the disabled or for more information, call Karyn Zigler at 425-388-3542.

For volunteer opportunities, call Jennifer Rinaldi of the YMCA at 425-258-9211, Ext. 165.