On King Day, Remembering a Queen

It was an assignment for work. On a Sunday. In a blizzard.

I was writing for the New York Amsterdam News and my assignment was Yolanda King, the oldest of MLK's four children.

She was preaching at her sister-friend Rev. Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook's Harlem church.

I really don't know what possessed me to go -- the snow would have been excuse enough to escape any editor's wrath -- but I went.

Against my mother's pleas (and Mayor Bloomberg's televised warnings) I trudged through knee-deep snow, warring against the wind, making the hour-and-a-half-long trek from Brooklyn to Harlem.

And though I went, I really wasn't expecting much, a trickle of congregants perhaps, and after an hour of waiting around, some apologetic usher banishing us back into the snow, announcing that the service was canceled after all.

To be quite honest, my expectations weren't too high of Yolanda King either. Who was she? I thought, some wannabe riding the coattails of her iconic daddy.

But from the moment she took the pulpit and opened her mouth, Yoki, as she is fondly known, commanded my attention.

I remember her wearing this royal red and gold patterned outfit, her hair coiffed in impeccable auburn locks. Speaking candidly before a church full of strangers she confessed her own insecurities about being born King.

"I thought I was so unworthy. I wasn't as intelligent as my father, not as beautiful as my mother," said King, a Smith University educated actress. Even with a famous surname she had to make her own way.

"People often think that being my parents' daughter made me powerful automatically... it did not. Lord, I wish it had, it would have made my life a whole lot easier!" she joked that day.

While Yoki did not attain her father's fame, I think she did something better. She became the fulfillment of his prophesy.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

As she spoke at Believers' Christian Fellowship that day, I was looking for Martin and Corretta's daughter. While Yoki had her mother's hue and her father's eyes, she was more than the offspring of two civil rights greats, she was her own woman.

After graduating from Smith, she went on to get her masters in theater from New York University and formed a theater group with Attallah Shabazz, Malcolm X's eldest daughter. She also starred in a number of civil rights movies including Ghosts of Mississippi and Death of A Prophet.

At a time when daughters with famous dead fathers seek infamy on reality TV, we can glean something from Yolanda King, something about continuing where the last generation left off without selling out.

When Yoki collapsed and died from a heart condition at age 51 in 2007, it was too soon. I can remember her telling the audience on that snowbound Sunday in Harlem that she was "a 100 percent, dyed-in-the-wool, card-carrying believer in the dream."

Something about the conviction in her voice when she said those words remains with me today and makes me think that her father's greatest legacy was not in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, or the March on Washington, or even in a dream.

Her father's greatest legacy was in her, in the flesh. If greatness is not what you do, but what you inspire others to do for themselves, then giving birth to a generation that not only embraces your dreams, but embodies them, and passes them on to the next generation, is truly the ultimate testimony.

Disclaimer: Though I am a soldier proudly serving in the U.S. Army, the opinions, gripes, expressions of joy and anguish, or any other meandering thought that end up on this blog are entirely of my own conjuring. They never in any way -- neither closely or even remotely -- reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.