‘Be your best selves’: Martin Luther King III encourages La Jolla students to express gratitude

Martin Luther King III speaks Feb. 23 at La Jolla Country Day School.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

The son of the late civil-rights leader visits La Jolla Country Day School to help San Diego organization Say It Now encourage teenagers to express gratitude to those who have helped them.


“Sixty years ago, my father delivered a speech entitled ‘I Have a Dream.’ … The dream is not realized yet,” human-rights advocate Martin Luther King III said Feb. 23 at La Jolla Country Day School.

“What I know,” said the son of famed late civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., “is that it only takes a few good women and men to bring about change.”

King’s words were part of his keynote speech at an event for Say It Now, a San Diego-based organization launching an effort to promote acts of gratitude among teenagers worldwide.

The event, attended by La Jolla Country Day middle- and upper-school students along with students from The Preuss School at UC San Diego and Monarch School in San Diego, included remarks by Say It Now founder and former La Jolla resident Walter Green, choral performances and student expressions of gratitude.

Green founded Say It Now to encourage people of all ages to share messages of gratitude with those who have made great contributions to their lives.

He told the La Jolla Light that he realized many years ago “there seemed to be something quite remarkable in our culture that people would give beautiful tributes to people when they passed … but the person being honored never heard it.”

Say It Now founder Walter Green
Say It Now founder Walter Green says he wants teens to express gratitude to those who have greatly contributed to their lives.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Green said he then made sure to sit down with people “and explicitly told them how they contributed to my life.” He wrote about those experiences in his 2017 book “This is the Moment.”

“Now I want to see if we can get that message to young people,” he said. “I’m attempting to change that paradigm” of waiting until after someone’s death to show appreciation for the person.

“The real outcome of today,” Green said, “is to create awareness among not only the students but, when they go home, they tell their parents, ‘There is a better way.’”

Expressing gratitude to people while they’re still alive “gives everybody a real sense of purpose and a real sense of meaning,” he said.

Green said the Say It Now movement already has been taken up by 10,000 schools across the country and that La Jolla Country Day has been “very responsive to the importance of the message.”

Expressing gratitude to people while they’re still alive “gives everybody a real sense of purpose and a real sense of meaning.”

— Say It Now founder Walter Green

King told the Light that he became involved with the Say It Now movement because “any time you are focusing on our future, [you] are actually working to make a life and the planet better for all children.”

Say It Now’s concept “is so important and profound to really teach gratitude,” King said. “Unfortunately, in our society we don’t focus enough on what we’re grateful for. And no matter what your station is in life, even if you come from a very deprived situation … if you can tune in to the energy of being grateful, you’ll be able to rise from those difficult conditions.”

King said gratitude “helps to fuel the things I do even today.” He added that he hopes the teens who listened to him speak will express gratitude for the mentors who impact their lives.

King told the audience at the assembly that “my father was killed actually 55 years ago, in April this year. I was 10 years old. My father’s mother was also killed in 1974.”

“I’m so thankful ... that I had people in my life that helped me navigate through those very difficult times.”

Preparing for what one wants to do in life requires a strong foundation, he added.

To develop a solid foundation, one must “always retain a sense of gratitude ... to those who are there to assist you, and always be willing to share that gratitude,” King said.

Green told the students that “none of us are self-made. We have been shaped by the people who have been important in our lives.”

Five students from Preuss and Country Day then surprised mentors, older brothers and others with expressions of thanks.

Country Day freshman Mahlia Washington thanked her grandmother, who listened with emotional surprise in the audience.

“She’s been the biggest mentor for me, and the main reason that I am too blessed to be stressed,” Mahlia said. “I would do anything to do it all over, if it’s only with you.”

Fabian Garcia (left) speaks during a Say It Now assembly Feb. 23 at La Jolla Country Day School.
Fabian Garcia (left) thanks his Preuss School counselor, Allyson Cobbs, during a Say It Now assembly Feb. 23 at La Jolla Country Day School.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Fabian Garcia, a sophomore at Preuss, thanked his school counselor, Allyson Cobbs, who was watching the assembly via livestream.

Fabian, who is biracial, said he was frustrated by expressions of racism and joined the school’s Black Student Union with Cobbs’ encouragement. He later became the organization’s vice president.

“[Cobbs] is not only here to care for the students, but she meets our needs,” Fabian said. “She is one of the most trusting adults I can think of.”

“We’re still unfortunately dealing with racism,” King said. “Dad talked about the triple evils of poverty and racism and violence and eradicating them from our nation and our planet.

“I want to challenge you to be your best selves. … We must become a better nation. And we become even better by saying it now.”

After the assembly, Country Day sophomore Ekin Matanza said King’s words made him realize it’s “extremely important” to express gratitude “before it’s too late. … It could change so many lives and it also opens up doors for you.”

Country Day junior Becca Hackel said the Say It Now presentation prompted her to think that expressions of gratitude “encourage people to keep giving out to the world and keep … being the positive lights that they are in people’s lives.”

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