Yolanda Renee King is a seasoned speaker and activist at the age of 13.
Many people may have noticed similarities between her and her grandfather, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., when she spoke about gun control at the 2018 March For Our Lives student-led demonstration in Washington, D.C. Or maybe in 2020, when she spoke about racial equality on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Yolanda King, the granddaughter of King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, is using her voice on MLK Day to emphasize the importance of voting rights and why younger generations should be involved in the fight. “My family and I have been working on getting two major bills passed that can make it easier for people to vote, because one of the fundamental rights is the right to vote. Everybody needs to have access to voting,” she said.
During a speech in Georgia on Tuesday, President Joe Biden emphasized the importance of passing the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Each bill seeks to improve accessibility and equality in the voting process. Advocates for these two bills argue that they will increase the participation of people of color in elections while also implementing regulations to prevent election day challenges, such as waiting several hours in line to vote.
Yolanda, who is not yet of voting age, said she has always felt compelled to help others.
“There are even times my parents have told me about, that I don’t even remember … for instance, every day, we would drive to school and we would see homeless people,” she said, “And when I was 3 or 4, I was already talking about them, and asking, ‘What are we going to do to help?’”
Yolanda stated that she has been learning about her powerful family at home and at school.
“My parents have always told me that ‘your family has done some really phenomenal work.’ “And ‘you are the granddaughter of really phenomenal people who changed this country and the world,'” she explained, adding, “I didn’t really understand the significance of it until I got older.”
Her grandfather’s birthday became a federal holiday in 1986; the third Monday in January honors King, who would have turned 93 this year.
“MLK Day is not a day off,” Yolanda explained, “but it should be treated as a day on.” “Today is a day of service.” While some may be tempted to commemorate the day by reflecting on her grandfather’s life, she believes there are more meaningful ways to spend the day.
“I believe that instead of idolizing my grandfather, I should choose a service project and do something to help the community,” Yolanda suggested. “It could be as easy as picking up trash in your neighborhood park.”
She said she has always felt she could carry her own message because of her family’s legacy and prominence, which has helped elevate her voice to the national stage. “When you realize the significance of what comes with that name, it can be a lot of pressure. But I am also lucky enough to have parents who have told me ‘you don’t have to be like your grandfather, you don’t have to be like your grandmother,’” Yolanda said.
“They never really forced me to do activism; it was entirely my choice.”
Yolanda will be reflecting on the holiday and speaking at the Washington National Cathedral on January 18. For those who are not yet of voting age, she advises them to use their voice and influence to move the needle of progress in their own way.
“You have to get out there and support those movements,” she says. “Even if you aren’t old enough to vote, you are the future.” The world’s future is determined by you and your decisions.”