Reaching for Pearls of Peace

Four intertwined bronze arms — a 22-foot-tall sculpture memorializing Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. hugging his wife, Coretta Scott King – had an unveiling on Boston Common on 1-13-2023. Artist Hank Willis Thomas created The Embrace from the essence of a photograph showing the couple hugging after MLK won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

At age 35 King was the youngest person to receive this honor for his staunch support of overcoming racism and poverty. He donated his $54,123 prize money to promote civil rights in 6 organizations, including the Gandhi Society for Human Rights. Just 4 years later King died from a gunshot wound after championing nonviolence in a manner modeled by his mentor, Mahatma Gandhi.

Boston was home to MLK when he met his future wife. While King was a doctoral candidate of systemic theology at Boston University (BU), creative Coretta Scott was completing her degree of opera studies at New England Conservatory of Music. They married in 1953 and MLK graduated from BU in 1955.   

I feel privileged to have education ties to MLK.

BU was home for my counseling psychology doctorate, although many years after King’s studies there. Our paths did cross when I was in college. In King’s final campus speech before his untimely death, I heard him speak at Manchester College (now Manchester University) in Indiana. I still recall the experience of King, especially his resolute voice with a passion for peace and justice.

However, not everyone in that small Indiana community was appreciative of King’s peace message, as he was emphatically against the Vietnam War: “…our national administration is more concerned about winning an ill-considered war in Vietnam than about winning the war against poverty right here at home. I raise my voice against that war because I have seen what it has done to our nation…It has diverted attention from civil rights.” Our college president received hate mail, but today King is commemorated on campus with a bronze bust of him near the location of his speech.

Manchester celebrates the 75th anniversary of their Peace Studies Institute and Program for Conflict Resolution in 2023, the oldest undergraduate peace studies curriculum in the world. Originally a college for theology students, Manchester has religious roots in the Church of the Brethren, one of the historic churches devoted to peace.

  • A take-away lesson from MLK was echoed by his son, Martin Luther King, III, upon the unveiling of the giant-arms sculpture: “…we must learn nonviolence, or we will cease to exist.”
  • MLK believed in “…the sacredness of human personality…human life is too sacred to be taken on the battlefields of the world.”
  • A take-away message from artist Thomas gives pause for thought: “There are so many monuments to victims of war; there are very, very few monuments to love.”

Join me in reaching for pearls of peace.

Pearls of Peace (PoP) Quiz

151. How often do you consider sacredness in another’s personality?     

152. On this MLK Day, how can you embrace peace-making?           

By Janis Johnston

Janis Clark Johnston, Ed.D., has a doctorate in counseling psychology from Boston University. She has worked with children, families, and groups (ages 3-83) with presenting issues of anxiety, depression, trauma, loss, and relationship concerns. She initially worked as a school psychologist in public schools and was awarded School Psychology Practitioner of the Year for Region 1 in Illinois for her innovative work. She was a supervising psychologist at a mental health center, an employee-assistance therapist and a trainer for agencies prior to having a family therapy private practice. Recipient of the 2011 Founder’s Award for her dedication to the parenting education of Parenthesis Family Center (now called New Moms), and the 2002 Community Spirit Award from Sarah’s Inn, a domestic violence shelter and education center, Johnston is an active participant in numerous volunteer activities supporting children and families in her community. A frequent presenter at national psychology and educational conferences, Johnston has published journal articles, book chapters, and two books -- It Takes a Child to Raise a Parent: Stories of Evolving Child and Parent Development (2013, hardback; 2019, paperback) and Midlife Maze: A Map to Recovery and Rediscovery after Loss (2017, hardback; 2019, paperback). In addition to augmenting and supporting personal growth in families, Johnston is a Master Gardener and loves nurturing growth in the plants in her yard.

2 comments

  1. Thank you Jan for including Manchester “College” in today’s post. I too was at this convocation but I fear I was distracted by the press coming all the way from Fort Wayne than to totally understand his message.

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  2. There certainly was a lot going on during MLK’s 1968 campus visit. The energy surrounding the Vietnam War was palpable on so many levels. I recall being in a downtown peace march around that time and having people (town residents?) throw tomatoes and eggs at us.

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