Eldest child of Martin Luther King Jr. to speak at annual UCSC convocation

Actress and producer Yolanda King, eldest child of Martin Luther King, will speak January 20 at UCSC's annual convocation honoring her father's memory.

Now in its 20th year, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Convocation will be at 7 p.m. in the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium. The event is free and open to the public.

"We felt as though we really needed to have someone special for the 20th anniversary," said John Holloway, executive director of Student Life and a member of the selection committee. While the event has featured many outstanding speakers over the years, Holloway said, bringing Yolanda King to Santa Cruz will be especially meaningful because of her memories of her father. "We hope this choice will really resonate with people. I'm very excited about the selection."

It was just two weeks after Yolanda King was born in 1955 that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white person on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama. The arrest of Parks prompted a bus boycott--led by then-Montgomery minister Martin Luther King--and is considered a pivotal event in the movement that ultimately desegregated the South. Tensions ran high at the time, and Yolanda was at home when a bomb landed on the porch of the Kings' house in early 1956. No one was injured.

Years later, Yolanda King portrayed Rosa Parks in the NBC-TV film King, with Paul Winfield and Howard Rollins, one of her many film and television roles blending her interest in acting with her support for human rights. Her film credits also include playing Betty Shabazz, wife of Malcolm X, in the film Death of A Prophet with Morgan Freeman, and Reena Evers in Ghosts of Mississippi.

Yolanda King's approach to social change is reminiscent of her father's. "While it is imperative to actively challenge the forces that deny human beings their right to a decent life.one must also stimulate and alter the hearts and minds of both the privileged as well as those who have been too long denied," she says on her web site. "Within the arts lies this power."

Yolanda King is coeditor with Elodia Tate of a new book, Open My Eyes, Open My Soul: Celebrating Our Common Humanity. The book includes a foreword by her mother, Coretta Scott King, and is a collection of stories and poems by celebrities, human rights advocates, and writers from all walks of life, including Maya Angelou, Stevie Wonder, Robert Kennedy Jr., and Muhammad Ali. Yolanda King said its release, scheduled to coincide with Martin Luther King's birthday on January 15, is designed to celebrate the beauty of diversity and encourage a more compassionate world.

Yolanda King has been involved in a range of theater projects, including serving for 12 years as co-founding director of the Nucleus theater group with Attallah Shabazz, the eldest child of Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz. Nucleus toured schools, colleges, churches, and communities around the country with an original production called Stepping Into Tomorrow.

In 1990, Yolanda King formed Higher Ground Productions. Its first project was a multimedia theatrical production celebrating her father. Her one-woman show--featuring her portrayal of 16 characters--toured the country for four years. Higher Ground Productions' most recent project, Achieving The Dream, premiered during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, and recently received eight NAACP Theater Award nominations. It is currently being performed around the country.

King, who received a bachelor's degree in theater and African American studies from Smith College, and a master's degree in theater from New York University, has also been a visiting professor in theater at Fordham University in New York.

Yolanda King serves on the Board of Directors of The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change and was the founding director of the King Center's cultural affairs program. She is a member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Partnership Council of Habitat for Humanity, a sponsor of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and holds a lifetime membership in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.