The Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

By FedEx Global Citizenship Team

February 7, 2018


Writing for a “Princess”

Yolanda King, Janas Jacksonby Pam Johnson
February 16, 2018

Imagine you’re a writer, and you get a call one day from a friend asking if you might be available to provide speech-writing assistance to a colleague of his.  And then imagine that the colleague turns out to be Yolanda Denise King, daughter of Coretta and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

That’s what happened to Janas Jackson, currently the Diversity and Inclusion Advisor for FedEx Express at the company’s headquarters in Memphis.  The friend who called Janas was nationally-renowned author and motivational speaker Les Brown.

“When he told me Yolanda King was interested in talking to me about possible speech-writing help, I almost didn’t believe him.  To say I was shocked would be an understatement.”

But the shock wore off a couple of days later when Janas got a call from Yolanda King herself.  Thus began a friendship and collaboration that lasted until Yolanda’s untimely death in 2007.

Janas Jackson’s love of the written word has propelled her to a variety of communications roles that have taken her to various parts of the world.

A graduate of Carver High School in Memphis, she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and then a Master’s in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Her career accomplishments include serving as communications advisor and chief speechwriter to seven corporate CEOs. She has also served as communications liaison for FedEx operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. As a result of her accomplishments, Janas was awarded FedEx’s highest honor – the FedEx Five Star Award, as well as the Global Communications Excellence Award.

The First Meeting

Days after that fateful call from Yolanda King back in 2003, Janas flew to Yolanda’s Los Angeles home for their first face-to-face meeting.

“As we climbed the stairs and entered her living room, I felt a certain eeriness because there were photos and memorabilia of her father that I had not recalled seeing in the media over the years.  I could feel his presence in her home – not as the world’s most noted civil rights leader and Nobel laureate, but as somebody’s daddy.”

They spent the next several hours talking.  Janas says Yolanda shared what it was like to grow up as a “King kid” with a larger-than-life father and mother.  She recalls Yolanda saying how much she enjoyed when her father would come home, pick her up and put her on top of the refrigerator, then she’d jump down into his arms.

But then came the dark days of death and mourning.  Yolanda was 12 years old when she lost her father, and was in high school when she lost her grandmother and uncle.  What followed was pain, concerns about personal safety and an overwhelming sense that people expected things of her that she was not able to deliver.

Janas said she listened quietly as Yolanda told her story.  At one point Janas asked Yolanda a question that startled her. “I asked her ‘if you had not been the daughter of Dr. King and Ms. Coretta, who would you be?’”

According to Janas, Yolanda paused for a second and then tears filled her eyes. “Of all the interviews I’ve had, no one has ever asked me that question.”  After contemplating, she sat up straight and said “Drama is my calling and always has been.  As a child, I always loved the theater and acting.  I am an actress.  I wrote and directed my first play when I was about eight years old and it’s always been a part of me.”

Janas said while reviewing Yolanda’s biographic information, she noticed Yolanda had earned an honorary doctorate, but Yolanda wanted Janas to remove that information.  Janas asked her why.  The response was “I only have one honorary doctoral degree. My mother has about 40 and so did my father.”  Janas remembers laughing and saying “most people don’t even have one! You need to keep that in your profile.  It’s seems you’ve been trying to walk and run in your parents’ big shoes.”

A Friendship is Born

Over the next few months Janas and Yolanda became close friends.  Janas worked on revising Yolanda’s bio, and created some of the poetic monologues and speeches that spoke to Yolanda’s own vision for peace and personal empowerment and reemphasized her father’s mission.  Yolanda would call her on a regular basis just to talk, or to ask for advice on how to best convey a certain idea or concept in one of the many public speeches she was asked to do all over the country.

Yolanda invited Janas to many of her performances, such as the one she did at the King Holiday event at the Tennessee Center for the Performing Arts in Nashville in 2005.  Yolanda recited one of the poems Janas had written, which was a tribute to her father.  The poem had been set to music by the Nashville Symphony Orchestra.

That same poem, “My Father Was a King,” was read by Yolanda at the groundbreaking ceremony of the King Memorial in Washington, D.C. in 2006. * (The title was amended for that event to “Our Father was a King” because Yolanda’s siblings were present.)

Janas says some of the most endearing memories of Yolanda center on her warmth, humility and thoughtfulness.

Yolanda once starred in a production of “A Raisin in the Sun” at Cornell University. “I flew to Ithaca, New York to see the performance,” Janas recalls.  “When I happened to mention that I love waterfalls, Yolanda spent an entire day taking me around to all the beautiful waterfalls in Ithaca.  Even though she was scheduled to appear on stage before a sell-out crowd in a matter of hours, she hiked around with me through the mud and mist just so I could enjoy those waterfalls.”

Yolanda celebrated her 50th birthday in November of 2005 with two parties – one in Los Angeles and one in Atlanta.  Janas attended the one in Atlanta which included a host of famous friends and family.  “There were poetry readings, interpretive dances, songs performed by celebrity artists like Stephanie Mills and stars from Tyler Perry movies and speeches from people who knew her from childhood. And the party didn’t end until Yolanda had hugged everybody in the room.”

When Coretta Scott King died in 2006, Janas was invited to sit in the family and friends section at the funeral, which was attended by four U.S. Presidents. Yolanda asked Janas to create a tribute to her parents titled “Together Forever”, which was read by Yolanda, her sister Bernice and brother Martin II when their parents’ remains where entombed together at the King Center in Atlanta.

Continuing the Legacy

Yolanda spent her last days organizing and archiving her mother’s belongings in Atlanta.  It was a monumental task – there were so many artifacts, articles and years of documents that needed to be inventoried.

“I think at times it became overwhelming for her, not just physically but emotionally,” says Janas.  Yolanda King outlived her mother by only 16 months, succumbing to complications related to a chronic heart condition on May 15, 2007.

“Like her father, she left us far too soon,” says Janas.  “She spent her adult years trying to lift others to higher ground, encouraging them to find inner peace and to use their talents and strengths to improve their own lives and the lives of others.”

Janas attended Yolanda’s funeral in Atlanta and recalls thinking how similar the home-going services were to the 50th birthday celebration – with poems, songs, dance and speeches from longtime friends.

“While she wasn’t there to hug everybody at Ebenezer Church, we could still feel her warmth because she hugged everybody while she lived.”

* See video of Yolanda reciting “(My) Our Father Was a King” at the King Memorial dedication event at this link: https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4613063/yolanda-king

Janas Jackson, Yolanda King

 



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Comments on The Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

    Jason Winik says:

    Lived in Atlanta for three years and visited Dr. King’s gravesite once or twice monthly. Each time I visit the city, I go there and walk around for a bit. More people need to be judged, as he said, primarily by the content of their character.

    VeLa Johnson says:

    It is great to see that we continue to honor the memory and the legacy of Dr. King.

    John Duchon says:

    Sounds like a meaningful initiative!

    Michael O'Brien says:

    I remember the events of 1968 so well, although I was only 11 years old at the time of his assassination. Rev. King has been particularly inspirational for me, standing up for something he believed in, something he believed in so strongly that he put himself in harm’s way to effect change. That is true love – laying down one’s life for your friends. I pray that we never forget his message, so eloquently expressed in his “I Have a Dream” speech, that we judge others not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. That is a transcendental message that withstands the test of time.

    BRENDA WEATHERS says:

    It is amazing to me that FedEx is honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King keep up

    Anita King says:

    I so look forward to volunteering for Martin Luther King, Jr Day of Service via FedEx Cares. It is a privilege to work for a company that supports diversity! A day on not off.

    Lisa Hibbert says:

    Honoring the Legacy of Dr. King, for me is my spiritual foundation, humility, love for my fellow human being, no mater the race or background. My work ethic and daily life, are mirrored after Leaders such as my Parents and Dr. King. I am a proud African American Woman, because of the strength and the courage of Dr. King and many, many other longsuffering, Africans and African Americans, before and after him. Lastly,I am proud to work for a Company, that allows me to express such a sentiment. Thank you,
    Lisa Hibbert

    Mary Ann Schott says:

    Dr. King opened the gates to a GM factory job for this white woman who could never have gotten a job there before. I am forever grateful for my GM pension and so much more. He was brave, loved everyone no mater the color and gave this nation something to be very proud of. He paid for it with his life.

    Quavis Clayton says:

    I am a Minority but Today I have a great job working for a one of the top fortune 500 companies to have this opportunity to work for FedEx where the possibilities for growth are endless I am grateful an honored to be a recipient of all the hard work and vision he marched and unfortunately gave his life for thank you Dr. King for the sacrifices you made I would not be in this position without your vision and message thank you….

    Simone Smith says:

    Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was more then a man, he was a movement. He stood for a many great beliefs, that values, equality, love, and peace even in conflict could all be a part of change an growth of people. The most important lesson that I learned of Dr. Kings life, his struggles, and his untimely death, is to do the moral thing. It may not be easy all the time but it adds value to my life and my children’s life. I wish that on his anniversary we could all add acceptance of differences, love for our neighbors, and understanding to our daily actions. Thanks FedEx for not forgetting this great man and participating in remebering his great journey!!!

    VeLa Johnson says:

    It’s great to see that we still honor the legacy and memory of Dr. King!

    Amanda says:

    Dr. King, you were the man….

    Sidney Brown says:

    Had The Chance To Meet WWII Tuskegee Airman Pilot Colonel Charles McGee In Hawaii In 2017. I Thank Him For Paving The Way For Me In Aviation. I Can Only Imagine What I Would Have Said To Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr If I Could Have Meet Him.

    Elvis Addae says:

    Dr. King defied the odds when he stood up for social justice, inclusion and civility for mankind. He made it possible for me and many others to enjoy the freedom to educate our children in the US. God Bless MLK and surely the “Dream Lives On”

    Norma Kirby says:

    Living here in Memphis, I was nine years old at the time Dr. King was shot. I remember my mother sat us all down together (13 children) and said “Ya’ll, they have shot King.” She squatted down near us, and we all cried. At that moment, all possibility for equality, fairness, and justice I thought was gone forever. However, as I now look back and look forward, things are not so bleak. There has been a lot of progressive changes throughout the world. I often feel there is a bit more that can be done to make individuals feel inclusive. Everyone wants the best for themselves and their families — good schools, good neighborhoods (safe shelter), good food, vacations, etc. WOW, to live the American Dream! We can all share in Dr. King’s dream — it’s enough to go around, and you may just find the world would be a better place to live.

    rowdy thomas says:

    I was 6 when he was assassinated and being a kid I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. As I got older and did my thought was WOW just because he had a different view of what America needed to be..thanks MLK

    French Pope , Jr says:

    I am so proud to be an employee of FedEx and a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. (Montgomery County MD) chapter also know as the Monument Chapter where the idea of erecting a statue for our Fraternity brother in Washington DC.

    Betty says:

    I was 9 years old when Dr. King was murdered. I can visualize the very moment. I was on kitchen duty on Mr. V’s plantation in Mississippi and my mother screamed so loud I believe all of the world stood still. Though so many lives have been sacrificed for equality, today we recognize Dr. King. Dr. King vision is empowered by our stand for justice for everyone. Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity. MLK. I am committed to never hate anyone.

    Tony Smith says:

    I recall seeing Dr. King speak in Rockville Centre, NY on March 28, 1968 a little more than a week prior to his assassination. Sitting audience with my Great Grandmother and Aunt watching him interact with my Uncle Rev. Morgan M. Days. I sat there in amazement as his voice echoed throughout the auditorium. Every word clear and distinct and from the heart. When hearing of what had taken place on April 4th of that year everyone within our community wept as we all realized from our experience the week prior that greatness was removed from our lives, that his words were truly something to carry and live by for the remainder of our existence.

    Dawn Bess says:

    Very proud of FedEx for their day of service. Although the company doesn’t recognize this as a holiday giving their employees the day off, there are plenty of “work” volunteer events for employees to participate in.

    Kenneth Matthews says:

    Eventhough Dr. Kings influence and vision empowered us and spurned many changes in public policy, I feel his focus went beyond that. His focus was that people would submit themselves to God and be transformed in their hearts and minds. Without such transformation true change is a façade. God searches the heart of man. You can’t fool Him.

    Serenthia Bailey says:

    Remember that Love conquers all.

    Cynthia I. Hill says:

    What a great man, to give his life for what he believe in. We are not living up to this great man. Let honor the late great Dr. king by showing love, and respect to all people.

    BELLE says:

    My heart is so overjoy for the people who made a stand against prejudice and inequality. I salute those who came before Mr. King who gave their lives for America to be a just Country and other countries who people also gave their lives. We have still have more work to do by each person seeing wrong and to recognize it. Thanks FEDEX for acknowledging that.

    Tyrone S. says:

    FedEx is just an awesome company that promotes great things for every culture, and diversity; I’m 34 years in-thanks!!!!

    Contessa Dickson says:

    This is just one of a myriad of reasons I am ecstatic to be a part of THE FEDEX FAMILY. FEDEX shows why diversity matters, drives revenue, motivates employees, and encourages innovation.

    Tracy W says:

    Another proud team member honoring Dr. King’s life and legacy

    Cassandra Aleong says:

    Witnessing our current state of events makes it even more admirable that he was able to take a stand when the view point was not popular.

    Diane Washington says:

    I have a Dream Speech, still gives me goose bumps today. This man has inspired all races to speak up for what is right.

    Carmen Thompson says:

    I’m so happy to be apart of a company that took out the time to acknowledge such greatness! I was only 4yrs of age when his young life was cut short! But I have pasted what he stood for on to my son and were sharing,showing the dream to my grandson. Don’t look at this day as a holiday! Give back! Reach one teach one! Will keep this dream alive and not a nightmare!

    George Jones says:

    Dr. King was a dreamer and a drum major for justice. He inspired and uplifted people all over the world. His message(s) will endure the test of time. In order to honor his legacy, we must keep pushing forward.

    George Jones says:

    Dr. King was a bridge-builder, and I am glad that we are honoring his legacy.

    Tyrone S says:

    FedEx is just plain AWESOME all-around!!!!!

    Eliza D Royal says:

    Enjoying MLK Day. My great uncle Kearney was a sanitation worker during the civil rights era. Also, FedEx Employees in TN made the local news. I would like to get involved in future FedEx Service Projects, since I have not participated in a service project.

    Sandi says:

    What an inspiring human being

    Joseph Emmanuel says:

    DR MLK was a brave man he gave his life for the people to have the same priority specially in black power we’ll always remember you

    Martin Treder says:

    A kind hello from Germany, the country of MLK’s namesake Martin Luther who founded Protestantism some 500 years ago. They shared deep trust in Jesus Christ, and this made them achieve phenomenal things. Why not take these two Martins as your role models?

    Rosie Campbell says:

    Thank you for sharing this story. Very powerful and well written.

    Danielle W. says:

    This is beautiful story, and I could have read even more on this story. Thank you for sharing this moving piece!

    Jerry Page says:

    Great story and we work for a great company that is rich in history!

    Lisa Hibbert says:

    I am so thankful, this article was written. I feel blessed to have read her story. And proud, to know that she continued to follow and honor Dr. King’s legacy. You never know who your co workers are. Nor where they have been.

    Thx,
    Lisa

    Nita Mckay says:

    What a powerful read!

    Tasha Hamilton says:

    Loved reading about the relationship between Janas and Yolanda. Very well written!

    Priscilla says:

    Thank you FedEx for recognizing the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King.

    Tracee Walls says:

    WOW! Storytelling at its VERY BEST! What a compelling, warm and powerful blog post. So proud of our team member and friend, Janas Jackson for having such a powerful influence and direct impact on a historical icon and movement.

    June Rodgers says:

    I have to brag that Janas is my cousin and for as long as I can remember she’s always been a gem — super smart, humble and always seeing the best in others. What a great story Pam. Well written and so enlightening. Congratulations to both of you fine ladies, and to FedEx for being a great company for diversity and inclusion.

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