A Conversation With: Martin Luther King III

Martin Luther King III is chairman and CEO of Realizing the Dream Inc., a non-profit organization attempting to empower people to take charge of their lives and the life of their communities through various community-based initiatives. King, the eldest son of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., also helped develop a documentary, Poverty In America, that airs on AmericanLife Television later this month. Programming editor R. Thomas Umstead talked with King about the documentary, and the progress of cable’s on-air diversity efforts.  

MCN: How did the documentary Poverty In America come about?

MLK III: AmericanLife Television approached me about getting involved in an effort they were producing concerning issues regarding the poor. George Clooney and his father Nick Clooney produced the documentary and I was part of that effort. As a result, the president of AmericanLife TV, Larry Meli, talked to me about the possibility of doing a documentary around the Poverty In America tour that I’m involved in. American Life TV is a family oriented network, so we thought it would be a good fit for us.

MCN: Talk to me a little about Poverty In America and what you’re trying to accomplish with the documentary?

MLK III: Obviously America is not focused on poverty, just by virtue of the fact that the numbers continue to increase. In fact, my father’s last major effort was called the “poor people’s campaign.” He did not live to realize that dream, so in that vein we created this organization called Realizing the Dream to continue his and my mom’s legacy, as well as to get the nation focused on poverty and look for viable ways to reduce poverty and to create opportunities and options for everyone in our nation. In a nation that’s so healthy, we should be able to accomplish that objective.

MCN: In terms of the cable industry and its on-screen diversity efforts, are you satisfied with what you’re seeing in terms of positive images of people of color?

MLK III: I don’t know if satisfied is appropriate. I would say that strides have been made but we still have a ways to go in relationship to diversity and people of color. It’s happening a little at a time, but we have not reached the magic mark in my judgment. But it’s far better that it was even ten years ago.

MCN: How is the effort going regarding the building of a monument for your father in Washington, D.C.?

MLK III: It’s going very well … We’re maybe $15 million short of the $100 million that is proposed for a budget. A major benefit took place in New York [Sept. 18] that raised close to $5 million, and there are other events taking place around the country. We’re getting closer, and I think that effort is coming along quite well.

MCN: What other projects are you working on?

The Realizing the Dream organization will focus in addition to poverty on two other areas. One of those areas is conflict resolution and non-violent training -- teaching people how to live together without destroying persons or property. And the second is targeted youth leadership training, focusing on young people.  

The third is community and economic development, which is part of the solution for addressing poverty. Then there’s a global initiative [Gen II: Global Peace Initiative] and for that initiative we brought together a number of children and grandchildren of some prominent individuals like the daughters of Robert Kennedy and Bishop Tutu, the son of [Canada prime minister] Pierre Trudeau ... and the grandson of [Mahatma] Gandhi.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.