Dr. Bernice King Reflects On Losing Her Dad At Age 5 And George Floyd: ‘We Gotta Change America’

by Karen Belz
Karen Belz has written for sites such as Bustle, HelloGiggles, Romper, and So Yummy. She's the mom of a sassy toddler and drinks an alarming amount of Sugar-Free Red Bull in order to keep up with her.

George Floyd’s death has affected lives across the world. His death, which was preventable, has helped those who are white open their eyes to the amount of racism that’s still in this world.

So many authorities still view black people as a constant threat, when most of them just want to have the same rights as everyone. Hopefully, George’s story will bring about real change in the world.

The only thing sadder than what went down that day has been the response of George’s young daughter. Young Gianna is only 6 years old but now has to navigate life without a father. CNN chatted with Gianna’s mother, Roxie Washington, to learn more about how she’s feeling after such a big loss.

From that interview, we learned that George had moved from Houston to Minneapolis to have a better life. He figured the move would better help him provide for his family. Roxie said that at first, she couldn’t explain to Gianna what had happened. “She wanted to know how he died,” Roxie said. “The only thing I can tell her is, he couldn’t breathe.”

As time goes on, Gianna will eventually learn that her father died for change. And if she has any questions, she could always talk to Dr. Bernice King. Bernice’s father was Martin Luther King Jr., and she knows just how Gianna feels.

Many people have been quoting Martin Luther King Jr. during their protests and in their social media posts. Bernice, the youngest child of Martin Luther King Jr., had some thoughts — and reminded people that at the time, her father died due to hatred, and not due to change.

Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968. At the time, he was standing on his balcony. When he was killed, he was only 39 years old and had so much more to give. Bernice was only 5 at the time, so she has a good idea of what may be going through Gianna’s head. Surely there’s a lot of confusion, since children that age often can’t fathom the fact that people can be so cruel.

“I was 5 when my father was assassinated brutally. She’s 6, so we [were] the same age, and immediately when this happened and I heard that he had a 6-year-old daughter, it took me back to when my father was brutally taken from us,” Bernice said to Entertainment Tonight. “I know the pain that comes from losing a daddy at such a young age, and the things that she’s going to have to wrestle with, in particular, the anger and having to guard [herself] against hating.”

She also shared some of the wisdom given by her mother after her father was killed. And that was not to hate the man who did it — which requires a lot of personal strength. At the time, it was hard for her to really understand why. “I went on a journey where I did hate for a while,” she said. “I hated white people and especially white males.”

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My King Holiday Look. #MLK91

A post shared by Bernice A. King (@berniceaking) on

Life without a father is hard, so her feelings at the time made a lot of sense. “That journey was in my 20s and into my early 30s,” she admitted. “Most people didn’t know it because of the kind of household I grew up in, but I was dealing with that and the anger inside and the rage inside. We gotta change America.”

Even though she’s only 6, Gianna is at least aware of the fact that her father is responsible for this current quest for change. “She said to us, ‘My daddy changed the world,'” said Bernice. “She spoke prophetically out of her mouth because we will change the world now. And it’s so sad that it always has to be something so brutal. Why can’t we just do the right thing?”

Bernice is also incredibly supportive of the white people who are trying hard to take action and serve as allies. “I’m saying to my white brothers and sisters, come out of the confines of your privilege,” she said. She’s also been very active on Twitter, trying hard to spread the message. Her father would have been proud of her.

According to Bernice, her father also would have been proud of all of the young activists out there. As is she. “I am so proud of them first of all for the tenacity, the resilience and the vigilance that they are exercising and the determination to keep the issue of Black Lives Matter before this nation which has called so many people to lean in, in ways that I’ve never seen before in generations past,” Bernie mentioned on Good Morning America, per ABC.

“I just think my father and my mother would be extremely proud,” Bernice added. “My mother said something so essential. She said, ‘Struggle is a never-ending process. Freedom is never really won.’ We earn it and win it in every generation and these diverse group of young people are earning and winning this freedom. We may not see the total manifestation yet, but it is on its way because of their determination and vigilance.”

Hopefully, Bernice continues to keep in touch with Gianna. While many people in Gianna’s life will love her and take care of her, it’s still important to have someone who knows exactly how it feels. And that is, to not just lose a father — but to lose a father due to hatred.

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A post shared by Bernice A. King (@berniceaking) on

Martin Luther King Jr. was an important activist, and a great leader to look up to. But Bernice saw a different side of her father’s story that wasn’t necessarily taught in schools. His death was horrific — and based on the fact that white people thought less of him solely based on his skin color.

Nobody deserves to die based on a prejudice. But decades have passed, and things haven’t gotten easier for blacks in America. George Floyd didn’t know on the day he died that his death would lead to riots. But he did know that any interaction with a cop could lead to a situation like this.

And that’s because he was black. Even getting pulled over for speeding can lead to a dangerous situation for a black person, when it would lead to just a ticket for someone who’s white. These situations happen all the time. It’s unfair for a young girl to lose her loving father due to a cop who escalated things unnecessarily and dangerously.

Gianna and Bernice have a shared experience. And as they grieve, we need to make a promise that another young black girl doesn’t have to join their club. Change can happen if we all work toward it. Everyone who’s outraged by the death of George Floyd can do something to make a difference.