Martin Luther King III speaks to full house Saturday

Martin Luther King III addresses the crowd Saturday at Jefferson Community College during an Evening of Music and Conversation. Photo by Amanda Morrison/Watertown Daily Times.

America still has a long way to go before Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of peace and equality is achieved, his oldest son told a Watertown crowd Saturday night.

Martin Luther King III, appearing at Jefferson Community College’s Evening of Music and Conversation before a capacity crowd in the Sturtz Theater, said a prevalence of violence and hate still holds the United States back.

“Our country is not yet achieving its full potential,” Mr. King said while speaking about his father’s legacy and how to overcome life’s obstacles. “The dream was not fulfilled just because we elected an African-American president.”

To break what he called “a culture of violence,” there must be forgiveness, Mr. King said. Horrible acts of violence such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that took the lives of 20 children in Newtown, Conn., should be re-evaluated to find love for the shooter rather than fear and revenge.

“I was 10 years old when my father was gunned down,” he said. “It would have been easy for me to adopt a mentality of hatred. You see, we have to learn to forgive. We have to learn to be more civil.”

Mr. King said he believed there is no place for assault weapons, even joking their use in hunting is unfair to animals because they don’t have a chance to survive. Such weapons kill people every day, one by one, not just in mass shootings, he said.

“Nineteen hundred people have been killed since Newtown, and no one is doing anything about it,” he said.

He insisted to “erase poverty, racism and violence,” as his father sought to do, the country must embrace its youngest citizens — both at school and at home.

“Some (parents), for many reasons, have abandoned their responsibility for rearing their child,” he said.

Children’s exposure to violent cartoons, video games and movies help create what Mr. King called a “dysfunctional functional” society.

He said his family makes sure to always sit together at the dinner table when he is home, which is a value he feels many have forgotten.

“There are some things we used to do that we need to re-engage and re-embrace,” said Mr. King, former president and CEO of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center in Atlanta, whose career has involved speaking about the slain civil rights leader’s legacy and developing programs for African-American youths to promote his father’s ideals.

Mr. King’s opening act, Black Violin, also had a message focused on the children in the audience. The classically trained hip-hop and jazz musicians cited their instruments as the reason they obtained full rides to college. However, musician Kev Marcus said that was not the show’s focus.

“The true point of the show is to get you to think outside the box,” he said. “It’s never the most talented person who succeeds. It’s always the one who works the hardest.”

-Reena Singh, Watertown Daily Times staff writer