Column: Martin Luther King III helps launch ‘Say It Now’ in San Diego

Martin Luther King III spoke at the Feb. 23 “Say It Now” event at La Jolla Country Day School. Next to him is Walter Green.
Martin Luther King III, eldest son of Martin Luther King Jr., was keynote speaker at the Feb. 23 “Say It Now” event at La Jolla Country Day School. Next to him is “Say It Now” founder Walter Green.
(Kristian Carreon/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

A memorial service for the living? Local students aided the live launch of a campaign dedicated to expressing gratitude to important people in their lives now — before their memorial service.


Give flowers to people you appreciate right now — don’t wait until after they die. That is the message that Martin Luther King IIIjoined others in delivering to local students Thursday, Feb. 23.

The oldest son of Martin Luther King Jr. met with Walter Green, founder of the grassroots “Say It Now” movement, at the La Jolla Country Day School gym packed with 1,000 young people from LJCDS, Preuss and Monarch schools.

The gathering was the first live public event of the “Say It Now” initiative that Green launched last fall.

King spoke of losing his father at age 10 followed by his grandmother (in church while playing the organ) when he was 16, both to assassin’s bullets.

In a pre-event interview, he recalled his grandfather focusing, not on the loss of his family members, but on gratitude for what he still had. “That was a powerful example for me, so I’m always thinking about the many things I’m thankful for,” King says.

Green spoke of his year-long journey across the United States and abroad to thank 44 people who affected his life through the years.

The entrepreneurial businessman later turned that journey into a book, “This is the Moment!” The “moment” now is becoming a movement with its own website,

Today’s society has it backward, Green preaches. We wait until after someone has died to honor and pay tribute to them in celebrations of life and memorial services.

“The person we’re paying tribute to never hears those words.”

The former 25-year CEO of a high-profile executive conference management firm is focusing on the younger generation to try to turn this age-old tradition upside down and, instead, inspire people to express their gratitude now.

That is precisely what several students did Thursday.

LJCDS junior, Jaden Mangini, thanked his older brother, Chase, who was linked in online, for always making sure he was doing the right thing. “I followed in his footsteps, and he pushed me to take longer strides,” Mangini said.

Freshman Mahlia Washington was grateful to her grandmother, Elaine Washington, whom she calls “Granny,” for paving the way for her.

Mahlia Washington expresses gratitude to her grandmother, Elaine Washington, in the audience at La Jolla Country Day School.
Freshman Mahlia Washington expresses gratitude to her grandmother, Elaine Washington, who was in the La Jolla Country Day School audience.
(Kristian Carreon/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Seventh-grader Harper Goff thanked her coach for always being in her corner and championing what was best for her.

Fabian Garcia, a Preuss student, praised a counselor for giving him the courage to stand up against bullying and racism. He became vice president of his school’s Black Student Union.

In an earlier interview, King explained that when he heard about the “Say It Now” movement, he told organizers he would be honored to be part of a program that spreads this message so young people understand that they can change, not just their lives, but the lives of others.

“Whenever I can interact with young people, I always am honored to do that. I’ve done that much of my life and will continue to do it,” says the global ambassador for human rights. “I also have a 14-year-old daughter.”

His daughter, Yolanda, spoke at a President’s Day event last Monday in Washington, D.C. “I would have loved to have brought her here,” King said, but she was in the middle of school exams.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of his father’s “I Have a Dream” speech delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. That dream is not a reality yet, King told the students. “In 2023, we are still dealing with racism.” But progress is being made.

He recalled as a youngster growing up in Atlanta, driving by an amusement park that was off-limits to Blacks. He and his siblings wanted to visit but their dad told them not now, however, he was working on making changes, and some day they would. And eventually they did.

Walter Green, founder of "Say It Now," and Martin Luther King III, urge students to honor people now while they're living.
Walter Green, founder of “Say It Now,”and Martin Luther King III, urge students to honor people now while they’re living.
(Kristian Carreon/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The goal of Green’s initiative is to inspire 1 million expressions of gratitude by the end of this year. He and his team are well on their way. They developed “Say It Now” instruction and study guides, which have been distributed to about 10,000 teachers in many U.S. states and in 45 countries.

Green urged students to become ground-breaking ambassadors for the movement because it “can change your lives and change the lives of people who are really important to you.”

“You know what I love about “Say It Now”? There are no grades,” he pitched. “There’s no winning or losing. Everybody wins. It’s free. And it doesn’t take much time. And the more you do it, the happier you are.”

He doesn’t plan to take this event from school to school but hopes other schools will use this as a model and create their own way of expressing gratitude.

During the pandemic when stay-at-home rules were in effect, he began helping people organize Zoom group calls designed to give surprise tributes to a special person in their lives.

When I spoke to him earlier this week, he had just participated in one of the online tributes.

Green considers expressing gratitude through “Say It Now” as part of his legacy. “We are not self-made. We have people in our lives who make a difference.” They should know that.

What would Martin Luther King, Jr. say?

“He would say this is phenomenal,” his son told me. “This is a great concept. Anything positive that has potential to engage and maybe transform is spectacular. So, I think he would love his concept.”