MLK speaker: ‘Become the example’

MLK ceremony
David Banner interacts with students while speaking at Kennesaw State's annual MLK ceremony.

David Banner speaks at Kennesaw State ceremony

KENNESAW, Ga. (Jan 16, 2017) — David Banner was riding high on the music charts in 2008 with “Get Like Me,” a huge hit song off his sixth album.

At that point in his life, Banner could have focused entirely on fame, fortune and traveling around the world. Instead, it was then that he committed to being a philanthropist and social activist.

Speaking Sunday at the annual Martin Luther King ceremony sponsored by Kennesaw State University’s African-American Student Alliance and Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, Banner explained that he was motivated by negative perceptions of African-Americans in popular culture. What Americans predominantly were seeing, he said, were unflattering portrayals of African-Americans, often based only on rappers and reality TV stars.

“When I had an opportunity to see what America was doing with our image, I could no longer be a part of it,” Banner said. “I’m giving everything that I have to try to make it better. I promise, unless they do something to me like they did to Dr. King, I’m going to help make it better for y’all.”

Banner still records music among his many endeavors – he founded the multimedia company A Banner Vision – but it has a much different tone from his earlier work. His 2015 song “Marry Me” is in marked contrast to rap songs with lyrics that degrade women.

“You can’t change the world; you can only change yourself. I changed me,” Banner said. “We can’t criticize people for what they don’t know, unless you teach them. My life changed when I became the example and stopped pointing the finger.”

Banner spoke passionately, often stepping down from the podium to interact with the crowd at the Bailey Performance Center. He told the audience, particularly the students, that they don’t need leaders in order to make a difference – rather, they need goals, standards and morals.

“I need to know, what is your mission statement?” he said. “You’re in college and we’re talking about all of these great people who have gone down through history, but what are you getting your education for? Why won’t your mission statement be to get education and go back to your communities and build them up?”

Banner’s message resonated with Davante Hughley, a Kennesaw State senior majoring in communication. Hughley aspires for a career in music and film production, and views Banner as a role model. 

“It’s just good to see someone who is in the direction that I’m trying to go,” Hughley said, “but also he’s an activist for our community. He really promotes self-empowerment and practices what he preaches.”

While Kennesaw State students, faculty and staff comprised much of the audience, members of the community also attended. Charles Barnes sat in the front row after hearing about the MLK ceremony from students who come to his barber shop in Kennesaw. 

“I think it’s important to honor Martin Luther King and attend any events that honor his name and try to carry on his legacy in some type of way,” Barnes said.

The ceremony also included remarks from Kennesaw State President Sam Olens, inspirational songs by the KSU Gospel Choir and a poem by alumnus Kiersten Brydie. C.J. Williams, president of the African-American Student Alliance, shared his favorite quote from Martin Luther King: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness – only light can do that.”

“Just love somebody, because love is the only thing that can combat hate,” Williams said.

The University’s 2017 Martin Luther King Jr. Week began Saturday with Kennesaw State students volunteering at Hands On Atlanta’s tutoring and enrichment program for children at Belmont Hills Elementary School. For a list of other MLK events this week, click here.


—   Paul Floeckher

—   Photos by Lauren Lopez de Azua


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit