Birthday celebration of a King
The Virginia Gazette, James City, February 2, 2013
By David George Ball

I was astonished and delighted to receive an invitation from Bernice King, CEO of the King Center in Atlanta, to give a tribute to her father, Martin Luther King Jr., at a commemorative service to celebrate his 84th birthday. She had learned about me while doing research on the Internet in preparation for the celebration and thought my story would be interesting to the audience. Dr. King had a profound influence on my life. When I was a student at Yale, I invited him to speak a lecture
David George Ball with Bernice King at Ebenezer Baptist Church.
series. He was my guest for 3 days and I helped him cut a cake to celebrate his 30th birthday. To my regret, I never saw him again, but Bernice gave me an opportunity to reconnect.

Police Cars with lights flashing patrolled the streets as my wife, Carol, and I approached Ebenezer Baptist Church. We were instructed to arrive by 7 a.m. so the 3-hour service could start promptly at 8 a.m. Early arrival was crucial because at 11 a.m. television coverage by FOX News would shift to the inauguration of President Obama.

1,500 people packed the church, and I could feel the electricity in the crowd. After the presentation of the flags, the national anthem, a passionate call to the commemoration by Bernice King, Scripture readings and hymns sung by the choir, we received a video greeting from Obama. A group of young people gave a moving recitation of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Bernice introduced me with a smile as the author of “A Marked Heart; How an Encounter with Martin Luther King Jr. Changed My Life.” In my tribute I described how he had inspired me to change my major to political science and vow to help make the world a better place. Instead of civil rights, it turned out my calling was to help create more financial security for working Americans in their retirement.

In 1981 I pioneered one of the first 401(k) plans, and in 1989 President George H. W. Bush nominated me as assistant secretary of labor. My mission was to get out a road map to open up the 401(k) program. It took over 3 years. Finally the regulation was published in the Federal Register under my Signature. Today, over 70 million workers have 401(k) plans.

The service ended with “We Shall Overcome” sung by the choir and the audience, holding hands and swaying in time to the music. It was unforgettable. Bernice wrote. “Thanks for sharing your story and telling us how my daddy inspired you to make a difference in the world. The Dream Lives, the Legacy Continues.”

David George Ball served as assistant secretary of labor 1989-93.