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Very Real

MLK’s Daughter Bernice King, Activists Melt Down Guns Into Shovels

King and activists from the Lead to Life group gathered to repurpose guns into something positive and powerful — shovels, to plant life.

By Sharon Lynn Pruitt

There’s more than one way to heal.

On April 4, 50 years after her father Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Reverend Bernice King teamed up with activists and the families affected by gun violence in Atlanta, Georgia for a unique healing project: melting down guns and turning them into shovels to plant trees in places touched by gun violence.

For King, the ceremony marked the first time she’d picked up a gun, The Huffington Post reports.

“It’s such a small thing that can be so destructive,” King said. “There’s something wrong when something this small has so much power over us.”

The project is the brainchild of Lead to Life, an activist group launched in 2016 by Kyle Lemle and Brontë Velez in an effort to combine their interests in “faith, community organizing, urban forestry, environmental racism, and racial and restorative justice.” The gun-melting ceremony, hosted at the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change, was part of a week-long series of “healing justice” events.

Families affected by gun violence, including King and her siblings, marched past the crypt where Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King lay, before coming to an open area with a furnace, where they handed over guns to the waiting team of metalworkers including metal artist James Brenner, according to The Huffington Post.

The guns were then melted into shovels, which would later bear inscriptions promoting nonviolence. Those shovels would be used to plant trees at sites of violence around the Atlanta area. They will hold the soil from the sites of lynching and of gun violence victim X’Avier Arnold’s cremated ashes, Mercury News reports. They will then be be donated to “farmers in Atlanta’s burgeoning urban agricultural movement, such as Grow Where You Are Farm, Truly Living Well Center and Ganstas to Growers, which trains formerly imprisoned youths.”

“It’s the ultimate transformational act, from something that takes life from the planet to something that gives life on the planet. We’re liberating the guns’ histories of violence and giving the metal a new purpose,” said Lemle. Lemle and Velez cite Mexican artist Pedro Reyes, who has done similar projects as one of their chief inspirations, as well as the biblical concept of swords to plowshares, which promotes turning away from violence in favor of peace. With an average of 96 Americans being killed with guns per year, and more and more people using their voices to demand an end to the violence, it’s a powerful message.

Lead to Life hopes to host a similar project next fall in Oakland, California, OneGreenPlanet.org reports.

(Photo: Rev. Dr. Bernice King speaks as she visits the National Civil Rights Museum as they prepare for the 50th anniversary of her father's assassination on April 2, 2018 in Memphis, Tennessee. By Joe Raedle/Getty Images)