Democrat. Republican. Independent. Martin Luther King III isn't interested in who you're voting for, he just wants you to get involved.
That was the message the oldest son of Martin Luther King Jr. brought to the Quest Diagnostics Training Center last month as part of RISE to Vote, a national nonpartisan voter-registration campaign created by the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE). King challenged an auditorium full of Giants' players and staff to become more politically active and to use their platforms and influence to get others involved in civic engagement.
"There are very few people that we know that will become professional athletes," King said. "A lot of kids want to, but will they be able to be successful? There are only so many who can be professional athletes, but when you get to this position, you certainly have some degree of responsibility, I believe, to the community."
King discussed everything from his father's legacy to current events to the importance of state and local elections.
"There are so many positions that are important and they all impact us in some way, form or fashion," King said. "My father used to say that a vote-less people is a powerless people, and one of the most important steps we can take is that short step to the ballot box."
RISE, a nonprofit organization founded in 2015 by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen M. Ross, is dedicated to harnessing the unifying power of sports to improve race relations and drive social progress. Last year, RISE launched RISE to Vote to register professional and college athletes to vote and encourage them to lead their fans in becoming informed and engaged citizens. Bergen County Clerk John S. Hogan was on hand at the Giants' session to help with voter-registration efforts.
"We've reached 18 professional teams, including the Chicago Cubs, San Antonio Spurs and Atlanta Falcons," said Erin Pellegrino, RISE's Chief Operating Officer. "Thirteen hundred professional athletes have participated in the program. Our real mark of success is when the players choose to take the message outside of the locker room and share it with their large, extensive social networks because we see them as role models and heroes who can have a big influence in the community."
According to Pellegrino, RISE is currently in 26 states, and hopes to be in all 50 by the year 2020.
One Giant familiar with the organization is safety Michael Thomas, who worked with RISE during his time with the Dolphins. The seven-year veteran received the Dolphins' Nat Moore Community Service Award in 2015 and signed with the Giants as a free agent this past March.
"Most people can have an impact on their community if they vote locally, and not just for the big elections, but in their state and their cities," Thomas said, echoing King's remarks. "Reach out to your representatives at the state, local and city level. Have a conversation. Get more informed before you start just advocating for a specific person. Just to get involved in the process, getting out and vote, hopefully that will spark somebody to go learn about this stuff before just voting for someone. I think that's the biggest thing."
This April marked 50 years since the assassination of Dr. King. Thomas says having his oldest son speak to the team and deliver the message of civic engagement carries a lot of weight.
"To have him come, this is legacy," Thomas said. "Obviously I never got the chance to hear Dr. King speak in person or meet him. So meeting his son is the closest thing. Obviously with him being alive and remembering everything his dad talked about, and carrying on that legacy is interesting. He talked to us about what he's been doing as far as carrying out his father's legacy and what he sees going on in the country today and what steps need to be taken to accomplish a lot of things that people want to accomplish."
Learn more about RISE and the RISE to Vote campaign by visiting their website here.