The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was called a pastor, a civil rights leader, a prophet and a faith activist. Fresno Pacific University President Joseph Jones, Ph.D., spoke of him as a “heart specialist” at Fresno’s 2019 Martin Luther King Day celebration Monday, January 21. “He advocated faith, hope and love—a doctor of the heart,” Jones said.

As featured speaker, Jones spoke from his own heart in the lobby of Veterans Memorial Auditorium in downtown Fresno, the last stop of the annual King Day march. “You see here in America we are suffering from a heart condition, and some of us don’t realize it,” he said.

Symptoms are becoming blind to the dignity of all people and forgetting every person is a gift from God who has something to contribute to the wellbeing of all. “This disease was not just the oppression of the African American community, it oppressed all people who were different in race and ethnicity,” Jones said.

Jones was touched by this disease of the heart growing up in the south during the civil rights period, where he was involved in walk-outs and marches. “It is not easy when you live in public housing, knowing that every weekend your father and any of the few men who are available try to get drunk in order to forget the stress and frustration of being belittled and underpaid the few days they could get work. Your heart is vulnerable when you see one week after another the brutality of policemen who come into your community and beat those same individuals because they can. It becomes a heart condition when you go to school and you can’t use the restroom because half the toilets are broken, or the ceilings are about to cave in, or you are starting a new class and the tattered and torn books you receive were those discarded from the white schools. You are vulnerable to the disease of the heart when you do not have the freedom to walk where you want to walk, and your brother and sisters live in fear of others just because of the color of their skin,” he said.

But Jones remembered victories, as well. “I remember not being able to sit at the lunch counter at Woolworth Department Store, but also remember the day when I was able to go to the store, sit at the counter and have a piece of apple pie,” he said.

As a doctor of the heart, King knew that when the heart is not right, the head is ripe for deception, self-centeredness and pride. King also knew the treatment: love. “Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it,” Jones said.

Jesus shared that same prescription, according to Jones. Asked to name the greatest commandment, Jesus said: “To love the Lord God with all our hearts, minds, soul, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. All the laws and prophets are based on these two commands.”

Two months before Dr. King’s death he reflected his heart in the well-known sermon “The Drum Major Instinct” at Ebenezer Baptist Church. “Near the end of his discourse Dr. King tells this congregation what he hoped would be said about him at his funeral. He said: ‘I would like someone to say that he tried to love somebody,’” Jones said.

Here is King’s heart. “That which was most important to him, which guided all he said and did was Jesus’ example of love through his service. Dr. King remembered Jesus’ command to follow his example of love. Love was at the core of every King sermon,” Jones said.

More on Jones’ speech and Fresno’s King Day celebration at


Wayne Steffen
Associate Director of Publications and Media Relations