In October 1964, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. became history’s youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Fifty years to the day later, an even younger activist – a 17-year-old Pakistani girl named Malala Yousafzai – received the same honor. Both were proponents of peace, and both were victims of violence.
On Sunday, at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the parallel paths of King and Malala finally converged. Malala, now 20 and known worldwide for advocating for the rights of girls, stood in King’s pulpit and asked his congregation to join her fight against oppression.
Malala said studying King had taught her to “respect the humanity of every man, woman and child.” When she received the peace prize 50 years after him, she said, “I hoped to honor his legacy that day and every day.”
For much of her life, Malala has promoted education for girls around the world, which often is interrupted by war and poverty. Today, she said, 130 million girls are out of school. “We cannot afford to lose these girls,” she said.
Her work attracted attention from the Taliban in Pakistan, and on Oct. 9, 2012, a Taliban gunman attacked her school bus. Malala was shot in the head and was critically wounded, said the Rev. Raphael G. Warnock, Ebenezer’s senior pastor.
But she survived, he told the congregation, and “ever since then, she’s been turning her pain into power.”
Malala appeared at Ebenezer during a U.S. tour before she begins studies at Oxford University in England. She said she had never spoken in a church and, as a Muslim child, had known little about Christianity or Judaism.
“Now I know the world is big, beautiful and diverse,” she said.
Invoking King, Rosa Parks, Mahatma Gandhi and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, an Ebenezer congregant who attended Sunday’s service, Malala spoke out against racial profiling, police shootings of unarmed civilians, the display of Confederate symbols during recent demonstrations in Virginia, and President Donald Trump’s failure to “stand up against hate.”
Late in King’s life, she said, the same question often confronted him: Where do we go from here?
“His answer – and mine – is we go forward,” she said. “We go forward for justice. We go forward with hope. We go forward in peace.”