King Boston Founding Story

This is the story of the founding of King Boston.

King Boston is a Boston-based racial justice organization, created to honor the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King. Martin and Coretta met as young students in Boston, and much of their professional lives started here. Their life's work and values inspire the direction of King Boston. We imagine what they would be working on in Boston if they were both alive today.

I grew up in West Roxbury, a predominantly White neighborhood in Boston. I did not really interact with Black kids until the school desegregation crisis in the 1970s. Through this experience, my eyes were opened to the wildly different perspectives, experiences, and injustice people from different backgrounds had living in the same city. This growth increased my curiosity about cultures and commitment to social change.

As a teenager, I was introduced to MLK's writings and became inspired by his words. Dr. King described a world in which I wanted to live. His concept of the beloved community was a vision "in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth." The 1963 "I have a Dream Speech" solidified King's argument in my mind, but Letter from Birmingham Jail, written in that same year was a call to to action for citizens to respond to injustice every time from everywhere.

With the results of the 2016 presidential election, I had become depressed about the state of the country. Racism was on the rise, along with its brothers, nationalism and xenophobia. I did not know what I could do to improve things.

In September 2017, while in San Francisco, I stopped by the MLK Memorial, a place I often return when I am in that city. Although I had visited this memorial many times, and perhaps because of the country's current climate, I was particularly moved. King's words on the San Francisco Memorial reminded me of my teenage commitment to respond to injustice and the beloved community's vision.

I knew that MLK had some roots in Boston, and I wondered why our city didn't have a memorial of that scale?

On the plane back to Boston, I wrote a document about how such a memorial could be created and what it might mean for our city. I emailed a dozen people I knew in Boston's nonprofit world, looking for feedback and advice on my plan. Who should I work with to make this a reality? Should I try to make this work? Could this work?

After many conversations and correspondence, the same name kept coming up -- Reverend Liz Walker. I knew Liz from her time as a news anchor in Boston - she is a legend in our city. Liz is now the pastor of Roxbury Presbyterian Church. I was able to secure breakfast with Liz the next week to tell her about the plan and ask for her advice. Liz was remarkable and wanted to help. She signed up to become the co-conspirator and co-founder of King Boston.

We then went to see Mayor Marty Walsh, and he agreed to support this initiative, announcing it at a press conference the following week.

Liz and I then spent about nine months holding meetings around Boston asking people how they would want Martin and Coretta to be memorialized, and what our action plans should be in addition to creating a memorial. Altogether, we held 14 meetings - across Roxbury, Dorchester, South Boston, Chinatown, and at City Hall.

We learned a lot.

People from all walks of life have wanted a major King memorial in Boston for decades. But they also wanted a "living memorial" not just an inaminate object.

Through these community meetings, we expanded our initial vision to include four elements:

  • Create a world-class memorial to inspire people to think about racial justice, and what they should be working on in Boston today.
  • Commission a documentary about Martin and Coretta's meeting in Boston, and their time together here.
  • Provide funding for programs at the Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury, where MLK preached when he was living in Boston.
  • Create the King Center for Economic Justice, focused on the problem of wealth disparity in Boston. This is the most audacious part of our plan.

The King Boston project has been quite an education for me. There are so many people to thank, but in addition to the people I list above, I especially want to mention Reverend Jeff Brown, Roberto Mighty, Brandon Terry, Barry Gaither, Karin Goodfellow, Joyce Linehan, Ed Gaskin, Kate Guedj, Robin Powell Mandjes, Marie St. Fleur, Demond and Kia Martin, and Imari Paris Jeffries.

See other founder stories.

paulenglish.com 23-Oct-2020