As the year comes to a close, nonprofit King Boston has recently been awarded $2.75 million in grants which it will put towards its programs, “The Embrace” Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial slated for the Boston Common, and more. King Boston received a $1 million grant from the Barr Foundation, $1 million from the Wagner Foundation, and $750,000 from three other corporations, according to a press release from King Boston. “We’re honored and humbled that the Barr Foundation and Wagner Foundation are partners with us in the fight for racial equity and economic justice,” Imari Paris Jeffries, Executive Director of King Boston,” said in a statement.
“It all brings us closer to reaching our goals of creating a space for community-led social action here in Boston.” The $2 million from the Barr Foundation and Wagner Foundation will be put towards The King Center for Economic Justice, “which will create innovative ideas to end economic and social disparities, engage residents with data about the systemic issues they face, and solicit their input to cultivate greater community,” according to the release. Paris Jeffries told the Sun that the hope is for the Center to be located in Nubian Square in Roxbury, as the neighborhood is where Martin Luther King, Jr. preached about issues like poverty, housing, and education.
“Those are still the themes,” Paris Jeffries said, but now the focus will be on “prosperity and wealth building” versus poverty, and the Center will focus on research and “grassroots organizing, all through the lens of collaborating with other activist organizations doing this work,” he said. King Boston will also have its own research director, he added, and has plans to “launch that position” in January.
The 22-foot Embrace memorial depicts the hands of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife Coretta Scott King, and is expected to be completed in October 2022, Paris Jeffries said, adding that “roughly about 20 organizations” have agreed to host an event during the week of the memorial unveiling. He said that this is an “opportunity for us to coordinate…and be a catalytic moment for other organizations, nonprofits, civic organizations,” and more. Before then, though, a dedication ceremony will take place on January 18, 2021—Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday—at the spot on the Boston Common where the memorial will be erected. Paris Jeffries said it will most likely be a “small gathering,” and it will not be a public ceremony, though it will be recorded for people to watch or listen to, either live or at a later date.
“I think people are really Zoomed out,” Paris Jeffries said, referencing the video calling platform that many use day in and day out for work or school because of the pandemic. He said that the goal for the event is to make it “sort of like a podcast” that can be listened to later on, though he added that King Boston is talking with some news organizations to livestream the dedication. King Boston is also partnering with the Museum of Fine Arts to livestream the event as well.
He said he wants the event to “feel like a good 45 minute series of mini TED Talks,” that include both spoken word and some music as well. He said it should be “something that takes in mind the moment and this Zoom exhaustion. We’re not trying to be the new kid on the block,” he added, but rather see “where we can fit in, collaborate, [and] uplift existing work. I think that’s what new Boston looks like.
New Boston looks like collaboration, new Boston looks like lifting each other up…punching above our weight class and really winning.” Paris Jeffries said that what the memorial says for Boston as a City is that “…we are ready.” This is the “first major memorial launched post-vaccine,” he said, and at nearly three stories high, it makes a statement. “Boston is ready to emerge in this post-vaccine America ready for conversations, and I think people have been incredibly supportive of wanting to engage in their own ways,” he said. “We have a progressive slate of leaders who are elected officials and an emergence of incredible civic leaders and faith-based leaders who have banded together.”
He said that Boston “has to start somewhere,” and called the memorial “incredible.” The fact that it is located in the country’s oldest public park that has a “history of ideas” and “gathering,” Paris Jeffries said it is “fitting that we would have it there.” It also connects through the 1965 Freedom Corridor, deepening the meaning of the placement for the monument, he added. Paris Jeffries said that looking towards a new year, King Boston is “looking forward to people being safe and being able to get together with their loved ones.”
He added that the organization is gearing up to continue conversations around affordable communities for all, “adequate access to education and food,” and a “city that allows people to feel safe—that includes the way that people are supported by law enforcement,” he said, as well as economic equality. He said that answers to these issues “won’t happen immediately,” and that the work started long before King Boston came into existence, but he is proud that King Boston is “able to join coalitions of elected officials” to work on these issues and the organization is “looking forward to continuing that work.”