The coronavirus has forced many celebrations, parades, memorials, and programs to either be cancelled or moved to a virtual version. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was no exception, and organizations across the city held virtual celebrations to remember Dr. King.
Nonprofit King Boston, along with the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), presented what the Boston Foundation called “a powerful visual visual essay to honor and celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King.”
The program, called “Voices on King,” streamed live on January 18, and is now available for playback. It featured stories from some of Boston’s elected officials, including City Council President Kim Janey, City Councilor At-Large Julia Mejia, and Suffolk Country District Attorney Rachael Rollins, as well as Imari Paris Jeffries, Executive Director of King Boston, Makeeba McCreary, Patti and Jonathan Kraft Chief of Learning and Community Engagement at the MFA, and artists like Rob “ProBlak” Gibbs and Danny Rivera, among others. The program also featured poetry from Porsha Olayiwola, Boston’s current Poet Laureate.
“The 30-minute program features personal stories told by more than a dozen of Boston’s most recognized community leaders and activists, who share how the Kings’ work has touched their personal and professional lives—and continues to inspire their hopes for the future,” according to the Boston Foundation’s website. Speakers were recorded telling their stories inside the MFA.
Imari Paris Jeffries explained in the video that King Boston has been working on the Embrace Memorial that will be erected on the Boston Common, and “the first memorial built in Boston Common in the last 30 years.” The organization is also working on the King Center for Economic Justice, which will have a focus on research and ideas related to economic and racial justice, as well as a festival in 2022 called Embrace Ideas which will “bring together Boston’s aspirations to be an inclusive and welcoming city,” Paris Jeffries said, and will be a part of the celebration of the Embrace Memorial, which is expected to be unveiled in 2022.
“I look at Dr King and Coretta Scott King as Black excellence; as Black royalty, as people I aspire to be,” District Attorney Rachael Rollins said in the program. “Racial and economic inequality is injustice,” she added. “Housing inequality is injustice. Environmental racism, which is very real, is injustice. The fact that failing public schools and segregated schools is injustice. A lack of access to health care and mental health care is injustice.”
Makeeba McCreary, Chief of Learning and Community Engagement at the MFA, told a story of her first Martin Luther King Day after being hired at the museum. She said there were lots of people, both Black and white, celebrating King’s life, but after the celebration was over, things went back to the way they were and she said she saw “very few people” who looked like her at the museum.
“We really have been working hard to get to the continuum of walking over the threshold of that door on Huntington Ave., walking inside of the building and feeling like you are welcome, you’re safe. And then, what makes you come back on your own? What makes you decide that this is the museum that we say belongs to everybody?” she said. She said that the hope is for the future of the museum to be like this for Boston’s youth.
City Councilor At-Large Julia Mejia told a story of her mother, who “came to this country with very little” and cleaned offices with her. Mejua said that her mother was “humiliated, was disrespected, was treated less than.”
She continued, “but when she and I went to vote that day and my name was on the ballot, I felt like it was our restorative justice moment. I felt like my mom finally realized that that American Dream and what she worked so hard for was actually paying off. And it was through the power of that one vote that got me here. So I think that for me, being first generation, becoming a naturalized citizen running for office and helping people recognize their power is what Iv’e dedicated my entire life to.”
City Council President Kim Janey shared a personal anecdote as well.
“We need to decolonize our curriculum in Boston Public Schools,” said Janey, who explained that she was “bussed” during the court ordered desegregation of Boston Public Schools in the 1970s.
“As a young girl, I experienced racism in our city through our school system,” Janey said. “I saw firsthand how our school systems are failing our young people. Our schools are segregated and quality is still the number one issue for families. Our children deserve better. We need to do more to live out Dr. King’s legacy.”
Governor Charlie Baker also offered remarks in the video, saying that “as we begin 2021, I believe it’s critical that we continue to recognize and uplift the message of Dr. King and Coretta Scott King because our Commonwealth has much more work to do when it comes to creating a more equitable and just society.”
He said that because Black and brown communities have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the state has “expanded testing for communities of color,” and continues to invest in things like food insecurity and affordable home ownership, as well as pass police reform legislation.
Lisa Owens of City Life/Vida Urbana said that “the time for justice is always now. The time for direct action is now; is yesterday.”
Imari Paris Jeffries said that “one of the things that I think we’ve all realized during the pandemic, during the racial unrest, is that we are stronger together. Ad a value that we hope emerges post vaccine, post cure, is that we are stronger together than we are apart.”
The full video can be viewed at mfa.org/event/community-celebrations/martin-luther-king-jr-day.