In 1952, Martin Luther King Jr. was studying for his doctorate in systematic theology at Boston University and working as an assistant minister at Twelfth Baptist Church when he met a New England Conservatory student named Coretta Scott. By 1953, the pair were married, and shortly after that they moved to Alabama. The rest is history.
But what if the Kings had never moved away? Would Boston be a mecca for civil rights and social justice?
That’s a question posed by Imari Paris Jeffries, the executive director of King Boston, the organization behind the upcoming Boston Common memorial dedicated to the Kings as well as several other initiatives to honor the Kings’ legacy in Boston.
“Boston is the fourth-largest college town in America,” Jeffries said. “But we continue to have low enrollment of Black and Latinx college students, and even lower retention after they graduate.”
Jeffries is one of several panelists who will take part in Black Boston Reimagined, a panel discussion on the steps that need to be taken for Boston to shed its reputation as a racist and unwelcoming place for Black people.
The panel, which takes place on Friday at 5:30 p.m. (and will be livestreamed on Boston.com), will examine how to successfully transform Boston into “a model of racial equity and a hub for Black talent to live, work, and play.”
The panel is part of the Fierce Urgency of Now, a five-day festival founded in 2018 that helps give young professionals in Boston a voice in building a diverse, inclusive community that is welcoming to all.
We are thrilled 🎉 to kick-off our #FierceUrgencyNow Festival TONIGHT.
With 45+ events, there’s something for everyone over these next five days.
— City Awake (@CityAwakeBoston) September 16, 2020
Jeffries, who has participated in the festival in the past, said he expects that the demonstrations for racial justice over the last four months will make for increased understanding from the get-go about major hurdles the city faces.
“In January of this year, we weren’t talking about systemic racism. If you brought up systemic racism, people would look at you like you were crazy,” Jeffries said. “There’s clarity around this moment in time and these experiences where people in the Northeast and in Boston are a lot more open to listening, leaning in, and understanding. That’s different than before.”
Jeffries and other panelists will touch on how Boston can effectively create both chances for Black, Indigenous, and POC communities to participate in civic engagement where they’ve previously been unwelcome and a space for white people and other communities to continue to learn and be a part of the process.
“We need to move to a place where we can all try our best to hold empathy for each other as we reckon with these epistemic fractures that are occurring,” Jeffries said. “People are discovering that everything they’ve thought about things aren’t true.”
“Creating spaces for Black, Indigenous and other POC communities to have a level playing field is important, as well as creating spaces for white and other communities to engage in the dialogue,” Jeffries continued. “We can’t kick everyone out the boat, and we shouldn’t.”
Black Boston Reimagined will be held virtually from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.; Register to attend via Eventbrite, or watch a livestream on Boston.com.
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