Healey: Monument "means something" in fight against racism

A rendering shows The Embrace, a creation of artist Hank Willis Thomas and the MASS Design Group, as it will appear in situ. [Courtesy/Embrace Boston]

As she prepares to speak at the unveiling of The Embrace, a Boston Common monument honoring the lives and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, Gov. Maura Healey said the memorial is particularly meaningful given the "narrative" of Boston (and Massachusetts generally) as a racist place.

The bronze monument stands 20 feet tall and 32 feet in diameter and symbolizes the hug that the Kings shared after MLK won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. Designed by artist Hank Willis Thomas and the firm MASS Design Group, it will be the first new monument unveiled in the oldest public park in America in more than 30 years when it is formally dedicated at a ceremony Friday afternoon.

Massachusetts and its capital city have begun in recent years to reckon with the reputation the area has for being racist. The Boston Globe's Spotlight Team produced a seven-part series in late 2017 evaluating whether that reputation is deserved -- it found that 54 percent of Black people polled nationally considered Boston as unwelcoming to people of color, that the metro Boston area is whiter than other similar parts of the country, and that major racial disparities exist in health care, education, household net worth, and more.

Incidents at sporting events, like a Red Sox fan spewing racist comments at Baltimore Orioles player Adam Jones and Bruins fans targeting Washington Capitals player Joel Ward with racial slurs, have perpetuated the narrative that Healey described. Last year, Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James said that Boston fans are "racist as f--k."

Boston Celtics player Marcus Smart has even detailed his own experience having a Boston fan use racist slurs against him outside of TD Garden.

Healey did not dwell Thursday on the racist reputation of the region and instead focused on The Embrace and its grand unveiling as a way to "celebrate all that Dr. King represents."

"It is a moment of celebration. I think it is an affirmation of humanity and of the human spirit and the need to make sure that each and every day, all of us from wherever we're coming from, whatever walk of life, we are taking the time to do as Dr. King did, which was to recognize the dignity and worth, the potential of every of every person," she said. "And to me, that's what tomorrow and this unveiling represents."

Healey added, "It is an embrace, which I call a hug. Who doesn't want a hug, right? So let's let that hug go out to people across Boston, across Massachusetts, tomorrow."

The large monument is based on a photo of the Kings in which Martin Luther King has his arms draped around his wife's shoulders and Coretta Scott King puts her hand around her husband's torso. Once construction fencing is fully removed in early February, people will be able to walk around and through the Kings' embrace.

"The Embrace will provide a living space for conversation, education and reflection on the racial and economic justice ideals of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King, and serve as a permanent memorial to the Kings' time in Boston, a period in which they met and fell in love, and which helped shape their approach to a just and equitable society. The Embrace memorial is positioned on the 1965 Freedom Plaza which will honor 65 local civil rights leaders active between 1950-1970. All of these luminaries remind us that the fight is worth the struggle," organizers at the Embrace Boston nonprofit said. "In an era when public memorials are questioned, it is time to elevate the landscape of public memory with a memorial to these dynamic leaders and share an under-acknowledged part of Boston's story."

Work on the memorial began in 2017 with entrepreneur Paul English and support from the Boston Foundation. English and Rev. Liz Walker, pastor of Roxbury Presbyterian Church, led a committee that selected five finalist designs from responses the city got from 126 artists from around the world. The final design was chosen after a round of public input and it was unanimously approved by the Boston Art Commission in 2021, organizers said. The nearly 38,000-pound monument was built at the Walla Walla Foundry in Washington.

Friday's unveiling will feature remarks from Healey, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, former Gov. Deval Patrick, U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley and members of the King family. It begins at 1 p.m. and will be broadcast live by NBC10 Boston. There will be a related gala Sunday at the Omni Boston Hotel in the Seaport -- Healey, Patrick, Wu, Pressley, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Mayor Martin Walsh and former Gov. Charlie Baker are listed as the honorary host committee for the bash.

"Instead of your usual rubber chicken dinner, we have decided to embrace joy and fun for a truly unforgettable evening," gala organizers said. "We ask that you wear your flyest formal attire and pair it with your freshest kicks for a sneaker ball at the chic, new Omni Boston Hotel at the Seaport for this special night of art, music and dance."

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