Economic justice

King Boston seeks corporate donors to make Memorial and Economic Justice Center a reality

King Boston has raised nearly $ 9 million in pledges so far, well above the original target of $ 6 million. But Paris Jeffries will not be satisfied until he gets the total up to $ 15 million.

The memorial in honor of Martin Luther King, his wife, Coretta Scott King, and the training time of civil rights activists in Boston will end up costing much more than initially anticipated. The projected price now hovers around $ 9 million for the sculpture of entwined arms and the plaza where it will sit, planned on the Tremont Street side of the Common.

And the work will not stop there. As MLK Boston founder Paul English solicited comment, the tech entrepreneur realized that a statue alone wouldn’t be enough.

So King Boston has something else in mind: a center of economic justice. It would be an all-in-one museum, event space, small business incubator, and research center on or near Nubian Square, the geographic heart of Boston’s black community. . At first, the idea was to house it in the Roxbury branch of the Boston Public Library. But ultimately, Paris Jeffries wants to go further by occupying a separate and permanent space, either by renovating an existing structure or by building a new one. (A city-owned plot on Melnea Cass Boulevard is a possible home.)

There will be staff salaries payable and capital expenditure. Paris Jeffries has set his sights on another $ 6 million goal, this one at support the King Center. (At least $ 2 million of existing pledges are set aside for the center so far.) He hopes to hire a deputy director and researcher in the coming weeks, as well as someone to kick off a festival related to the completion of the memorial, potentially in August 2022.

Meanwhile, the corporate world is still trying to understand its role in addressing the inequalities highlighted during the Black Lives Matter protests sparked by George Floyd’s death in May.

Seems like the perfect time to fundraise for the King Center, doesn’t it? It is not so simple. King Boston has new competition for funds, not just worthy COVID-19 relief efforts. The are also initiatives aimed at bridging the racial wealth gap, such as the New Commonwealth and Boston racial actions funds.

English and Paris Jeffries rely on companies like Cooley. The national law firm, whose largest office is in Silicon Valley, is one of their first corporate donors. In addition to his five-year commitment of $ 250,000, Cooley will also provide pro bono legal services.

Pat mitchell, co-founder of Cooley’s Boston office, sees parallels with the startups his firm usually advises: fundraising, real estate, employment, intellectual property. Mitchell likes to talk about King Boston as a “startup for justice.” (King Boston is part of the Boston Foundation for now, but will eventually be created.)

Mitchell said the contribution is part of the law firm’s focus on diversity and inclusion. He also sees it as part of a larger effort to improve Boston’s talent pool by making the city more welcoming to people of color.

Accounting giant Deloitte also made the pledge of $ 250,000, but with a twist. His The plan is to raise funds through donations from 2,500 Deloitte employees in Boston. Managing Partner Kevin McGovern said he was confident it could be done over five years. This will be one of the causes included in the company’s annual workplace giving campaign, which begins Monday. (McGovern also served on the King Boston advisory board, as have representatives from Cooley and State Street.)

Contributing was a matter of course for the vice president of MFS Colleen Powell, and her boss, MFS Executive Chairman Rob Manning. Powell said many people don’t realize how important Boston was to the Kings: the couple met here, and much of MLK’s theology was formed while studying at Boston University. and his sermons to Twelfth Baptist Church.

For the mutual fund company, she said, there may not be a smarter long-term investment in the city than Project King. Many of the issues the Kings have complained about persist to this day. But investing in MLK Boston, she says, means investing in a brighter future.

This project has evolved considerably since its unveiling in 2017, when Mayor Martin J. Walsh declared his support. Others, including former mayor Tom Menino, had attempted to build an MLK memorial in Boston, but those efforts failed. (BU has a sculpture to honor the king who represents a flock of doves in flight, “Free at last. ») The Englishman had seen a King’s Memorial in San Francisco and thought Boston deserved its own. He paid $ 1 million to get things started.

The city organized a competition and appealed to artists from all over the world. Submissions poured in. Ultimately, “The embrace” by Hank Willis Thomas and MASS Design Group, was chosen: four 22-foot-high bronze arms, intertwined in a gesture of comfort and compassion.

Clearance turned out to be trickier than expected, even with Walsh’s approval. The pandemic hampered things again. Hopes of a breakup in 2020 have been dashed. But Paris Jeffries would like the final green light in time for the king’s birthday on January 15, when a dedication ceremony is expected. The memorial will be fabricated off-site and brought to Boston in 2022.

King’s bullet shot down on April 4, 1968. He left a powerful legacy of equality, but one that remains unfinished. With MLK Boston, the city can take its own steps in the long march towards realizing this dream.

Jon Chesto can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on twitter @jonchesto.