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Homegoing celebration for Mel King

Anthony W. Neal
Anthony W. Neal is a graduate of Brown University and University of Texas School of Law and has written for the Bay State Banner since 2012.
Homegoing celebration for Mel King
Pallbearers exit the Union United Methodist Church following funeral services for the late Melvin H. King. (Mayor’s Office photo by John Wilcox)

A capacity audience of 600 packed the South End’s historic Union United Methodist Church on April 11 to celebrate the life and legacy of community organizer, political activist and former Massachusetts state representative Melvin “Mel” Herbert King, who died March 28 at 94.

Rev. Jay Williams, the church’s lead pastor, delivered welcoming remarks. “Mel’s legacy of love and liberation lives on in every one of us,” he said. Jazz, gospel and R & B singer Athene Wilson then opened the celebration with a beautiful rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

Jean-Luc Pierite, president of the North American Indian Center of Boston, said, “Mel King is a lot to a lot of people. To me he was a revolutionary, an abolitionist and a unifier.”

Michael King, one of  King’s sons, said that a lot of people thought of his father as their father. “We shared our father with the city, so I hope that going forward we can still build on that aspect of family. We might have come from different places and spaces, but we’re all in the same family now,” he said.

Xavier Ringer also paid tribute to her grandfather who she said “filled many roles: community leader, activist, political stalwart, pioneer, husband, father, uncle and brother, but to me he was grandpa.” She said, “As I grew older, my favorite role I observed grandpa fulfill, besides being my grandpa, of course, was that of a husband to my grandmother Joyce King.”

Eroc Arroyo PHOTO: DON WEST

Unable to hold back her tears, Ringer added, “They let me join their Saturday breakfast dates. It was a tradition on those Saturdays and the highlight of my week, actually. My favorite part was seeing the comraderie and friendship that they shared. They, in my eyes, were each other’s best friend.” She concluded, “One of the grandest lessons his life has taught me is that we are not in possession of anyone, and to love is to let our loved ones live their purpose unapologetically.”

Nancy King,  one of King’s daughters, then read a poem.

Mixed-media artist and poet L’Merchie Frazier recalled, “Mel was a lover of the arts.”  She said, “He told me many times how he loved the artist. He used his capacity to bridge the gaps between the spaces of love and hate with art.”

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu paid tribute to King as well. “Our flag is half-mast. City Hall is lit up in rainbow colors,” she said. “But I am here to emphasize in deep gratitude that the legacy of Mel King will stretch far beyond one day of remembrance. Mel’s legacy is intertwined in the leadership of every sector and institution in this city and in City Hall, at the halls of the State House. We know that we would not be here without Mel King. The City Council would not be the City Council without Mel King,” a reference to the body’s racial-ethnic diversity. The mayor recalled the first time she had the chance to join the Kings’  weekend brunch table as a new neighbor in the South End, struggling with the day-to-day of how to put one foot in front of the other, raising her sisters and trying to care for her mom in the throes of a mental health crisis. She wondered where her family belonged. “I made my way because I heard that all were welcome at Miss Joyce and Mel’s table, and over those little fruit cups, I found myself taking in a big helping of community, a belonging of connection — of love,” Wu said. “And I walked out of there feeling for the first time in this city that maybe my family and I could belong.”

Wu then broadened her assessment of King’s impact beyond herself.  “In Mel’s eyes, Boston families deserved housing more than cars deserved highways,” she said. “In Mel’s eyes, a tent city could anchor a community and serve as a model of healthy, safe, affordable housing across the city and across the nation. In Mel’s eyes, the young people of Boston deserved schools where the color of your skin didn’t determine the quality of your opportunity. In Mel’s eyes, neighborhoods were holy places, where the mind, the heart and the land met. And in Mel’s eyes, the entire city of Boston was his neighborhood, and all the people in it his neighbors.”

In her tribute, Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey said, “The work of Mel King reverberates throughout this city and well beyond the borders of Massachusetts, and so will his legacy.”

U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley PHOTO: DON WEST

“Across our commonwealth and our country,” Healey added, “he’ll be remembered for his years as a teacher, an advocate and an organizer for young people, tenants, workers and so many more.  He’ll be remembered as the community remembers him: bold, brilliant, unapologetic, rooted in service, dedicated to doing what was right, driven above all by love, leading with love, always leading with love, never looking past a single person, seeing the wondrous humanity, the capacity in each and every one of us no matter our circumstance.”

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley also offered her tribute. “Black men, you deserve to grow old, and I thank God Mel King grew old,” she said. “Yet, even in the twilight of his life, he never wavered. He was always seeding an idea, imparting a lesson, passing along insight. He saw the beauty, the genius and the power in each and every person, and by building and harnessing that collective power, Mel wove together threads into a tapestry of legislative, social, political and cultural change.”

Pressley added, “At core, Mel King was a humble and generous humanist — a deep well of knowledge, truth, wisdom and love. He schooled you but he didn’t make you feel badly about it.”

Frederick Hon Dow, trustee of the Harry H. Dow Memorial Legal Assistance Fund, said what King had always said, ‘Love is the question and the answer.’”

M.I.T. Professor Karilyn Crockett read a poem by King titled, “Songs We Sing.”

Jazz vocalist Danielle Lee Ruffen, also known as “Buddafly,” said, “Mel’s message was a message of love.” She sang background as poet Ashley Rose performed King’s poem, “Black Joy.”

In his eulogy, former Massachusetts state representative Byron Rushing reminded the audience that in commemorating King to remember that the struggle continues.

“When we commemorate Mel King, we must remember the incredible trauma of a thousand families being moved out of their houses and the buildings they were living in torn down,” Rushing said. “When we remember Mel King, we need to remember the incredible diverse community of the South End . . . before gentrification, whose only crime was to be poor and working class. When we remember Mel, we need to understand that he was not ahead of his time. Mel was on time. He was only working in a city where most of its leadership was behind the time, a leadership that, for most of his life, never caught up.”

Rushing concluded, “To commemorate Mel King, we must struggle.”

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