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Bringing MLK's Vision Of Social Justice To Today's Boston03:38Download

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Martin Luther King, Jr. addresses a crowd with a bull horn in Roxbury on April 22, 1965. King was in Boston to lead a civil rights march. (AP)MoreCloseclosemore
Martin Luther King, Jr. addresses a crowd with a bull horn in Roxbury on April 22, 1965. King was in Boston to lead a civil rights march. (AP)

The annual Martin Luther King, Jr. breakfast was held Monday morning at the Boston Convention Center. In attendance were top political leaders, including Gov. Charlie Baker, Mayor Marty Walsh and U.S. Sen. Ed Markey.

The breakfast is the nation's longest running event dedicated to the memory of Dr. King.

King's Ties To Boston

Two churches in Boston's South End, Union United Methodist and St. Cyprian's Episcopal, have hosted the annual breakfast for the past 44 years.

Rev. Jay Williams, pastor of Union United Methodist Church in the South End. (Delores Handy/WBUR)
Rev. Jay Williams, pastor of Union United Methodist Church in the South End. (Delores Handy/WBUR)

“There are so many really interesting and important touch points of why our celebration here in Boston runs so deep with King,” said the Rev. Jay Williams, pastor of Union United Methodist Church. “It’s economic justice, political justice.”

Williams notes that this year’s tribute comes in the wake of recent activism, such as the Black Lives Matters movement.

“We are lifting up his vision and to say that black lives matter,” Williams said. “When there’s movement happening nationwide and also here locally it really pulls together what we have been trying to do for decades now and really holding up the moral imperative, this call to justice. Part of it is about re-energizing us. King and all the leaders, they had this fire within them, so we’re trying to reignite that fire.”

Dr. King received his doctorate at Boston University School of Theology.

“The philosophy of non-violence should be disseminated on a broader scale,” King said in 1964 when he donated his personal papers to BU. “It was this university that meant so much to me in terms of the formulation of my thinking and the ideas that have guided my life. This philosophy has been a great part of the whole struggle for freedom and human dignity and the struggle in the United States.”

As the son of a Baptist minister, King was already steeped in theology when he arrived in Boston in 1951. While here he was a young minister at Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury along with the Rev. Michael Haynes.

“My first impression: ‘Wow, this guy is powerful,'” Haynes recalled.

Haynes says King’s sermons were compelling.

“They attracted a lot of attention because you didn’t get that much of social justice from ministers in the area during that period if time,” Haynes said. “His curiosity and his pursuit into Gandhi and other great writers, lighting a lamp of something that you didn’t hear about every day.”

'We Really Cannot Rest'

At Monday's MLK Breakfast, members of Boston's clergy community asked for more public help for the homeless. In reaction to the closing of a shelter on Long Island, a coalition of churches is opening a day shelter.

The space at the Old South Church is a place where homeless people can stay warm and get other assistance during the day.

Williams said it's a fitting way to follow Dr. King's call for social and economic justice.

"There's still too many people who go to bed hungry every night, who go to sleep without a bed," he said. "And there's income and wealth disparities, in addition to the in-your-face injustices that are happening, so we really cannot rest."

And the Black Lives Matter movement in Boston, Williams says, just proves King's mission remains as fresh today as when he lived in the city more than 60 years ago.

This segment aired on January 19, 2015.

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Delores Handy Twitter Reporter
Delores Handy is a multiple Emmy Award-winning broadcast journalist.

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