• Legendary community organizer explains power of protest, promise of bright future

    By: Crystal Haynes


    BOSTON - Community organizer and civil rights activist Mel King became the first African-American to run in a final election bid for Mayor of Boston - but that's just a tiny part of the 89-year-old's legacy.

    King is credited with forming Boston into the city it is today; bringing groups separated by race, gender and sexuality together in a time when it was not only unexpected, but dangerous.

    When you think of Boston's South End - what comes to mind? Historic brownstones, five star restaurants, a community of inclusion.

    Now imagine it gone.

    In the 1960s, city officials took a wrecking ball to 24 acres of what was called Boston's Skid Row - displacing hundreds of families in the name of urban renewal - and a young King wasn't having that.

    He was born here in 1928, one of eight kids, and he and his neighbors would fight to save it.

    "We took a stand. This here area where we are right now, they were gonna make into a parking lot. We rimmed it and stopped them from parking and then Tent City unfolded," said King.

    In 1968, hundreds of demonstrators camped in a parking lot where homes once stood, calling for affordable housing to be built there. Twenty years later, the Tent City Housing Development was built.

    "We, in the community made the city honor its federal commitment and in so doing the decisions about what get built and under what circumstances were right in the hands of the people who were affected," said King. 

    Boston 25 News reporter Crystal Haynes met legendary community organizer Mel King at the now iconic South End Technology Center - one of his many bases of operations for the last 60 years as a teacher, youth worker, fair housing advocate, 10-term state senator, and in 1983, the first African-American to run in a final election bid for Mayor of Boston. 

    "This idea came about in terms of a belief that we could run for the office because he had begun to build this network of different groups who had been pushed aside, etc., and wanted to see what we could do by bringing them together and out of that you have the rainbow coalition," said King.

    King also ran for Boston school committee three times a decade before forced bussing forced integration in Boston.

    "The city was still alive with all the antagonistic and racist approaches that we got to be known for," said King.     

    He spent his career advocating for inclusion and access - including access to technology. As an adjunct professor at MIT, he created the Community Fellows Program in 1996.

    "They talk about this being the information highway. The technology because of the internet. And I said, well if it's a highway like I-95, that goes from one end to the other of the country, but a lot of people can't get on it. And they get bypassed," said King. 

    More than 20 years later, he's still creating access to that information super highway with after-school programs at SETC, including computer programming, 3D printing and music producing.

    He shared with Crystal Haynes some of his original work inspired by Barack Obama's presidency. 

    "I want you to know my story," said King.

    Haynes asked King what advice he would give those kids and other activists coming behind him.

    "It was important to get people to look in the direction in the pursuit of possibilities. That this is possible - and so you pursue it," said King. "Each generation - each group - they have to define for them what kind of world they want to live in. What kind of community they want to live in."

    King continues to influence the next generation - collaborating with Boston Public Schools and other city departments. Inspiring activists in the Occupy and Black Lives Matter movements, and the Mel King

    Institute opened in 2009 to continue his legacy. 

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