Mel King Community Fellowship Program upholds the late civil rights

On April 3, neighborhood advocates from across the U.S. who work in long-term care gathered with members of the MIT neighborhood to debate methods to extend fairness within the business for care staff, households, and the aged. With its impassioned attendees and emphasis on staff’ well-being, the assembly felt extra like a grassroots strategizing session than an instructional occasion. Such conferences have been going down in a single kind or one other for greater than 50 years by means of the Mel King Community Fellowship Program.

However whilst attendees buzzed across the room with an enthusiasm that’s acquainted to many concerned with this system, this week’s assembly additionally felt totally different. That’s as a result of it passed off shortly after the passing of its namesake, an area titan of justice and lifelong champion for weak communities, who died on March 28 on the age of 94. Mel King was a longtime political activist and adjunct professor emeritus within the Division of City Research and Planning (DUSP) at MIT — however above all, buddies and colleagues bear in mind him as an organizer and an ally.

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“Mel was actually about coalition constructing,” says Holly Harriel, a lecturer in DUSP and the manager director of DUSP’s Community Innovators Lab (CoLab), which hosts the Mel King Neighborhood Fellows every year. “He wasn’t essentially discipline-specific or issue-specific. If you happen to have been about humanity, personhood, liberation, justice, then Mel was with you and supported you.”

Since King based the fellowship program in 1970 — a transfer Harriel says was itself radical on the time —it has supported fellows from across the nation who’ve gone on to spearhead actions of their house communities, a few of which grew into nationwide actions. Mel King Fellows have gone on to play outstanding roles within the Black Lives Matter motion, the Battle for $15 marketing campaign to boost the federal minimal wage, and the revival of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor Folks’s Marketing campaign. Former fellows have gone on to change into mayors, lawmakers, and leaders of nationwide labor organizations.

“Having arrived at MIT only in the near past, I by no means had the possibility to satisfy Mel King, however he clearly left an indelible mark on the Institute and its individuals by means of the Mel King Neighborhood Fellowship Program and its emphasis on embracing and serving the wants of marginalized communities,” MIT President Sally Kornbluth says. “As with every nice trainer, Mel King left a residing legacy in all these he impressed and taught — college students, college and fellows alike. At MIT, greater than 25 years after his official retirement, the sunshine of his loving knowledge and passionate advocacy shines brightly on.” 

Monday’s fellowship program occasion started with a tribute to King. A big picture projected within the background confirmed him trying inquisitively over the panel discussions all day. Above all, King’s legacy was current within the energetic spirit of the changemakers that gathered.

“Mel was at all times placing the pursuits of the neighborhood and the pursuits of the individuals first,” MIT Affiliate Professor Phil Thompson says. “Each weekend he’d prepare dinner breakfast for anyone who got here to his place — I imply anyone. He’d simply sit and hear and speak, and he actually emphasised service. That’s the spirit that the fellowship program is embedded in.”

Connecting changemakers

Harriel believes the Mel King Neighborhood Fellowship Program is the longest-running educational justice program within the nation. Based in 1970 and initially run by Professor Emeritus Frank Jones earlier than King took the helm, the thought was to convey collectively neighborhood activists engaged on the bottom with members of academia to brainstorm options to neighborhood issues.

“The themes [of the program] at all times middle on neighborhood data, neighborhood voice, after which rules round justice and multicultural democracy have emerged with totally different leaders. However the fellowship program is the through-line throughout all of it,” Harriel says. “DUSP and the CoLab don’t function in a silo. Themes come from the bottom up. Our ecosystem does a great job of telling us what’s vital.”

As former fellows have gone on to play main roles in nationwide actions and advocacy organizations, this system’s community has expanded and strengthened. Derrick Johnson, the present nationwide president of the NAACP, as an illustration, is a former Mel King Neighborhood Fellow.

“Mel modified far more than our division and MIT,” DUSP professor and division head Chris Zegras wrote in an electronic mail shared with the DUSP neighborhood. “It’s plainly clear that the town of Boston, the state of Massachusetts, and past, wouldn’t be the identical with out having had the privilege of Mel King as one among its residents. Massachusetts is usually acknowledged for its leaders — political, literary, academic, technological — amongst this historic group, Mel King stands on the pinnacle.”

This 12 months’s cohort contains 18 fellows working within the long-term care area in states throughout the nation and in nationwide organizations dedicated to advancing methods to create a simply and high quality long-term care system for caregivers and care seekers alike.

“Mel designed the fellowship program as a manner for neighborhood leaders and activists to return to MIT and mirror and interact with college students and college,” Harriel says. “At first, he would bend college members’ ears to prioritize the neighborhood and invite bidirectional change. He was a person forward of his time as a result of he understood that studying is bidirectional.”

Placing individuals first

King was South Finish to the core. The one time in his life he lived exterior of the Boston neighborhood was when he attended the traditionally Black Claflin School (now Claflin College) in South Carolina, the place he earned a bachelor’s diploma in arithmetic.

King’s neighborhood work took many varieties, from working with at-risk youth and the homeless to organizing demonstrations round points like inexpensive housing, job coaching for the unemployed, and enhancing public faculties.

In 1968, to protest the development of a parking storage in a website that would have been used for low-income housing, King led an illustration during which tons of of protesters camped out within the lot for 3 days, constructing tents, picket shanties, and a big signal welcoming all to “Tent Metropolis.” A mixed-income housing advanced was later constructed on the website. The Tent Metropolis title has caught to this present day.

King got here to MIT as an adjunct professor of city research and planning in 1970, the identical 12 months he based what was first the Neighborhood Fellows Program and later the Mel King Neighborhood Fellows Program. This system initially introduced neighborhood members from Boston along with DUSP college and college students to resolve issues affecting neighborhood well-being.

As this system blossomed, so did King’s involvement in native politics. He served within the Massachusetts Home of Representatives for 9 years, the place he was instrumental in, amongst different issues, beginning a neighborhood gardens program within the state and making Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a state vacation.

However King’s most seen political effort got here when he ran for mayor of Boston in 1983. Town was nonetheless reeling from violence that erupted following court-ordered desegregation of colleges within the mid Nineteen Seventies, and racial tensions have been excessive. But King, who turned the primary African American to run for mayor in Boston, walked by means of the streets radiating positivity, says Thompson, who volunteered with the marketing campaign. He recollects that King wore a standard African dashiki and spoke collegially with supporters and opponents alike. Debates along with his opponent centered on thought change and the hope every candidate had for his or her metropolis. His message resonated greater than anybody anticipated, and he completed a shock second in voting.

King directed the Neighborhood Fellows Program at MIT till his retirement in 1996. By then this system had introduced in neighborhood organizers and leaders from throughout the U.S. to review and advance monetary inclusion, city well-being, financial improvement, democratic participation, and extra.

At the same time as King’s political and educational life ended, his dedication to the neighborhood continued. After retiring from MIT, he based and served as director of the South Finish Know-how Middle — situated again on the Tent Metropolis residences that have been down the road from his house. This system nonetheless supplies pc science coaching and expertise entry to low-income people.

King labored in different methods to make sure expertise was distributed extra evenly all through society. His efforts included pioneering neighborhood cable tv, increasing underresourced communities’ entry to the web, and extra.

He labored with MIT’S Center for Bits and Atoms to increase the Fab Lab program into the Fab Lab Community, which has since introduced hundreds of digital fabrication factories to greater than 100 nations, offering entry in a variety of underserved communities to the means “to make (nearly) something” based on Professor Neil Gershenfeld. These efforts impressed a Fab City commitment that Boston, Somerville, and Cambridge have all joined.

“[Last month] we misplaced a large who left us with a large legacy that has formed our cities, our discipline, our discourse, and our interactions with one another in a long-lasting manner,” says Hashim Sarkis, the dean of MIT’s College of Structure and Planning. “Mel King not solely imagined what a simply metropolis might be, however he made it occur. We gratefully inherit this legacy and we promise to hold it ahead.”

A unbroken affect

MIT’s Division of City Research and Planning continues to be recognized for its concentrate on neighborhood improvement and social justice. Former MIT chancellor and Professor Emeritus Phil Clay says that’s no coincidence.

“The division has a popularity of being very progressive,” Clay says. “Conventional metropolis planning is fairly conservative; it’s oriented towards downtown and large business developments and freeway programs. Our division has been far more balanced, with an rising concentrate on housing, financial improvement, and communities. You don’t discover as a lot curiosity in constructing skyscrapers downtown. There’s much more speak about public housing and transportation and communities. It’s a part of the legend of Mel, and it nonetheless fuels the spirit of the division.”

Up till very lately, it wasn’t exhausting to seek out King. He’d typically be on the South Finish Know-how Middle working with kids, or talking with the neighborhood fellows, or internet hosting his legendary breakfasts. He performed tennis properly into his 80s.

Many bear in mind King as somebody who was at all times there to welcome concepts, ask questions, make connections, and provide recommendation.

“He understood in a really nuanced manner that he needed to create a era of leaders behind him that would keep on his work,” Harriel says. “That’s why you might have so many individuals writing reflections and sharing reminiscences of Mel. He’d plant seeds for a future harvest of change brokers and justice seekers and liberation builders. His affect will stay on in perpetuity as a result of there are such a lot of of us who he supported.”


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