Book Review: Mayor Martin J. Walsh on “Chain of Change” by Mel King (1981)
Melvin “Mel” King is a Boston legend. Mel has lived history and he has made history in our city. A lifelong resident of the South End, he’s been an activist and an organizer, a teacher and a mentor for eight decades. He served in the State Legislature in the 1970s, and his groundbreaking run for mayor in 1983 is etched in our city’s memory. His leadership made possible everything from the Tent City housing development to the South End Technology Center, where he remains a leader in expanding access to high-tech skills.
Mel King has had a big impact on me. At my inauguration in January of 2014, I invited Mel to lead a group of Boston school students singing “We are in Harmony,” a song that Mel wrote inspired by President Obama’s election. Across four generations, they sang “all children are our children, no matter their birth / this is the time we work for all their worth.” It was a moment I will never forget and a value I carry with me in my work as mayor.
I was thrilled when our Imagine Boston 2030 team chose Mel’s book, Chain of Change: Struggles for Black Community Development, for our Imagine Boston reading list. Chain of Change is Mel’s first-hand account of black Boston’s journey of self-advocacy in the 20th century. It’s a history of the Civil Rights struggle; an activist’s memoir of the rocky path toward change; a social theory worthy of academic study; and a textbook on community organizing. It’s a remarkable book that reflects the talent and vision of its remarkable author.
Mel’s book is required reading for anyone who wants to understand our city’s difficult history with race. And even now, more than 30 years after its publication, it is rich with lessons for today: about the hard, personal work of making change, the real possibility of progress, and the distance we have yet to travel to achieve full equity for every resident and community in our city.
That’s why Mel King’s experience and perspective are vital to our planning work today and our collective vision for Boston’s future. His book and his life show how important it is for communities themselves to shape growth to meet their needs and aspirations. This value is reflected in the community engagement that helped build Imagine Boston and is at the core of my vision for our city. I see Boston in 2030 as a city where every child has a safe home, a great school, big dreams, and the opportunities they need to make them come true. We won’t get there with top-down planning. We’ll get there by listening to and empowering every community, family, and individual. We’ll get there in harmony.