On the 56th anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s freedom rally in Boston, community and faith leaders gathered to reaffirm their commitment to end racial injustice and police brutality Friday evening in the historic Roxbury church where he once preached.
The Twelfth Baptist Church was the setting for a two-hour service of song, prayer, and remarks from city and state leaders who pledged to help the Black community process the conviction of white former Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin for the death of George Floyd.
“To the Black people of Boston, I know you are tired,” Attorney General Maura Healey said. “I know you are weary. I know many of you could not watch the trial.”
But the guilty verdicts were “an important step in the process” toward healing, Healey said. “It’s going to take all of us to bring about this healing and this change,” she added.
While Chauvin’s conviction Tuesday on murder and manslaughter charges brought a measure of relief, grief still lingers for the deaths of other Black people killed by police officers, including 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant who was fatally shot in Columbus, Ohio, on the very day Chauvin was convicted.
“We’ve got a problem in America,” said the Rev. Willie Bodrick, senior pastor at the church, who led the service. “We come to this sacred space, for healing in this sanctuary, because this church has always been on the front line of justice.”
He invoked on the memory of King, who on April 23, 1965, led a Freedom Rally from lower Roxbury to Boston Common, his first outside of the South. “It’s with that same spirit that Dr. King on this very day 56 years ago held the freedom rally, [because] in his own life, and even to this day, the quality of Black life is abjected,” he said.
Only invited speakers and a small number of clergy and musicians were allowed inside the church for the 6 p.m. service that followed the state’s COVID-19 public health protocols. Dozens more watched the service livestreamed on social media.
Bodrick began the service with a prayer for Terrence Clarke, 19, a Dorchester native and standout basketball star at the University of Kentucky who was killed in a car crash Thursday in Los Angeles. Clarke had planned to enter the NBA draft this summer.
“I think it is fitting that we pray for his family, pray for this community, pray for those who knew him, and pray for those who miss his big smile,” Bodrick said.
The prayer was a poignant opening to a service filled with emotional calls for action. Speakers expressed support for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a civil rights and reform bill pending in Congress.
While wiping away tears, Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins recounted the pain she felt watching the Chauvin trial along with other instances of officer-involved shootings that started with non-violent misdemeanors.
“A guilty verdict is not what [Floyd’s] family wanted; they want him alive,” Rollins said. “We want our lives to not be the subject of debate and deliberation.”
Acting Mayor Kim Janey called the guilty verdict a historic moment signaling “hope for change moving forward.” Chauvin’s case is the first conviction in an officer-involved killing of a Black person she can remember.
The conditions leading to Floyd’s death still exist beyond the criminal justice system, making reform to disparities within city contracting, housing, public health and education essential, she said.
“This is a world that criminalizes Black children as early as preschool,” Janey said. “We have a lot of work to do here in the City of Boston and across the country.”
“As mayor . . . I am committed to transforming and reimagining public safety,” Janey said.
The vulnerability of Black youth was a topic for many speakers at the service, including Lauren Crockton, a youth ministry member of the church’s Youth Department.
“Every day there is a new name, a new hashtag, a new case,” the 16-year-old said, before reciting the names of those who died at the hands of police, many of whom were teenagers.
Correspondent Sofia Saric contributed to this story.