The fund-raising efforts to honor Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King, in Boston are finally approaching the organizers’ $15 million goal — and a million-dollar gift from Bank of America is helping them get there.
The Charlotte, N.C.-based bank, the largest in Massachusetts by market share, was planning to announce on Monday that it has pledged $1.5 million to two local causes as part of its national efforts to advance racial equality and economic opportunities. It’s giving $1 million to the King Boston initiative, to help pay for a Boston Common memorial honoring the Kings’ formative time in this city and related programming efforts, as well as $500,000 to the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, to help ramp up the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in communities of color that have been hit hard by the pandemic.
Last June, Bank of America’s chief executive, Brian Moynihan, a Massachusetts resident, committed $1 billion of the bank’s money to social and racial equality causes, over four years. Moynihan expanded the effort last month to $1.25 billion over five years. So far, at least $350 million has been committed to various causes.
“We really felt like the private sector can play a pivotal role in helping our communities in everything we’re going through right now in terms of racial unrest and inequality,” said Miceal Chamberlain, the bank’s Massachusetts president.
The fund-raising for the King Center coincided with a time when companies sought to respond to the inequities underscored by the Black Lives Matter protests last year.
This gift from Bank of America is the biggest corporate donation that King Boston executive director Imari Paris Jeffries has landed since he started soliciting corporate donations last year. There have been a number of million-dollar pledges along the way, but most have been from individuals or foundations — including recent gifts from the Barr, Wagner, and Klarman foundations.
One of the first million-dollar commitments, dating back more than three years, came from the development team behind the life-sciences project at 401 Congress St., now known as 10 World Trade; Boston Global Investors pledged $1 million to King Boston as part of a community benefit fund attached to the Seaport project. The entire King Boston effort, now a part of the Boston Foundation but likely to be spun off at some point, was the brainchild of tech entrepreneur Paul English, who also kicked in $1 million.
Paris Jeffries said about a dozen companies have committed $250,000 apiece since he started seeking pledges from 25 corporate donors at that level. So far, the pledges to King Boston total about $13.5 million, he said, putting the initiative within striking distance of the $15 million target.
The sculpture of intertwined arms, to be called “The Embrace,” and the plaza where it will sit will cost about $9 million to build by October 2022, on the Tremont Street side of the Common.
The rest of the money will be used for staff, programming, and events, and to start work on a center for economic justice. This all-in-one museum, events space, small-business incubator, and research hub would be built at a still-undetermined location in Roxbury. Paris Jeffries said he expects to launch a separate capital campaign to pay for its construction.
These ambitions have expanded considerably since 2017 when English was looking to raise $5 million for a King memorial and then-mayor Martin J. Walsh threw his support behind English’s dream to honor the Kings’ time in Boston. The pair met here in the early 1950s, when he was a doctoral student in theology at Boston University and she was studying at the New England Conservatory of Music. Martin Luther King famously returned to Boston and led a march to the Common on April 23, 1965.
“What a day to get $1 million,” Paris Jeffries said Friday, the 56th anniversary of that march.
Chamberlain, like many of the other King Boston donors, said he was impressed with how the effort goes beyond just building a statue to include meaningful work to improve the Roxbury neighborhood and address broader inequity issues in the city.
“The more we heard the story, the deeper we wanted to dig into it and really understand,” Chamberlain said. “There couldn’t be a more fitting time to recognize Dr. King and their work and time in Boston.”
Jon Chesto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.