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Martin Luther King Jr. celebrated at Twelfth Baptist Church

Celebrants arrive for a convocation where Attorney General Andrea Campbell, the first black woman elected to the statewide office, was awarded with the MLK Leadership Award.Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was honored Sunday at the historic Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury with joyful singing, impassioned prayers, and remarks from church leaders and elected officials celebrating the civil rights leader’s life and his lasting lessons in the pursuit of equality and inclusion.

The annual service celebrates the legacy of King, who was an assistant minister at the Twelfth Baptist Church in the early 1950s while he earned his doctorate in systematic theology at Boston University. It was through the church that King met his future wife, Coretta Scott King.

This year’s event, which fell a week before what would have been King’s 94th birthday, also highlighted the recent election of Andrea Campbell as attorney general and preceded the long-awaited unveiling of a monument to King and his wife on Boston Common Friday.


The Rev. Jeffrey L. Brown, associate pastor at Twelfth Baptist, said Campbell’s rise as the first Black woman attorney general is a symbol of progress for Boston and for the state, “and it is because of that progress that we must not lose hope.”

“In this age of uncertainty, we cannot give up,” Brown told the congregation from the pulpit. “We are still here, we are still together, and as long as we have breath in our bodies, we can still become the beloved community that [King and Coretta Scott King] preached about.”

Rev. Dr. Willie Bodrick II is Senior Pastor of Twelfth Baptist Church, center, introduces Atty Gen. Andrea Campbell, left, the first black woman elected to the statewide office, before she was awarded with the MLK Leadership Award. Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

Senior Pastor the Rev. Willie Bodrick II embraced Campbell as he presented the former Boston city councilor with this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Award. Campbell appeared emotional, briefly wiping away a tear as she accepted the honor and spoke about growing up in Roxbury and the strong role faith has played in her life.

“Both give me the courage and the conviction not to waste this opportunity, especially for those that have felt let down and left behind for too long” she told the audience of more than 100 people gathered in the pews, while others watched online via live stream.


“I look forward to expanding the reach of that office to make it more accessible for all of you,” she said.

The service opened with Bodrick leading the congregation in a singing of the celebratory hymn “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Boston City Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson and state Representative Russell Holmes each read Bible verses from the Old and New Testaments, while Jaiden Farrington, a member of the church and a sophomore at Hampton University in Virginia, read an excerpt from King’s “The Other America” speech.

The congregation was silent as Shaleeca Joseph, an 11th-grader at John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science in Roxbury, performed on piano a stirring composition she wrote in honor of King. The audience rose in applause as the final note rang through the hall.

Michael Curry, chief executive of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, spoke near the end of the service about the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had on communities of color and other forms of inequality in health care, schools, and wages.

He called on the audience to step up as activists and be “wedded” to a cause as King was. That commitment, he said, involves making sacrifices.

“That means you might not sleep at night; that means you might miss your kid’s basketball game or some activities, because that’s what [King] was asking for,” Curry told the congregation. “We need all of you not just to talk about Dr. King but live Dr. King’s legacy.”


Imari Paris Jeffries, executive director of Embrace Boston, the nonprofit organization behind the installation of the new monument on the Common, reminded the congregation to attend the Friday unveiling of the sculpture.

He said that four members of Twelfth Baptist will be included among 65 civil rights icons whose names will be inscribed on plaques at the plaza where the monument will stand: Clara Bell, a longtime administrative assistant in the church; the Rev. Earl Lawson; the Rev. Michael Haynes; and Clarence Jones.

The bronze sculpture, which is 20 feet high and 40 feet wide, depicts the interlocking arms of Martin and Coretta as they hugged after he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

The group picked the design and its artists, Hank Willis Thomas and MASS Design Group, in 2019 out of nearly 150 submissions. The sculpture was assembled at a foundry in Walla Walla, Wash., and the first pieces were installed on the Common at the end of November.

The piece is meant to serve as a cultural symbol of equity and justice for Boston residents and celebrates Martin and Coretta’s time in the city when they met as students, Embrace Boston has said.

Bodrick said the sculpture represents even more.

“In a city that has not always had the best reputation for people of color, ‘Embrace’ is an opportunity to tell new stories,” Bodrick said in an interview after the service. “It’s an opportunity for us to reimagine this city and really make real the beloved community that King talked about. I hope it begins the work of telling the stories of people who’ve been erased.”


Nick Stoico can be reached at Follow him @NickStoico.